Industry Professionals Comment on KODAK VISION3 Film

A Conversation With Ben Nott, ACS

Ben Nott

Ben Nott, ASC

Ben Nott, ACS learned his art and craft by working his way up through the camera department. His television credits include Code Red, Counterstrike, and Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King. He earned an American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Outstanding Achievement Award nomination for Salem’s Lot in 2005, and took home the ASC Award in 2008 for The Company. The latter also earned Nott an Emmy nomination. He is a two-time winner of the Cinematographer of the Year and Golden Tripod Awards from the Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS). His most recent work can be seen this year in the upcoming releases Daybreakers and Accidents Happen. Nott recently shot a short demonstration film using the new KODAK VISION3 250D 7207 color negative in the 16 mm format. He designed the demo to test the capabilities of the new stock. In the following Q&A, Nott explains his plan for the film and what he learned.

What were your initial goals for this demo film?

My intention was to provide an argument for superior quality achieved quickly on a limited budget. I wanted to put this new film through its paces in situations that might be faced by a cinematographer shooting a low-budget film without lighting, or without the time or ability to balance interior and exterior light levels. I wanted to demonstrate the ability of the Kodak stock to render images of depth and quality across a high-contrast range, without extensive finessing and balancing of light, and without extensive correction in post.

What was your thought process in designing scenes?

I asked myself under what conditions would I choose to shoot a 16 mm 250D stock. The answer was a project with a limited budget, an ambitious schedule that included many locations, and a primary shooting location that presented a high-contrast range and mixed lighting. We wanted to attack the project with a documentary approach, so that we were replicating the realities of low-budget filmmaking, where there isn’t money for lighting or art department, and yet there is an expectation for superior results, which is very much the case in the world of series television.

How did you choose locations?

The director, Grant Marshall, and I came up with a list of scenarios, including mixed color temperatures, high-contrast day exterior, flat overcast light, and a dark, jungle exterior. Cinematographers shooting television series and smaller budget features are faced with these realities every day, and often you don’t get a chance to manipulate shooting schedules around the light. You are forced to make do. The primary location we chose was a large library complex in Brisbane City in Queensland, Australia. This building provided a modern architectural setting lit by a diverse range of practical, domestic fixtures. In choosing this location, we were aware of the need to work quietly and quickly while creating a minimal filmmaking footprint. The choice to shoot KODAK VISION3 250D 7207 film allowed me to take full advantage of the existing ambience while working comfortably on the zoom lens at T2.4.

Was there a script?

Yes. Grant (Marshall) wrote a little piece designed to fluently transition through all these different lighting situations. In the story, two elderly gentlemen driving scooters pull up to the same flower stand to buy flowers for the same woman. They then rush to the woman’s door, each trying to get there first. The chase goes through bright, sunlit suburbia, through a rain forest environment, into the library interior, and a parking structure with available fluorescent lighting, darkness and very hot backgrounds outside.

What did your equipment package include?

We had an ARRI 416 camera with an Angenieux zoom lens and Cooke S4 Prime lenses in the 16 mm format. We essentially worked without lights. We usually shot off of a tripod but sometimes we used a dolly, and sometimes we mounted the camera on the scooters.

Will you describe the lighting conditions in the library?

We used only available light, which consisted of 4,500 degrees Kelvin fluorescents, some incandescent practicals, and ambient daylight. All library interiors were photographed without a fill source. We corrected the fluorescents in post, and I was very impressed with the way that the 7207 dealt with the global correction of the fluorescents, while maintaining the integrity of the exterior, ambient daylight and the warmth in the practicals. I thought it performed just beautifully. Given enough time, money and manpower, we could have balanced the windows with scrim or ND (neutral density filter). Or alternatively, the answer would have been to boost interior light levels to balance with the exterior, but I wanted to see how the stock performed over a 5 or 6 stop latitude difference, interior to exterior, and it’s quite amazing. The results are fantastic.

Tell us about the rain forest environment?

In addition to the library, this location was tailor-made for shooting a 250 ISO daylight film. The rain forest, being a high-contrast environment, typically provides massive photographic challenges. I purposely didn’t introduce any fill source on our actors because I wanted to see how the stock looked into the shadows. I did use some atmospheric smoke to help with the contrast ratio in the background. I know from experience that shooting the same scene in the same manner using a digital format would have produced very high-contrast results, as evidenced by loss of detail in the actors’ eyes and a complete lack of subtleties in the dark areas of a frame, punctuated by pools of irretrievably extreme overexposure. Digital just wouldn’t deal with it. I also found that the 7207 has an improved ability to render the subtle gradations of greens in the foliage while also separating the mid tones in the brown tree trunks a little better than the previous (KODAK VISION2) 250D film.

What postproduction path did the images follow?

Kodak took the images through a digital intermediate and color corrected in (Discreet) lustre® without any noise reduction. We output the images back to 35 mm film and looked at the work print projected on a big screen, and it was remarkably good. There was some noise, which you would expect, but much less than I anticipated. Then the LUTs (lookup tables) were applied to the digital files in preparation for producing DVDs and any other HD video deliverables. The images looked terrific on the small screen.

Looking back on the project, what are your thoughts?

We could have stayed in a studio situation, and we could have spent a lot of time finessing the light and caressing these images, but we didn’t. I need the assistance that film can give me when I’m up against constraints and don’t have the luxury of time to light. I wanted to get into a situation where we were testing the stock in its true form. That means that while there are some really wonderful images in the piece, some are only just dealing with the situation. But I thought it was important to have an honest look, and generally speaking, it scrubs up extremely well. Cinematographers today are very often faced with increasing pressure to perform, to produce excellent images with less money and less time. The great thing about this stock is that it will support us in this endeavor. The speed of it enables us to shoot in reasonably low light. The extended latitude and the ability to get detail out of highlights through telecine make a very persuasive case for shooting film.

When is 16 mm the right medium?

I can name a dozen scenarios where 16 mm is the superior medium. The thing about 16 mm is that the cameras are so ergonomic. They sit along the length of your forearm. That is everything – battery, the lens, camera body. So you’re very self-contained. I think there is an overemphasis on monitoring in our current filmmaking age. There is a certain adrenaline to shooting quickly and covering a lot of ground quickly. The whole crew gets onboard. Everyone is always ‘on’ and thinking and part of the process. Super 16 is a great format for working on boats, or doing a fast-moving jungle picture, or any time you need equipment that is light and robust. Nothing beats 16 mm in those instances, and more!