How I Spent My Summer: Part 2 (Andre Dahlman)

The next installment of our guest blog series in which we ask Docs In Progress staff and alumni to reflect on how they they spent their summers in documentary land... 


Next up, Andre Dahlman whose film MURPHY'S GAMBIT: A CHESS HUSTLER'S STORY was featured in the Docs In Progress 2008 Trailer Night.  Andre has also taken several classes with Docs In Progress and was one of three Docs In Progress Fellows to the 2008 Flaherty Film Seminar.   While Andre gained a lot from the challenging discussions at Flaherty, he was up for another challenge this summer.



I spent my Summer€¦Wrestling an 800 pound gorilla


by Andre Dahlman

A few months ago, my partner (Ian Cook) and I got our hands on a Red camera.   For anyone who isn€™t a gearhead, the Red is a 4k camera that promises Hollywood quality production on a serious budget. The body is cheap, the color fidelity unparalleled, and quality second to none.   In two short years, the Red has become the darling of the independent film industry:  District 9, The Informant, and Public Enemies were all shot on the Red.

The Red has been used on a handful of documentaries but most people consider the Red a studio camera.    Unfortunately, I€™m no good at making narratives so when the opportunity presented itself to use the Red, I decided it would have to be for a short doc.  To keep things simple we settled on a local story we could execute in 10 minutes over the course of a three-day production schedule. 

Throughout the course of production we encountered three main flaws:

1) The ergonomics.   The Red was never meant to be shoulder-mounted camera.  The shoulder pad is thin and the distribution of weight pretty awkward.  The body itself is only 15 pounds but once you get the auxiliaries on, you are looking at close to 40 pounds.    We were only able to shoot for 30 minutes at a time before the camera operator would succumb to fatigue.  And frankly, 30 minutes was pretty tough to handle. 

2) Focus. It was extremely difficult to pull focus.  Shooting at 4k meant the depth of field was unforgiving.  In a studio set up with a focus puller, this wouldn€™t be an issue.  But when you are shooting in the real world, things get hairy pretty quick. 

3) Work Flow.  The Red camera produces immense files that have to be tweaked, down converted, and/or processed before you can bring them into FCP.  There are a host of software solutions available to make the process as smooth as possible but the bottom line is it€™s a hassle.  If you€™re a large to mid sized production facility, this is probably less of an issue but for Ian and me, it has been a real challenge.  

All in all, I€™d say the Red isn€™t a camera so much as a system.   Introducing the Red into a documentary project will require considerable time and energy but under the right conditions the results will be stunning.   The summer was the beginning of what I€™m sure will be a very long learning curve.

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