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Directors Get Techie

Directors Get Techie

March 16, 2008
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" I’ve shot numerous “high definition” titles on several different kinds of cameras and learned that not all high definition is the same.  "

When I first started seriously shooting in adult back in 1997, the hot camera at the moment was the Sony VX1000. It was small and easy to use. I don’t recall seeing any other equipment on set.

After setting up lights and plugging in an extra camera mic, nestling those ear buds deep in to check the sound, we’d white balance on a bounce card. One push of the button was generally all that was needed. All you had to do was switch to auto focus and keep your finger on press to auto while you worked on capturing the most explicit angle. The rest of the show was spent trying to hire the hottest new chicks pouring into the business at the time.

Let me just say, times have changed since then.

After hearing endless debates about how the Sony VX2000 was going to revolutionize the world of gonzo porn, most without much substance and spoken in a technical language I was not highly proficient in, its arrival came and went without much fanfare. I only recall seeing one model, ever, and I’m pretty sure Jim Powers was holding it.

Next came the PD170 but by that time I was on to shooting with the Canon XL1S, a beautiful piece of machinery with the slick architecture; a curved piece of metal with a mounted microphone embedded with a bright red record button. It was the moviemaker’s camera and, with it’s totally customizable options, tons of accessories, and interchangeable lenses, promised a new revolution in DV movie making. New possibilities opened up. It was easier to use the Canon, more comfortable to hold, and it nestled ever so perfectly into your shoulder taking some of the weight off and stabilizing your shot further.

All of my first couples titles were shot on it because it also had a killer 16:9 feature and could shoot 24p allowing for a film look, although back then I knew little more about setting it than I did about white balancing. I left those important technical decisions up to the experts, like director slash veteran cameraman Andre Madness, who reveled in spending hours fiddling with his cameras and absolutely loved sharing tips and tricks with anyone eager to listen to him.

And for a while, as they say, life was good. Though there were rumors of high definition cameras in the future we just blissfully ignored them and went along our merry way shooting gonzos and features alike with the Cannon XL1 and dreaming of the day the XL2 would drop, never even dreaming of the GL1.

So much has changed since then. Two contracts and several companies later, I’ve become well versed on the different kinds of high definition cameras, including the Tru-Def seven-pound cameras that kill a cameraman’s spirit in two scenes flat. I’ve shot numerous “high definition” titles on several different kinds of cameras and learned that not all high definition is the same.

Recently I had the opportunity to shoot with my good friend David Lord for two shows. The first show, “Bree Olson Slumber Party,” I title I co-wrote with Lord for Adam & Eve, was shot on the Sony P2, quite possibly the wave of the future. Instead of tape the camera images are recorded directly to a hard disc that is then removed and backed onto hard drives. Its advantages include lowering the time spent uploading inordinate amounts of footage from two cameras and a behind-thescenes operator.

With the onset of Blu-ray who knows how many new features will be required, or more to the point, what kind of overkill would the handful of qualified editors in this business be willing to deal with? The down side, and it’s a big one, is not having a back up tape unless you burn one off your deck. Let’s be honest, the weakest link is always the human link and user operated errors account for the majority of technical difficulties we find in any industry, much less the ever-volatile sex business.

One can’t help but wonder if the Sony P2 portends a near future where camera operators feed, either directly via firewire or wirelessly, right onto a drive, cutting editing time nearly in half. Bottom line, back up your work people!

Let’s not hear any horror stories about how some bright eyed, pimple faced P.A. accidentally covered your laptop in soda and fried out three days worth of shooting unless the good folks at Dell can bring it back for you.

The second show we made together was a high definition feature I wrote and directed for Cal Vista Metro called “Runaway Love.” For this show we stuck to David’s normal camera, the Sony HVR-Z1U. This may very well be my favorite camera of all time. I like it even better than the XL1.

Shooting in high-def at 1080i/60 fields, its three 16x9 native CCDs churn out butter-smooth video that’s crisp as fuck while only using 25mbit/sec. of bandwidth. While it’s not true 24p it does use progressive footage that’s shot at 24 frames per second, using interpolation that looks as good or better than any 24p, making it hard to tell the difference.

It’s also platform agnostic and just as easily used shooting traditional DV cam footage including 60i, 50i, 30 frames, 25 or 24 frames. The stabilizing effects works so well you can practically shake it and get a steady shot. It’s light so it doesn’t kill the director of photography and the on-board is relatively true to the monitor feed, a rare thing as anyone whose spent more than three days on set well knows.

Furthermore it comes with a host of amazing presets to tool around with. For example, on “Runaway Love” we manipulated the in-camera effects to isolate a single color and stripped everything else out to monochrome grays. The effect was striking, as we intercut Kissy Kapri in a baby blue innocence chatting online with Talon, drenched in demonic, cartoonish reds, denoting his less than noble predatory interests in the blossoming young girl.

Back when I started you would be hard pressed to find an editor with the experience and software to pull this kind of trick off. Now I just have my A.D. tweak it in camera and I get to see the results as I shoot.

Which brings me to my next, and last, point; at the end of the day nothing can compensate for the work of a great editor. Having shot over 25 adult features in the last two-plus years I have come to see the difference that having an experienced, adult-oriented editor can make in bringing the vision I’ve scripted then sweat blood over to create making its way to the final product.

Hollywood reject editors will twist your work, neglect shots, lecture you on your shooting technique, shot calling, and dialogue coaching, and throw out your carefully annotated set script with all its notes.

One editor I worked with while under contract relayed to me, through my producer, that in film school they taught him that it only takes three takes per angle to get the shot and that any more footage was simply a waste of his time to edit. We ruthlessly teased him on the next show, inviting the talent to join in on takes he would later edit, and I never heard anything about it again.


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