I recently finished as the Director of Photography for a comedy feature film called Bomber. It’s a road trip movie that follows a family as they travel from the United Kingdom to a small town in Germany. The family spends a lot of time driving in a van before they arrive in the town of Bad Zwischenahn – a town that the father bombed accidentally during WWII. Once there, the father attempts to apologize to the townspeople, but everything doesn’t go exactly according to plan. We shot the entire film on the Sony EX1, and the results are moving indeed.
I first set eyes on the Sony EX1 at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, when I attended a filmmaker workshop just off the bustle of Main Street. I was intrigued by the demo I saw, but when I learned that the EX1 was designed and built through the CineAlta Group at Sony, I paid even closer attention. I discovered that the EX1 Picture Profiles menu contains some of the same image controls found on other CineAlta cameras. It utilizes 1/2-inch CMOS imagers and an HD Fuji zoom lens designed specifically for the EX1. After the workshop, I concluded that this was a camera I should consider working with. When I learned of the EX1’s price point, I knew it was a camera that offered a powerful creative toolset. I could also tell producers that it would be lower cost rental option to consider.
After some initial testing with the EX1, I rented a kit for several projects. One assignment was to shoot a series of character driven short films for an advertising agency. This project required a striking visual treatment that had to be done on a small budget. The narrative shorts were photographed on location in a New York City retail store. Within the existing overhead lighting, I had 2900 Kelvin bulbs mounted in the store’s fixtures, and then added keys and fills to create what I call an “enhanced available” look. During the camera checkout, we matched the cameras and customized menu items within the Picture Profiles to work with my lighting design. We used two handheld cameras, because the talent often improvised within their scripted roles. The two EX1s matched perfectly, produced some dazzling pictures, and the tapeless workflow was flawless. The project was a success, and the EX1 was a big part of those results.
Soon after that shoot, I decided to purchase an EX1 package for my independent feature project. The Director and I decided to frame our story within a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For this road picture, we felt it accentuated the visual metaphor of movement and travel. With the 1/2-inch CMOS sensors, I felt the widescreen presentation would support our story more than the resolution real estate we would be giving up. Another important issue we considered in choosing our camera was how the resolution depicted the contours of shadow and shape. Resolution is vital—it contributes a smoothness of texture and opacity to an actor’s face. Another important aspect for any motion picture format is to fully capture a wide range of exposure latitude. During pre-production, I created several “looks” within the Picture Profiles (CINE2) to accomplish this. I knew the camera would be shooting from inside the picture vehicle, with our talent in the foreground and a sunlit cloudscape in the background. The expectation was that all of these details, from the shadow side of talent to the sun lit sky, had to be depicted in a naturalistic unlit-looking-way. For me, the choice of a Gamma setting is very much like picking the right film stock, and that choice is partially about contrast. With our modest lighting and grip package, the EX1’s gamma, black stretch and matrix elements did a magnificent job within my picture profiles. On any given day, depending on lighting and weather conditions, I might change settings within each profile, but these were minor and cost very little time to the production.
My EX1 kit contained four 16 GB and one 8GB memory cards. The film was shot in 1080i/25P (being a Europe based production) and in the HQ (high quality) recording format. We used Apple’s Final Cut Pro 6.0.3 as our editing platform. After wrapping each day, I would hand the memory cards to the editor and then pick-up the downloaded cards the next morning. I would erase all of the clips, but never formatted the cards, as they also acted as back-up memory for the picture profiles. One incredible advantage of loading data each day was that we could watch a “string out” edit each night instead of just dailies. We shot 62 hours of footage, which equals 823 GB of data, and we never lost one digit of data over our 28-day shooting schedule.
Overall, I have been very impressed with the Sony EX1 camera. I think it is a great choice for a full range of productions—independent features, documentaries and corporate videos, to name a few. As an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division, I recommended the camera for their equipment needs, because it seemed liked a perfect fit for student productions as well. With the help of Abel Cine Tech (NYC) and Sony, the Columbia University Film Division has leased forty EX1 camera packages for all their students’ video productions.
To learn more about Rick Siegel’s work, visit www.rickspix.net.
by Rick Siegel