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 Don McAlpine shoots "Mental" on EPIC
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2011 11:42 pm    Post subject: Don McAlpine shoots "Mental" on EPIC Reply with quote

Mental is now being shot in Australia on EPIC by the legendary Don McAlpine, his first digital film in over 40 years of moviemaking:

"“Mental” is a script by PJ Hogan that I read six years ago and decided I must shoot . It was finally set up as a small budget film. PJ’s development of performance on camera indicated that a low-budget digital might mitigate the high cost of stock. During preproduction a few questions arose. The directors assessment was that to film anamorphic presented problems with depth of field with the number of cast in shot most of the time. I had decided that to the best of my knowledge the Arri Alexa was the camera to use. The problem was that the director and I both observed that his storyboards were all in a 2.4, anamorphic ratio. The Alexa system was such that the viewfinder could not unsqueeze the image if I used anamorphic lenses. That facility now has become available. Too late for this production.

Concurrently I was privy to Bob Primes brilliant assessment of all single chip cameras potentially suited to cinema production. The Red 1MX capacfiity to record on a 4K chip and its ability to take its place in the top selection impressed me. The Red Epic was not available for this test but has since been released and using my long-term relationship with Panavision I was able to secure two Epics for this production.The advantage of the Epic was the now 5K chip enabled me to use a 2.4 anamorphic crop. It actually was similar to using a Super 35 crop on film. I do believe the rocksteady 5K image will produce resolution beyond that of film.

This was to be my entree into digital film production. I have been shooting digital stills in relationship to my lighting and exposing film for many productions. The first camera I used was a Canon D 30. One of the Epics arrived on the Wednesday before shooting: the second arrived on Friday. I did have the chance to shoot several tests but it soon became evident that this was no great challenge. The mass of indicators of what is happening to the image is remarkable. More of this magic facility later.

The first few days of shooting were hectic but my crews fell in love with the lightness and precision of the new cameras. My problem was an inadequate viewing screen. It took a few days to get an Apple Cinema monitor connected to the system and the scene ceased to grade through three stops depending on the angle of view. As yet I have not felt any disadvantage of adapting to Digital.

There have been some truly positive outcomes. The simple quick “magazine change” is positive in maintaining the flow of energy on the set. Both operators were quickly accepting of the inherent delay in the viewfinder. This they said was totally outweighed by the clarity and brilliance of the image. With a relatively accurate monitor I have been able to film seˇquences that I would not have dared shoot on film. An example of this is where our heroine wears an LED miner’s lamp on her head and illuminates another character in a scene. The monitor indicated that there was light being reflected from the other characters face to eliminate the heroines face. Shooting that with film I could not have risked the possibility of a reshoot and would have had to find another way of doing it. I don’t believe this was an easy way out I believe I have created a wonderful scene that was only possible because of the accurate feedback of the system. The 800 ASA speed of the chip means you have a high-quality high-speed system with the true potential to be “forced” one or two stops without much detriment. It is remarkable how well th"e black end holds. You have to be brutal to get a muddy black. A second sequence in the same scene had our heroine attacking the camera as the second character. Here the LED flashed into the lens and onto a reflecting board around lens and the director was able to assess whether he had the performance and the effects to his satisfaction. Exterior light work is a dream. You can light a streets with a fraction of the power you did in the past and the practical lighting takes on a realism of its own

The question comes to mind does this new world diminish the role of the director of photography? In my mind it does not diminish but expands the possibilities. A dramatic scene has to be lit with as much skill and artistry as you are capable. The leading lady will still need great attention and w=e are still producing entertainment. The natural affinity of the digital system to the world of computer effects is obvious. However in the dramatic comedy I am now shooting I find I have to employ all the knowledge and invention I used all my previous film. The fundamental main difference is the instant “rushers” the system produces. It means that during the shoot your work on a particular shot ends when the director says “we’re moving on”. The horror of two or three hours of an extended day watching and analysing the day’s work is history.

Of course I have many weeks left to shoot and the post-production will be a whole other story. I anticipate my experience with digital intermediate work and support of experienced associates will make this a visually interesting film."

Don McAlpine ASC ACS

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