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March 27, 2005

This BraintrustDV interview with Assisted Living writer/director Elliot Greenebaum is one of the best things I've read in a while. There's too much quality material there for me to choose just one excerpt to entice you to click on the link. So, just trust me and click on it.

At the same site: a wonderful interview with Joe Swanberg, whose terrific film Kissing On The Mouth was at SXSW (I'll be reviewing it in the very near future).

Both of these interviews, as one might expect given the site publishing them, revolve in part around discussions of digital cinema, and how to best utilize an ever evolving technology. This is a topic that I've fluctuated over ever since I started making films, of course, and which I'm sure I'll discuss further as I develop the aesthetic details for my next project. I will say: for all of our talk about how one should traverse and exploit the channels opened by the DV format, I'm exceedingly guilty of shooting it only for lack of film stock; in other words, shooting it as if it were film. Deadroom is both the worst and the best example of this: the worst, because we didn't take advantage of a single aesthetic opportunity the format provided - only the economic ones; the best, because we understood the technology enough that we were able to play within, or just barely outside of, the lines, and thus people do mistake it, at least in part, for film, which makes our DP Jim very happy. In the end, it was the correct compromise for the project; which brings us to ultimatum that the film should dictate the medium, and not the other way around (except that this ultimatum can actually be broken, when one considers the possibilities of letting a format dictate the film, thereby allowing asethetic values that would be otherwise untapped to flower in the face of technological adversity).

I feel rather empowered by both these interviews and by my decision the other day to forget about HD for my next feature. But did I mention that I want to shoot a short on 35mm before I do Drift?

Anyway, Matt discusses some similar issues in this post on his site.

I'm going to attempt get some extremely pressing writing done while playing Magnolia on the television behind me. Guess which one is probably going to win my attention...

Posted by David Lowery at March 27, 2005 2:00 AM


"shooting it [DV] as if it were film"

You say that like its a bad thing...

"Sorry guys, we were worrying too much about composition and lighting and mise en scene and y'know, I really think we should just be more DV about the whole thing".

I mean, there are some obviously technical differences between DV and 35mm, particularly in stop latitude [which is probably the most important aspect], but the principles of good cinematography still apply.

Often, when I hear about people talking about the "DV Aesthetic" I think they're really just looking for an excuse to shoot shit cause, frankly, making stuff look good is a lot of hard work.

I mean, honestly, when you talk about the dv aesthetic and its 'aesthetic opportunities' what are you really referring to? I tend to think of it as grainy, badly lit, handheld, pseudo-realism... but I don't think of that as an aesthetic opportunity, because its achievable with *any* format. But I'm willing to hear other opinions...

Posted by: Stu Willis at March 30, 2005 7:16 PM

Simply put, Stu [and I'm not going to argue about it because I (a) have better things to do with my time and life and (b) have an assignment to do, which, by the way, is not the same thing as (a)] everything has an aesthetic. Some things have a more "beautiful" aesthetic than other things [whatever than means], but "aesthetic" isn't a synonym for "beauty," so I don't see what the trouble is. I'd much sooner shoot my short documentary fictions [Notes from the Arctic Circle, Mark and Katrina Go Boating] on DV than on film, and not for what you call the "pseudo-realism" look, which, as you say, is achievable with any format. I also choose to shoot them on one-chip cameras as opposed to three. Why? Because I like the one-chip's inability to handle certain colours and shades. I like the crisp-but-not-at-all-rich [i.e. not film] look, which you don't get to such an extreme, grating extent with Hi8 [which, if I may abstractly describe it in two words, is like long grass]. It is for this reason that I indeed take pleasure in the look of DV. Every format has its works of pleasure-giving -- if not "beautiful" -- aesthetic quality. And, even better, it's works of non-pleasure-giving aesthetic quality.

Posted by: Matt at March 31, 2005 3:21 AM

The principals of cinematography certainly do apply when using any format; ignoring them or (more pertinently) being unaware of them may in fact make your film look terrible and amateurish. But one should also take into consideration the medium being used, and use it to its fullest potential. Ellen Kuras, who shot Personal Velocity, has done some pretty boring work with DV, simply because she doesn't exploit it. It's not that her DV films look bad; it's just that they're rather boring. Compare her work to that of Anthony Dod Mantle - an extraordinary DP in any format, who became synonymous with DV thanks to his work with Von Trier and Vinterburg - who pushes DV to extremes that are exclusive to the format. julien-donkey boy, which is perhaps his most extreme project, is full of imagery that could be considered ugly - and yet, contextually, it is incredibly beautiful. And it's all imagery that one could not achieve on film, unless one is willing to go through extreme processing and a lot of hard work (basically, what Von Trier did on Breaking The Waves, in which he and Mantle tried to get the film stock to look as much like video as possible - by their next film, they just went ahead and shot DV).

Posted by: Ghostboy at March 31, 2005 1:51 PM

"Ellen Kuras, who shot Personal Velocity, has done some pretty boring work with DV, simply because she doesn't exploit it."


Posted by: Matt at March 31, 2005 3:50 PM

I've added your comment to my blog and have added my own further comments. I'm not as extreme as I may appear, its just extremity illicts responses far more readily than reasonableness (sadly).

Posted by: stu willis at March 31, 2005 5:35 PM

To respond to a few things Stu raised on his blog: the DV aesthetic is something that looks somewhat ugly - but I'd rather see that, pushed to its fullest potential, than a DV film that tried its darndest to look like film, leaving the viewer to think "wow, that looks gorgeous -and it would look even better if it was film!" If you can fool 'em, great, but better to rule that question out from the start.

You bring up Pixelvision, which is a really wonderful format; if I was going low-fi, I'd rather use that than anything else (Almereyda is a brilliant filmmaker, by the way). Hi8 or analog VHS falls too far into a median point that's pretty unsatisfying to me, on the whole.

DV allows one more latitude in a.) post production, which is important to me and b.) film transfer, which isn't as important to me, since I can't afford it, but which is a really interesting amalgam of the two technologies. Transfer technology has evolved to a really wonderful point, and a lot of the dv-to-film transfers that are out there represent a rather beautiful realization of that aforementioned 'ugly' DV aesthetic. The best of both worlds, if you will.

I love film. I wish I could have afforded to shoot Deadroom on film, because indeed, the DV aesthetic would have been inappropriate for it. There are several projects I have in the pipeline that I simply won't shoot if I can't get shoot them on film. But I also understand the two technologies enough to know when one format will a.) be sufficient for a project or b.) be beneficial to a project.

Posted by: Ghostboy at April 1, 2005 2:55 AM