HD Vs Film Crewing LevelsIt is a misconception that one can work with a smaller crew if shooting with HD than one can with film. Historically, video shoots have used smaller crews because they have been conceived from their beginnings as low-budget productions. With lower quality design input, the daily minutes of screen time shot, very high, and the crew so small, it is virtually impossible to produce a high quality product no matter what you are recording on. Badly shot and lit 16mm film can look every bit as bad as badly shot Digi Beta. With HD’s higher resolution and imaging characteristics, it is the picture quality that is the key technical contributor to the crewing decisions. As the quality can be nearly as high as 35mm film, all crewing, both in terms of numbers and experience should relate to 35mm production. Professional broadcast HD cameras are almost all both heavier and larger than their 16mm film counterparts, indeed the top end HD cameras are similar in size and weight to 35mm cameras – some are even larger and heavier. With the number of boxes to move, and pieces of equipment to assemble being greater than in film, skimping on the number and experience of your crew will cost your production dearly. Compared to the cost of re-engaging lead actors, extending studio and equipment hire and location fees, camera crew are remarkably good value.
The Operator - If you want to make use of the ‘What you see is what you get’ benefits of shooting in HD, having an expensive 20” HD monitor isn’t the end of the story. You need someone competent to watch it as well. This will almost always be the DoP. With the DoP running between video village and the set, you will therefore require an operator. All the other usual benefits of an operator on a film set translate to HD and as the on-set workload on the DoP increases, the operator becomes ever more essential.
The Focus Puller / 1st AC is every bit as important as with film. These cameras can’t focus themselves; indeed there isn’t a focusing system in the world that knows when to pull focus from an actor speaking to an actor listening. This requires great skill; in addition, the top end HD cameras exhibit the same narrow depth of field (how much is sharp in front of and behind the actual point of focus) as 35mm film, and so require the same level of experience. HD cameras are considerably more complex to set up and maintain than film cameras, and in the USA a new crew member, _ the DIT (digital Imaging Technician) has been created to handle the workload (this is in addition to the normal film crewing level). Whilst on the subject of unwanted artefacts, many digital cameras suffer to a greater or lesser extent from ‘stuck’ or ‘hot’ pixels. These are not recalcitrant or sexy! They are visible as bright green, blue, red or white static dots on the screen and are caused by a faulty pixel in the sensor. You can also get these on LCD screens, which can be a problem if using an HD LCD monitor as it’s hard to tell if it’s the camera or the monitor at fault. Stuck/hot pixels are not usually fixed, but can be ‘mapped out’ (hidden) so that the camera no longer sees them. They can often be removed in post in a similar manner to dust and dirt removal on film. Increasingly, cameras are able to fix stuck pixels themselves.
The Clapper Loader / 2nd AC –Yes, you do need one! Camera cards still have to be changed and labelled and report sheets prepared for the cutting room. Cameras record onto hard drives which need to be downloaded to back up drive. This is often done in real time, so a 10 minute flash mag takes 10 minutes to download , plus time to check it has copied successfully, the hard drive is then wiped (do you really want a trainee to do this?) before being returned to set. Other cameras record direct to hard drives, which require a similar workflow. Cabling has also become far more complex, and if a remote record deck is used, the 2nd Ac is responsible for its set-up and maintenance as well as switching it in and out of record. Just as checking the gate has transferred over to HD, so has the use of the clapperboard. It is quite extraordinary that with all this new technology, absolutely the best and most reliable method of keeping sound in sync is to bang two bits of wood together! The clapperboard is also useful for identifying time code errors that can occur from time to time. Talk to any editor or post house and they will invariably ask for a fully marked up slate even if you are using time code. The slate is also the best place to put additional information about the shot such as lens height, focal length and inclination for special effects work.
The Camera Trainee - With all the additional equipment to set up and boxes to move, an intelligent trainee is an incredibly cost effective addition to any set. In addition to all the good arguments for having a trainee, just where do you think your future crew will come from? Video Assist - When shooting in HD it seems every benefit brings an associated cost. The benefit of being able to effectively view your ‘rushes’ live in terms of quality control (you can tell if there is a focus problem and potentially strike sets earlier than you can with film) is somewhat offset by the fact that setting up Video Village is now a time consuming and complex business that can not be left to a trainee; you will need a properly trained Video assist technician and often a Video assist assistant.
Gaffer and Sparks - There is another popularly held misconception that HD cameras require less light. This is a fallacy. Most HD cameras have an equivalent film speed or sensitivity to light as 320ASA film stock, sometimes a little more, sometimes less. The DoP will frequently be lighting to balance with existing sources such as daylight or practical lamps within the sets and consequently, exactly the same amount of light is required no matter how you photograph the image. The number of electricians required is more likely to be dictated by the script and schedule than by what you are recording the image on. This goes for the quantity of lights required as well.