Rick Schmidt to answer your
DV question?

E-mail: [email protected]
Rick Schmidt has written, directed and produced 18 indie features and
is author of the classic book, Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car
. Look for his new how-to, Extreme DV, from Penguin
Books in 2004. You can join Rick’s Feature Workshops mailing
at www.lightvideo.com.

So many cameras, so little $$

Sorry to bother you, Rick, but
bored as I am at my annual family holiday gathering, my imagination
has turned
to moviemaking, and
I have a question for you. As a 26-year-old recent film school
graduate, I decided to bite the bullet, buy a camcorder and just
start making movies. Here’s my dilemma: what to buy?

I considered Panasonic’s new 24 fps Mini-DV camcorder, only
to discover it doesn’t technically record “true” 24
fps, but converts 2:3 in-house to 60i. Then I thought about buying
a PAL Mini-DV camcorder from B&H (under $1,200). Here’s
the clincher: Sony’s cameras are affordable and have Carl
Zeiss lenses (very high quality). So do their new Micro-MV camcorders,
which cost slightly more, but have very high resolution (over 1
million pixels, producing MPEG-2 issues/53/images) with 1/6”CCDs. Then,
there’s the JVC camcorders with Progressive Scan CCDs that
produce true frames. Mind you, these are PAL formatted throughout.
Any advice before I go back to my turkey?

— Louis K., Ann Arbor, MI

Dear Louis:

who has ever cracked a moviemaking magazine can appreciate your
dilemma. I approach
the problem by budget.
If you only have
$1,000 to spend for a DV camera, will you be satisfied going the
1-chip, new-camera route or heading to Ebay.com, where used 3-chip
Sony cameras like the DCR-TRV900 come up periodically (winning
bids run $1,000 – $1,200 for this exceptionally well-constructed,
extremely compact, now discontinued camera). If buying a used unit
doesn’t scare you off, the TRV900 can supply you with the “broadcast
quality” you’re after (see www.bealecorner.com/trv900 for a thorough camera overview).

I checked out B&H in New York and found the 1/4” 1-chip PAL Panasonic
NV-MD9000EN “PAL” Professional 1/4” Min- DV camcorder for
$1,249, which must be what you’re considering, given that no other PAL
camera comes close in price. Seems like a lot of camera for the cost. And with
the PAL 25 fps, it would serve you well if a blow-up to 35mm is a consideration
(25 fps generally make for a better DV-to-24fps film conversion). Regarding
the Micromv format, I just don’t think it’s up to Mini-DV standards,
isn’t Mac-friendly (not compatible with Final Cut Pro) and “con” reviews
at Amazon are convincing. So I wouldn’t go there.

When budget isn’t the issue, the challenge is to get a solid, well-performing
unit, that can deliver consistent quality under adverse conditions. For around
$2,000 you might try the Canon GL-2 Mini-DV. University of California, Santa
Cruz students and I shot a three-week feature using the earlier Canon GL-1,
which delivered great issues/53/images without much technical fuss beyond setting exposure
and focus. I’ve heard from friends who use them that Sony’s VX2000
and the discontinued DSR- PD100a are also great units for the price. At the
$3,000- $4,000 price range, you could consider the Sony DSR-PD150, which has
garnered top reviews from my director friend William Farley. He’s
cautioned me, though, to watch out for sound problems on discounted units.
Give him
an e-mail to hear more ([email protected]).

a $6,000 budget you can go Pro-DVCAM, with something like Sony’s DSR 200, that my DP/director son Morgan Schmidt-Feng
has used on several of our Feature Workshops shoots, such as the “no-artificial-lights” Chetzemoka’s
Curse (Dogme # 10). He has certainly tested the unit’s endurance,
having taken it on location to extreme climates like Guyana (see www.filmsight.com for issues/53/images from Midas Curse). E-mail him if you
have questions ([email protected]), or need info on the higher-end
24p HD cameras he’s mastered while working for LucasFilm
and TechTV.

can’t we just wing it?

going to be filming my first feature film on digital video this
summer, and I have
a quick question
for you: is a radio
broadcast in the public domain? What I mean is, I want to have
a character listening to a radio broadcast (a talk show or commercial,
none in particular, just whatever happens to be on the radio at
the time). Can I incorporate this into the sound design of the
film without paying rights to the broadcast? Or do I have to actually
go through the procedure of contacting the radio station after
filming and ask about rights to the broadcast?

— Darren P., Chicago, IL

Dear Darren:

As a moviemaker/producer/editor,
my heart stopped when I read that you were asking about “contacting after filming.” What
if you shot a simply amazing and pivotal scene, with the radio
sound ambiance throughout the cuts, and then someone said “No!” to
the usage? Never leave yourself or your production vulnerable to
as yet unknown costs for rights that you might desperately need
up the road.

If you use anyone else’s music, spoken words or issues/53/images,
then either get a signed “Actor’s Release” before
you shoot (see copy in Appendix of my “Feature Filmmaking
at Used-Car Prices”), or create your own audio/visual ambiance/background.
Of course, if you get your hands on “public domain” materials,
those issues/53/images and sounds created before 1923 which are no longer
protected by copyright (see www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm),
you’re home free!

None of us can anticipate the future saleability
or value of our work, and thus we can’t afford to leave open
the possibility of a lawsuit or screening cancellation due to some
oversight. Always keep your movies free
from copyright problems! This is moviemaking 101.

Know Any Good Shortcuts?

I know you are very busy but hope you have time to
answer a question. I just finished reading your book and learned
a lot. I already have a bachelor’s
degree (not in film), and wanted to ask if it’s possible to get into
a good grad school to study filmmaking with zero experience, or is there is
a better way to learn filmmaking that will enable me to make a career out of

— Brian R., St. Petersburg,

Dear Brian:

I’ve heard about people joining English departments and
taking filmmaking classes in grad school, putting their writing
to work in scriptwriting classes and easing into production that
way—but it all depends on the college or university. At any
rate, that tells me that you can indirectly study filmmaking, and
even grab some production classes, without sweating the experience
or submitting examples of work, which is usually necessary to gain
entry into a “film program.”

While some universities are rigid, maybe an art college
like the California College of the Arts, which I attended, will
your drift from one artistic
pursuit to another, as they did in my case. I started in industrial design,
drifted into a sculpture major, finally switching to filmmaking in grad school.
I’d recommend getting in touch with chairs of the various film/video
departments you’re considering to affirm their particular requirements
for film study.

should I leave max headroom?

Rick! I had a quick question!
We start shooting on Thursday and an interesting point just came
up: we plan to
raise the money to
bump the DV (shot on a Canon XL1) to 35mm. We’re trying to
figure out whether we should shoot in letterbox format or just
shoot regular and leave extra headroom for the transfer later.
What do you think?

— Laura S., Tampa Bay, FL

Dear Laura:

Talking to the digital department at DuArt Labs in New York City
(245 W. 55th Street), I got the heads-up that you should supply
a full-frame image for their blow-up process, so as not to lose
any of the digital information. They recommend you (or your DP)
shoot a chart and then tape over your 16/9 frameline cut-off points
on a field monitor or LED fold-out camcorder screen, to establish
where the top and bottom edges fall.

I learned that DuArt has handled almost
every possible blow-up situation and has their own proprietary software
everything from Mini-DV to
24fps issues/53/images to commercial standards (they’re expensive, but maybe the
best). I also learned that DuArt conducts free screenings once a week to show
various examples of DV-to-35mm, film-to-DV and other digital/film gauge combinations,
plus various examples of lighting (they recommend you “flatten” lighting
if planning for a 35mm blow-up from DV/video). Give them a call (212/757-3681,
x 712) to R.S.V.P. a seat. There’s a lot to learn when preparing to shoot
a DV feature that will ultimately be blown up to film. MM