Sunday, 25 February, 2007

Shoot HDV release in a theatre

Some months ago we completed the entire digital post-production for a film called 'Shoonya' (literally meaning zero). This movie has been shown at festivals overeas, Rotterdam for one.

What made Shoonya different and probably unique is that it was shot not on film, but tape, Sony HDV tape. And using a Sony Z1 camcorder too. on small DV sized tapes.

When we first saw the footage on tape we were sceptical about how it would look. Particularly considering that the producers wanted to grade it and finally record it out to 35 mm film to show in theatres. Very challenging. Fortunately we were involved right from the beginning so we could specify a correct workflow.

I first tried out native HDV editing, which was then possible in FCP 5 (the producers chose to edit with FCP - Final Cut Pro). But the 'conform' process discouraged me as it was way too slow. For a 2 hr plus film it would be a drudgery. So I advised working with an 'intermediate codec' - Apple Intermediate.

Working with AIC assured discrete frames instead of B and P frames but it had two down sides. One, time code was not preserved after capture. And two, AIC takes up much more space than HDV-native's 12 Gb/hour.

Yet, we eventually went with AIC. We did small trials and viewed them in theatres to be convinced about the quality. The final result, though not exactly like film was definitely better than shooting SD (DV/Beta/DBeta)

After editing was complete, we collected the edit on a disk. We broke it into reels corresponding to 2000 feet in 35mm film. The maximum length most cine projectors can show at a stretch. Remember they shot 1080i50, that is 25 fps.

After that, I applied a 'secret sauce' to get it into a Lustre grading system. I created DPX file sequences from their media since Lustre is happiest working with DPX. I experimented with 8bit and 10bit and came o the conclusion that since the acquisition process worked at 8bit, there was little to gain witn 10bit.

Grading in Lustre was a bit challenging since the material lacked the latitude that 35mm film has. Here's where on-set monitoring plays a crucial role. Because if your on-set monitoring is correct in black and white levels, you'd set your exposure just right and so any exaggerated correction would be unnecessary.

If you plan on shooting HD in a big way, invest in an HD monitor of your own. Worth it.

We found HDV originated footage is less tolerant to exposure correction than 35mm originated film. Shoonya was shot pretty precisely so this kind of correction wasn't necessary.

So in the final analysis, is it really a good idea to not shoot film and yet aspire to have film as the final exhibition format?

No, I'm not about to deliver a final judgment on this. I'll just put forth some issues to keep in mind.

Not shooting film can (or could) definitely save money.
Shooting 'prosumer' HD like HDV is better than shooting SD - Beta/DBeta/DV. HDV at least has the resolution.

Shooting 'advanced' HD like HDCamSR/Varicam/Genesis can actually be more complex than shooting film. And these may actually even be costlier than film. Yes!
Avoid HDV camcorders with average lenses. The Canon XL-H1 and JVC HD250 producer much better mages than Sony's Z1 and such like just on account of their lenses.
The Z1's lens 'performance' has to be seen to be believed.

The Red camera. Keep a close watch on this.
Sony HDCamSR over Panasonic DVCProHD. Varicam shoots on highly compressed DVCProHD so its half-way between the highly compressed HDV and the relatively uncompressed HDCam-SR. HDCamSR rules. Period.

HD tapes (except HDV and DVCProHD) arent's exactly cheap. How's 25 grand for 90 mins?
For post noone's giving you an HD recorder at less than 7k and hour. Yes you'll need to factor that for editing.
Shooting film means processing delays. Shooting HDCamSR or DVCProHD also means transfer delays. You need to transfer to DV so you can edit at your place.

If you want a 'film look', currently only film will give it to you.
Not one single HD format looks exactly like film. But that's missing the point completely. Do a trial and convince yourself that the 'not-looking-like-film' really affects your story. For some stories, it might just not make a difference.

Most editors have not equipped themselves with the finer nuances of technology that HD working necessitates.
A final post-production workflow has to be worked out before you begin post production. Do yourself a favour and please hire a consultant just for this. It can save you a lot of time and money. And keep you sane.

Did I mention that Shoonya was shot with sync sound mostly. And it was shot as 1080i50 meaning 25 fps. Yet, the theatrical film version is 24 fps 35mm film. And the TV version is tape at 25fps. Both same length. And sound gave no trouble.

Now you know why you need a consultant.


  1. Hey, thanks a lot for this post, Neil. Could I possible see the film sometime?

  2. Hi Neil,

    I am pretty surprised that you prefer HDV over DVCPro HD. What about the Mpeg2 compression problems in HDV ?

    And what if you shoot in the Pansonic HVX 200 or AJ-SPC700 with P2 cards ? You have no time code beaks, and its tapeless...

    do you get these panasonic cameras in bombay for rental ?


  3. I don't think I said or impllied that I advised the use of HDV over anything else to shoot an entire feature. Not at all.
    Shooting HDV was (in this case) the producer's decision before I got there.

    I merely laid out the workflow arfter that decision was made and the shoot was done with.

    Sure, there are other media that would yield better results.
    The cameras you mention can be rented in Mumbai. I'm not sure where, but I've had people come to me with stuff shot on HVX200 and DVCProHD.

    Now there's even Sony XDCam and XDCamHD both better than HDV. But hey, if you're a producer, you can't argue with HDV's price.


  4. Hi can you kindly let me know your ph no: so that i could talk to you about HDR-FX1e sony
    My cell no: 9873628941

  5. tarun7:35 PM

    Hi could you kindly email your cell no:
    i would like to ask you about HDV film making
    my email id is:
    ph no: 9873628941

  6. Hay Neil,
    My name is Sandeep Mohan, and am based in Mumbai.

    Can you please give me your contact address/number. I am in the pre production of a 90 minute HDV feature. I own a Sony Z1, and also have a 3.2GHz Mac Pro with FCP. Want to work out a cost, and also how much will it cost if you come along on this tight budget feature as a Post Production Consultant.

    You can mail me at

  7. Many of them r dying to do this? I can read that these films do not give a film look, but there r stories which may not need a similar look. Many thanx for this post and I will give it a try.


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