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Digital Straight Talk

Digital Straight Talk

Articles - Digital

Marcus van Bavel and daughter, Morgan
DVFilm’s Marcus van Bavel with
his daughter, Morgan.

Whether you’re looking for a place to transfer your
latest project, test-drive the latest film editing software or just
get some good, solid advice on the ever-changing world of digital
technology as it relates to film, DVFilm’s owner and chief engineer
Marcus van Bavel will give it to you straight. In a recent conversation
with MM he discusses everything from the future
of his company to why you are not going to get into Sundance.

Jennifer Wood (MM): First, give me just
a brief description of what it is that DVFilm does.

Marcus van Bavel (MBV): We take the movie from
the desktop to the screen. Typically, people call us when their
feature or short film has been invited to a film festival, or when
they’re ready to try a theatrical release or premiere. Most of our
business is creating a 35mm print in a professional-looking way,
taken from the filmmaker’s hard drive or master tape which may or
may not be 100 percent polished. We also sell a guide book called Shooting Digital, which every digital filmmaker needs to
read before they embark on a project or even buy a camera.

The other part of our business is the software you
need to get something on tape that looks like a movie as opposed
to looking like a video. We sell two film-motion products that work
with virtually any editing system or computer, and they remove all
the video-look out of your project before you submit the tape to
a film festival or distributor.

MM: What is your background in moviemaking?

MCB: I went to film school and also got a degree
in electrical engineering. I worked as a DP on several movies and
directed two movies. The last one, Redboy 13, (www.redboy13.com)
had a brief theatrical run in 1998 and you can get it on DVD just
about anywhere. For that movie, I created my own 3D software and
built my own film recorder, which led me directly into what DVFilm
is doing now.

MM: For many moviemakers, the realm of digital
moviemaking is a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s something you’ve
been involved in for many years. Did you always know that other
moviemakers would eventually “catch on”? How have you seen the utilization
or focus on digital technology change most over the years?

MVB: I always knew that as computers got cheaper
and faster that eventually it would be cheaper and faster to create
reality inside a computer as opposed to building a set and hiring
actors. That revolution, which will really change the entertainment
world, has not really even gotten started.

The other aspect, of using digital sensors as opposed
to a strip of film, but still recording the “real” world, was surprising
to me. It did not occur to me until maybe 1998 that there were millions
of would-be filmmakers for whom the price difference of $50,000
meant making or not making the movie. Now they can make the movie.

MM: Do you believe that all moviemaking
will eventually become
digital moviemaking in the near future?
Who do you see as the pioneers of this movement?

MVB: Absolutely, but rather than repeating
the names that everyone has already heard, I want to mention the
pioneers who are using the new, cheap medium to create a regional
cinema that did not exist before. For example, Margarita Morales
of Peru. Her company, Iguana Productions, recently broke all box
office records in Peru with a digital movie called Bano de Damas that we transferred to film. This was their second movie with us.
Also Stephen Wolfe of Sneak Preview Entertainment. His gay-rave
party feature, Circuit, has played in every city in the U.S.
and was also shot digital. There are all kinds of unsung heroes
making regional or specialized cinema that will never be seen at
the multiplex, Blockbuster or even at the film festivals and you
won’t read about them in Variety or Indiewire. But they still
make money and fill a niche that has been empty up until now—particularly
in foreign countries, where filmmaking was so expensive they either
watched American movies or nothing at all. There’s a thirst for
movies shot in their own language, about their own culture— and
DVFilm is making that happen.

MM: The DVFilm resumé includes a large number
of independent films. What is it that attracts indie moviemakers
to your facility? What do you see as the specific needs of independent
moviemakers, and how do you work to address them?

MVB: We offer lower cost and better technology
than the East coast/West coast companies. Plus, when you call us
you get either the chief engineer or the production manager—and
both of us are moviemakers. I think what we offer is the moviemaker’s
perspective, as opposed to the perspective of a post house or lab.
A post house or a lab has the worst kind of cynicism. Also, every
time they make a mistake, they make more money. We shield you from
that; we don’t do that.

DVFilm handles everything, not just the recording
of the negative. We take care of all the lab hassles and we guarantee
the results. I think it’s very comfortable for a filmmaker to use
DVFilm as opposed to the larger and more intimidating companies,
which need to operate like a production line to stay alive.

MM: What are some of the most frequent questions
you get from first-time moviemakers looking to begin work with your
facility? How do you answer these questions?

MVB: The most common question, which comes
way before they need a transfer to film, is which camera to buy.
There are so many choices and bad folklore that people become lost.
The book that we sell really answers most of those questions, and
it gets updated every month or two. The latest edition includes
a step-by-step guide to using the Panasonic DVX100, for example,
which I think is the best choice right now for almost every filmmaker.

Then we get many calls and e-mails from those with
finished movies, and they typically need to know price and turnaround
time. Fortunately we are one of the few companies with our prices
online (at dvfilm.com), and you can even plug the length of your
movie into an interactive rate calculator and get a firm quote on
the spot.

MM: What are some of the most common mistakes
or pitfalls you think these same moviemakers fall into their first
time out? How do you work to help fix these problems now—and avoid
them in the future?

MVB: The most common mistake is to shoot “frame
mode” with an NTSC Canon XL-1. That really destroys your chances
at getting a good transfer to film. The other common mistake is
to shoot at a very high shutter speed in outdoor or high-brightness
conditions. You will get something that looks fine on tape, but
looks horrible on film. In both these cases there is magic we can
apply to make it better, but it involves drastic changes to the
film and gets into a lot of extra cost.

MM: In addition to all your regular services,
DVFilm is also the developer of two software programs: DVFilm Maker
and DVFilm Atlantis. Can you talk a little bit about the history
of these products and what they can do for moviemakers?

MVB: They were introduced in 2001 for both
Windows and Mac. They are based upon the software that we developed
for converting NTSC and PAL video to film. There are still very
few programs around to remove video-look and they are too expensive,
too slow and require you to use After Effects or some other horribly
complicated program.

DVFilm Maker is a very simple program with a very
simple task: to make video look more like film, but without reducing
quality. It works by converting interlaced fields to progressive-scan
film frames in an intelligent way that does not destroy resolution.
Then it adds a bit of grain and color. Also it has features that
can be used to convert DVX100 footage to 24P Quicktime, so you can
use an older editing program like Adobe Premiere to edit at 24P.

DVFilm Atlantis is a software PAL to NTSC converter.
But it’s unique in that it converts PAL in a very film-like manner,
similar to the way film is converted to video. It allows people
to shoot on PAL, with higher resolution than NTSC for transfer to
film. Then they can easily convert to NTSC for broadcast or presentation
on video, with a very nice film-like feeling to it.

MM: Who are the typical clients you find
using these programs?

MVB: Our customers for this software range
from big-time entertainment companies like Lucasfilm and Laser Pacific,
to college and high school students who want their videos to look
like movies. We sell them directly from our Website to places literally
all over the Earth.

MM: As technology advances and more moviemakers
are able to do at home what they previously needed a company like
DVFilm for, how do you see your company—or role in the moviemaking
process—changing?

MVGB: As technology advances they will need
us even more. Obviously the market will move slowly from film transfer
to preparation for digital projection, but that is what our software
products are all about. Also our Rembrandt service is the equivalent
of a transfer to film, with scene-to-scene color correction and
conversion to 24P, but it stays in the electronic domain. Also,
we will expand our software creations eventually to include everything
you need to create a movie on the desktop. Much of the stuff available
now like Final Cut Pro and Premiere are oriented toward videomaking,
not filmmaking, and we hope to provide for that. I used to cut on
film and I miss that. I want something that frees me from the timeline.

But as far as the need for 35mm goes, it will be with
us for another decade. Not many people talk about the cost of replacing
every film projector with a digital projector and a reliable disk-drive
array. It’s a project on the order of the Apollo moon program. It’s
not going to happen overnight.

MM: Complete the following sentence: Ten
years from now, digital moviemaking will

MVB: …Be so pervasive and commonplace that
the word “digital” will disappear, it will just be moviemaking again.
No one says horseless carriage anymore—they’re just cars.

For more information on DVFilm, visit http://www.dvfilm.com

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