Sunday, 12 October, 2008

Post for a feature length film on a Red camera

Shooting a feature length Indian film with a Red camera is now a possibility. Cameras are coming in, and hiring them is getting easier. Some have already done it. And many more are testing the waters and mulling it before taking the leap.
Apart from all the other arguments and discussions on the aesthetic of Red vs. film, the post workflow is a different. And if the Red camera saves you money from not having to shoot hundreds of cans of film negative (each costing about Rs. 10,000), it also needs you to be responsible with the storage of this data. And have a good plan on how to finish the film.

So, for all those who are considering shooting on Red, here's a check-list of gear you must own or have access to. For the post of a movie shot with the Red camera.

On location
MacBook Pro
Firewire CF Card readers - two at least.
Portable RAID 1 drive. Like the
Sonnet Fusion F2
You'll also need a SATA adapter like the Sonnet Tempo SATA ExpressCard/34
A good utility like ShotPut Red for copying and backing up these files.

At your place
Desktop MacPro - 4 core or more 2GB RAM per CPU, so an eight-core needs 16 GB RAM
Safe RAID - Sonnet Fusion, CalDigit, anything running RAID 5 or RAID 6 for which you can get failed drives replaced in India easily. And with 5 drives or more.

Licenced software - FCP, Crimson, GlueTools, Pomfort.
Red software - RedAlert, RedCine, RedRushes. The latest versions tried and figured out.
Large monitor - Apple or some other 30". Small monitors are a disaster.
Capture card - BlackMagic or Kona Broadcast monitor - or good LCD TV.

All Software - Buy, Buy, Buy. Don't look for cracks, don't pirate. 

All this can go between Rs 7-10 lakhs. If you don't want to sink in that kind of money figure out rentals with a post house. Or installments with a bank. But do NOT skimp on any of these.

Red shoots data. On CF cards. Your rushes are data. As long as your data is safe you have a movie. If your data is lost, only a re-shoot can get it back. And till you re-shoot, you don't have a movie.
With Red data, a drive failure can make you lose 20 hours of rushes in a fraction of a second. Especially with cracked software.

Now is Rs 10 lakhs too expensive? So develop a paranoid, maniacal reverence to data and obtain a obsessive compulsive disorder of continuously making backups and triple-checking them. Once per hour.

Next, get a good post crew. Identify an editor. Have him or her improve their reading on digital formats and get familiar with the Red workflow. And all the products listed above. Avid or FCP doesn't matter as long as the editor has a good plan. If the editor is Red-skeptic, get another editor.

Repeat this process till you find one who believes. Make sure your editor's plan is in sync with the people at the post house that is doing the final film grade and output. Again, both the editor and the post house need to believe in this whole thing. If they are skeptical, or in a Red-bashing, or FCP-bashing, or Avid-bashing or general digital-bashing mood, let them go.

The editor's age doesn't matter as long as his thoughts and beliefs are from this century. Yes, even twenty-somethings can be really old school when it comes to the Digital Film process. Finally, identify all the deliverables - film print, promos, trailers, HD tapes, DigiBeta tapes, DVD, maybe Blu-ray - and ensure the editor and post people have heard of all these and have a plan on starting with Red and ending up with all these.

Actually your post plan also depends on the final deliverables. If your post team don't have a plan, find a consultant (hint, hint) who can sell you a plan. Yes, sell a plan, as in pay money and get something in return. The goods you're buying is advice. Don't expect free advice.

Most consultants treat free and paid advice with different degrees of seriousness. So if you have the intent (to pay), make it known up front. Making a film and completing it so that people can buy tickets and watch it, all this starting with a film camera and film, is easy. If you and your crew know how to, can follow instructions, and have a plan.

The same applies to starting out with a Red camera and CF cards. Except that the instructions are different, as is the plan.


  1. The RED work flow sound good. But at the end of the day, you again have to print back to film for distribution...but will the big houses shoot a blockbuster digitally and distribute it it via UFO or QUBE?

  2. Until UFO or QUBE eventuate into the already existing 2k Projection available worldwide, I doubt going back to 720p is a viable option considering the budgets that go into mastering a film at film res on film or digitally.

    Also, I would like to add that the Red Workflow is the simplest workflow till date, eliminating various high cost products and services along the way. If done with the right know how, like Neil said, (hint hint), you can walk in and walk out of a facility in lesser time than you'd ever imagine with whatever desireable output you prefer.

    I would like to also add that shooting on the CF Cards is the most advised option out there considering the CF Cards are SSDs and the media on those cards cannot be damaged easily. Buy plenty of them and use them to backup your media, as opposed to the Spinning Disk HDD's that Red officially sells as well.

    Cheers! :)

  3. Just came across this blog and after reading Neils excellent and well laid out page on DI. (thanks for that Neil - no paypal but adsense yes :-))

    Mithun are you the same guy I met at the Dubai show demoing Scratch? (cheers if u are!)

    I was in Bombay...ok Mumbai, two weeks ago, and kind of surprised (appalled?) about the lack of forward thinking of seasoned professionals in the film and Ad spheres when a discussion about evolving from film to Digital crops up.

    No reasoning wins in favour of their minds.
    You can list all the usual advantages: Direct 4k shooting (something you cant really get with 35 mm after it has been thrashed by a telecine process and then dumped back to film) etc.

    What's even more surprising is that there is a severe lack of NLE's in Bombay that are end-to-end online?? strange that people still prefer editing on beta and terms like nagra (tape based), offline, etc are still the order of the day.

    Neil makes a note worthy point of making sure that storage medium for digital is critical to take care of, and well noted by me.

    With people like Reliance wiring up the country with fibre, Shooting Digital makes sense.

    Trivia: The funniest thing I heard is that people prefer to shoot with film and then do a telecine because they can "color correct" or "f-stop" down a badly lit scene during the telecine process! ROFL!! I kid you not - I heard this during a discussion.

    I think Systems like Scratch, Pablo etc will need to do a heavy awareness campaign to bring people up to speed on Digital Grading, conforming and hard disk editing.

    (then again, when Digital is eventually adopted and people realize the amount of cost and time savings gained... will there be more trash Bollywood productions on the horizon? a.k.a 10 films per month??) **sigh**

    Good Blog here Neil, thanks for sharing!

  4. Real Vision,

    I wonder what kind of people you met in Mumbai two weeks ago. Who spoke about preferring to edit on Beta and sound on Nagra.

    I have to say they are an extremely small and bitter minority. And they exist in other parts of the world. You can even meet such folks in Hollywood if you look hard enough.

    Here in the Indian film and film post industry we have moved on. May be not far enough, but we aren't as far back as many NRIs who left this country a decade ago like to believe.

    Regarding shooting on film and colour correct in telecine for TV commercials. This is being followed all over the world. And it will be around for the forseeable future.

    Moving from film to digital for shooting as well as for exhibition, is still catching up all over the world. Its not exactly as if all Hollywood films are shot on media other than film. Or that no film prints are made for Hollywood films.

    No way, this film vs digital thing is far from over and we are many years away from completely forsaking film. And it is definitely not for 'old school' or nostalgic reasons that film still rules.

    And please, there's no severe lack of end-to-end online NLEs in Mumbai. Next time you're here, do let me know. I can give you a few addresses.

    And by the bye, can you please let your profile be accessed?


  5. Anonymous4:31 am

    Hi Neil
    Great post, however the workflow for the redone is changing towards a pretty good solution. I own a red and we just completed a feature film that was shot on S35 with few scenes shot on redone. The DI took place at EFX magic. During the process i was overwhelmed at the staggering interest and buzz it created with the colourist. The film out was just amazing and listening to the conversations of the guys there was almost empowerment of acceptance of this digital negative.
    So you right i didn't feel or see any resistance to this media. Our next feature is redone only (in Vancouver) and again our DI will be done back here in mumbai.
    Again thanks for the help few months back on 24@25 issue.

    Bal Deo


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