Press release from Sony
With more than 60 drama titles to his credit and a career stretching from the late 60’s, Sydney-based DOP David Burr ACS has film in his blood.
So when long-time collaborator director/producer Simon Wincer asked him to shoot his new feature project using a digital camera, Burr researched thoroughly before selecting his weaponry.
Burr began his working life with the Cinesound Review, a weekly newsreel shown in Greater Union cinemas before moving to a small production company and meeting cinematographer John McLean ACS who introduced him to the world of feature film.
“I started working on films as a clapper loader and from there I pretty much stayed in feature films, along with commercials,” detailed Burr. “I worked my way up through the ranks to focus puller, camera operator and finally to Director of Photography.”
Having worked on feature films for over four decades Burr is well experienced in the art of 35mm film production.
“The Cup was originally going to be shot on 35mm film but it had a long gestation and by the time it got up Simon had some experience with HD photography and thought the format might be suitable for this film.”
'The Cup' tells the true triumph over adversity story behind the 2002 Melbourne Cup when jockey Damien Oliver lost his only brother in a tragic racing accident just days before the great race.
“It was my seventh project with Simon so we have a long track record together but when he decided we’d be shooting digital, I was a little apprehensive because I wasn’t used to that format. I did a bunch of research and spoke to a lot of people, including a friend of mine Dean Semler ACS ASC. His digital experience has been with the Panavision Genesis camera but I worked out the Genesis was made by Sony in conjunction with Panavision and it seemed to me that the F35 was an upgraded Genesis so I decided that the Sony F35 was the way to go,” said Burr.
The Sony F35 CineAlta camera uses a super 35mm-sized CCD sensor and PL lens mount, allowing cinematographers to sustain their passion for 35mm film lenses and flexible depth-of-field control. The F35's sensor provides exceptional image quality, wide dynamic range and captures an extremely wide colour gamut.
Working with the team at the rental company Gear Head, Burr put the F35 though a series of latitude and exposure tests – the results convinced him the camera was the right choice for 'The Cup'.
“It was basically my first sort of real experience shooting in digital so I was learning from day one about a different format,” said Burr. “I photographed the film fairly simply without a lot of detailed lighting mainly because we had only nine weeks to shoot the film and we had a lot of locations. Simon likes a lot of coverage so we nearly always used two F35 cameras.
“We weren’t trying to achieve any specific look other than contemporary and as the film was set in Ireland, Dubai and Australia we wanted Ireland and Australia to look a little different. This difference in looks was somewhat weather dependent but we also had the opportunity to tweak the relevant scenes in the colour grade.”
The two cameras recorded to their docked HDCAM-SR tape units and output was also fed to AJA portable disk recorders for on-set playback.
Most scenes were shot using Angenieux Optimo 17-80 and 24-290 zoom lenses. “We had one on the A camera and one on the B camera. Occasionally we put on a Canon 150-600 and very occasionally we’d use one of the Zeiss Master Primes, just because they were a little faster. We also used a fair bit of Steadicam and we fitted it with a little 14-40 lightweight Angenieux Optimo and that worked fine.
“Basically Simon and I treated both cameras as we would film cameras really. We just treated them as a couple of Panaflexes and I know that data wrangling had to go on but it didn’t get in the way at all.
“I felt reasonably at home with it. All the usual bits and pieces, like the follow focus and the matte box and the motors you put on from time to time – they all worked just as if they were on a film camera.”
While Burr is happy to make the most of the advantages of digital production he is mindful he has to adapt to some changes. Using on-set 17” monitors enabled instant feedback but meant physically moving away from the camera.
“I think a main benefit from a cameraman’s perspective is that what you see is what you get there on the day. You don’t have to guess how much your particular negative is going to see into the shadows or how much of the highlights it’s going to hold. Now you can see the results there and then – you don’t have to wait 24 hours for rushes.
“And digital cameras can allow DPs to be a bit more daring – you can be daring with film but if you stuff it up, by the time you realise it you’ve stuffed it up it’s too late. Whereas with this HD system you can push it and if you think you’ve gone too far, you can back off a bit there on the day, you don’t have to go back and reshoot.
“When it comes to lighting the set with film I’d be looking at the ground glass through the viewfinder and judging the final tweaks to the lighting. With the F35s I was judging my lighting on the monitor. Simon occasionally would want to see playback for whatever reason and the option was always there but mostly we used those monitors to judge the image. On set I’m used to being very close to the camera for most of the day however the monitors were often up to 30 feet away and sometimes I’d miss a bit of discussion around the camera because I wasn’t close enough.
“The images recorded by the F35 are very clean and sharp and I kept thinking, ‘we’re going to have to dirty this up a bit at the DI – it’s just too sharp’. But that’s coming from someone with a film background who’s used to film grain and a little float in the projector gate – if you speak to young kids these days who have grown up with computers, they think sharper and cleaner is better and that’s the image they’re happier with.”
Burr said Wincer was happy with the move to an all-digital production and believes his next film will go the same way.
“And I’d be more than happy to follow him. I certainly still like film and I currently shoot mostly film. But if I was offered another feature film and the producer or director wanted to go with an HD format I’d be quite happy to do that. I’m looking forward to the new Sony F65 and would consider using it when it is released.”