Thursday, February 1, 2007

HD Insights

While at the High Definition Summit in Los Angeles, Randall Dark was interviewed by Dale Drewery for High Def Consult.


Randall Dark knows a good thing when he sees it. Introduced to high definition back in 1986, he was convinced it was the future. Two decades later, HD is very much the present, and Randall Dark is one of the technology’s biggest pioneers. The creative force behind HD Vision in New York City / Dallas and HD Vision Studios in Los Angeles, Dark has recently launched his new company, Randall Dark Productions.

Dale Drewery met with Randall Dark in December at the High Definition Summit in L.A. They began by talking about Dark’s latest film Closing Escrow, a mocumentary lampooning the real estate business.

Randall Dark: “The method we used was having the cameras (HDW-F900/3 CineAltas) feed a G4 loaded with Final Cut Pro. So when shooting a complicated dinner scene, for example, we were able to edit it in real time. Then, at the end of the scene, I’d bring our first-time director into what we called “the temple”, which is where we had our HD gear. We’d look at a rough edit of the scene, agree that we needed a master shot here or there, or perhaps it was perfect, and we’d be able to move on. So, by understanding and maximizing the technology we were able to shoot an incredible amount of material (57 hours of footage, using two cameras, over fourteen days) and get exactly what we wanted.”

“On top of that we were color-timing as we went. Two reasons why this is important - number one, you are saving a ton of money in post because it’s already pretty close to being perfect. That’s because it so quick to adjust things in the field, like the lighting and the paint menu in the camera, and really nail your look. The other reason is that when you are setting up a scene that connects to something you shot days earlier, you can pull up your edited version on the G4, which allows the DP, director and actors to look at and say, “OK, I’ve got the feel, got the look, let’s light this”. And that saves a lot time.”

Dale Drewery: “What about that often-heard caution that one should wait until post to really commit to a look?”

RD: “As an artist, I just find it bizarre that, if I’m creating an oil painting and I get it close to what I want, I have to give my work to some stranger in post to finish it for me. I don’t want that to happen to anything I create, so that’s why I love the immediacy of high definition – I see what I get. That being said, if I’ve changed my mind I can still strip it down, and add and subtract. Because I’m in a digital world, I can almost do anything I want.”

DD: “How much do you estimate you saved on “Closing Escrow” by shooting it in HD and all that entailed?”

RD: “Because our movie was well under a million dollars, and we pulled the trigger a lot, we probably saved about 38%. But then every project I’ve ever done in high definition has been under budget and on time. One of the things that people don’t often take into account is that, when you shoot film, you shoot for 10 minutes maximum and then you have to change mags, which means that the director goes out for a cigarette, the actress/actor gets coffee, etc. I’ve been on film sets where they are shut down for 20-minutes, even though it only takes them four to five minutes to reload. When I’m directing, and we’re shooting 50-minute loads, we don’t let anyone know when we’re changing tapes. My AD just comes up and touches me on the shoulder, and I talk a little longer. That’s 15 to 20-seconds out of your shooting day, versus 20-minutes.”

DD: “You’ve talked about high definition technology leveling the creative playing field. How so?”

RD: “Film stock is very expensive, and so is processing. Shooting film takes years to understand and perfect. High definition is very immediate, and you can learn to shoot with it very quickly. The other thing I love is that we are looking at very different distribution streams. You no longer have to rely on the kindness of strangers, like the studios. Now if you can’t get your foot in the door, you create your own studio. Give me a camera and Final Cut Pro and I can make a movie, and one that is good enough technically that you can enter it into any film festival in the world. At the end of the day, when a movie-goer is sitting in the theatre eating popcorn and watching your story he or she doesn’t care which technology it was shot with. As long as the willing suspension of disbelief kicks in, they enjoy the ride.”

DD: “HD is also opening up new revenue streams. What has been your experience with those?”

RD: “A good example is “evergreen” material. Since I had never been to Hawaii, I wanted to go and do a half-hour show about the islands. I started by talking to technology manufacturers to see whether they needed any eye-candy for CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) or some (equipment) testing. Some did, so I got a little bit from here and a little bit from there, and put together enough financing to break even. I created Wild Hawaii and then approached broadcasters, and they bought it. Then I hooked up with Footage Bank and said, “I’ve got 40-hours of incredible Hawaii raw footage, can you sell it?” They said, “Of course.” So something that may have cost me $40,000 has already paid for itself a few times over from the auxiliary streams. And, more importantly, for the rest of my life, people will be buying my digital, widescreen, high-resolution images. You’ve got to love that.”

from High Def Consult