The current state of the world has posed challenges for all of us. As filmmakers, our challenges have been extra unique. Budgets are reduced, crews need to be smaller, and we are generally expected to work with less resources. That’s why we created the free Ninja Filmmaking mini-course: to show you how to create big results by outthinking your challenges. We’ll break down exactly how to plan out your story and be a far more proactive, stealth and intentional filmmaker.
Graphic courtesy of Muse Storytelling.
Graphic courtesy of Muse Storytelling.
The Muse Storytelling folks have launched a free online short course under the title Ninja Filmmaking that is aimed at helping moviemakers cope and survive if not thrive in this pandemic-affected world.
If things were difficult enough for independent self-funded documentary moviemakers before the arrival of COVID-19, they are even more challenging now with personal income and resources radically reduced and yet even more need for us to produce compelling visual storytelling to production standards that are constantly growing higher and higher.
Luckily, we are in the post-DSLR filmmaking revolution era, the now well-established mirrorless hybrid era with high quality, affordable cameras that can record excellent stills as well as video footage to current UHD broadcast and cinema projection standards.
Moviemaking remains, however, a predominantly white, middle-class occupation except in places where those of us locked out of the system have banded together in cooperatives with the support of donors and mentors to equip and teach ourselves to tell our own stories.
The last such organization located in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Paddington shut its doors several years ago after charging high fees for equipment rental and training during its later years.
Any free or affordable training by well-qualified moviemakers is welcome and I am for grateful Muse Storytelling’s ‘Ninja Filmmaking’ online course and advice on what for current production standards by one-person bands.
Moviemaking remains costly here
As Drew Turney of Filmism.net shared in a recent newsletter:
We all know moviemaking is an inherently expensive exercise. Even the amount of money we’d consider low (or no) budget filmmaking would be enough to get the average middle class family out of debt for the rest of their lives.
Drew bounces between Perth in Western Australia and Los Angeles, and is doubtless aware that moviemaking is an even more costly exercise in Australia than it is in the USA, with our exchange rates, lack of importer and retailer competition and local unavailability of many key items as well as non-representation of a number of useful, even essential, brands.
Nonetheless the equipment list shared by the Muse/Ninja folks is a good one based on the currently most affordable and versatile feature-quality Super 35 hybrid camera, the Fujifilm X-T4, supported by microphones from Australia’s own world-famous audio equipment maker, Røde Microphones, along with other currently popular lighting and grip products.
Production hardware recommended by Ninja Filmmaking
Fujifilm X-T4 with Fujinon XF 16-80mm f/4.0 R OIS WR zoom lens.
Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR professional Red Badge standard zoom lens.
Panasonic Lumix DC-G9 with Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 Aspheric wide to standard zoom lens.
Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 50-200mm f/2.8-4.0 Aspheric Power OIS zoom lens mounted on Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5, water-splashed to demonstrate weather-sealing on lens and camera. Image courtesy of Panasonic Australia.
Panasonic Lumix DC-G100 mirrorless digital camera with Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Aspheric zoom lens and Panasonic DMW-SHGR1 Tripod Grip, marketed for v-logging. Image courtesy of Panasonic Australia.
Blackmagic Design’s Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K aka BMPCC 4K.
Blackmagic Design’s Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K aka BMPCC 6K with Meike 35mm T2.1 Super 35 cinema prime lens.
Sigma fp L-mount 4K 35mm sensor hybrid video and photography camera.
Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 with Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens and Atomos Ninja V 5″ 4K HDMI Monitor/Recorder.
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art EF-mount fast zoom lens can be adapted for a range of Super 35/APS-C cameras or for cameras with larger sensors that can be set to Super 35/APS-C.
The Olympus M.Zuiko Pro professional prime and zoom lens collection as of late 2017, all with manual clutch focus, invaluable for fast, accurate and repeatable manual focusing as well as linear focus-by-wire and autofocus.
Meike 35mm T2.1 Super35 Cinema Prime with EF or PL mount.
Miller Air Carbon Fiber Tripod System.
Sachtler System FSB 4 Fluid Head with Sideload Plate, Flowtech 75 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Mid-Level Spreader and Rubber Feet.
Rotolight Aeos 2-Light LED Kit for video or stills photography.
The Muse Storytelling team’s Ninja Filmmaking gear list is a good one and in the best of all possible worlds would be affordable and findable at local retailers, had COVID-19 not arrived to disrupt supply chains and global air freight not to mention Australian and US postal reliability, or rather, the lack thereof.
As underlined by the Ninja Filmmaking list’s reliance on Røde Microphone’s products for audio recording, Australian brands such as Atomos, Blackmagic Design and Miller Tripods are highly regarded in video production around the world for their affordability and durability under challenging conditions.
While Fujifilm’s X-T4 Super 35 hybrid camera is an impressive performer and the company’s Fujinon prime and zoom lenses are justly respected by cinematographers, there are other approaches to video production.
Panasonic has been making strides in its S-Series 35mm sensor hybrid cameras with the Netflix-approved Lumix S1H while the recently announced S5 looks like a respectable and affordable lower-specced alternative A or B camera.
Panasonic’s G-Series Micro Four Thirds hybrid cameras like the Lumix GH5, GH5S and even the G9 have impressive video capabilities, excellent IBIS and a documentary-style Super 16 4K look and feel, though many moviemakers regret the company’s reliance on DFD contrast-detection autofocus when autofocus rather than traditional manual focus-pulling is becoming increasingly important for one-person bands.
While Westcott’s Flex Lights are impressively versatile in combination with the company’s Scrim Jim bounce and diffusion system, I have long relied on industry-leading Rotolight’s LED lights for stills and video.
Sachtler’s Flowtech tripods are reportedly fast and efficient to use on location by solo moviemakers while Miller’s solo user tripods are solid performers and prove great investments, lasting for many years in the trenches.
Independent stills and now video tripod maker 3 Legged Thing continues to expand its range with constant innovation in a field where innovation was sluggish for years.
Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro manual clutch focus cum fly-by-wire autofocus professional lenses are benchmarks of lens design in any sensor format whereas Meike’s expanding collections of affordable geared cinema lenses show real promise in independent production compared to the exorbitant prices usually charged for cinema primes.
The question is, then, what look and feel, what visual and operating style suits you, your personality and your personal circumstances best?
Hardware and software Ninja Filmmaking forgot
The Muse Storytelling folks have assembled a great core list of hardware recommendations but they left out some essential items of hardware and software for the “proactive, stealth and intentional filmmaker.”
To date no hybrid camera other than Fujifilm’s X100 series comes with built-in neutral density filters so one must invest in sets of fixed value neutral density filters or the variable neutral density filters that are most appropriate for one person run-and-gun moviemakers.
Quite a few documentary and video journalism cinematographers have matching variable NDs permanently attached to each lens in their kit to avoid exchanging filters on the spot.
Brands to look out for include Aurora-Aperture, Breakthrough Photography, Formatt-Hitech Firecrest, PolarPro, SLR Magic and many others.
If you are collecting filters with industry-standard diameters of 77mm or 82mm then you need step-up rings to attach them to lenses with smaller filter diameters.
Brands I use and recommend include Breakthrough Photography, Heliopan, PolarPro and Sensei, but I lean towards hardened aluminium or better yet brass, and look for knurled step-up rings for ease of use, and fast removal and attachment in the field.
Lastly, whatever camera you are using, you cannot go wrong with Paul Leeming’s Leeming LUT Pro system for creating perfect colorimetry and colours indistinguishable from what your eye sees.
Expose your footage using Mr Leeming’s recommended ETTR aka expose to the right method, demonstrated on the Leeming LUT Pro web page, and your footage will be eminently gradable to feature film standards in editing and grading software like Final Cut Pro and DaVinci Resolve.
3 Legged Thing – “The most technologically advanced tripod system in the world.”
Blackmagic Design – DaVinci Resolve – “DaVinci Resolve 16 is the world’s only solution that combines professional 8K editing, color correction, visual effects and audio post production all in one software tool!”
Leeming LUT Pro – “Leeming LUT Pro™ is the world’s first unified, corrective Look Up Table (LUT) system for supported cameras, designed to maximise dynamic range, fix skin tones, remove unwanted colour casts and provide an accurate Rec709 starting point for further creative colour grading. The Pro II LUTs are designed for perfect Rec709 colorimetry and have a linear luma curve, with an average measured dE(2000) of less than 1, meaning they are visually indistinguishable from reality to the human eye.”
Rotolight – “From the very first LEDs to offer the shoot what you see benefits of continuous lighting and High Speed Sync flash all-in-one, to the brightest 2×1 soft light ever made, Rotolight LEDs streamline the workflows of imagemakers across the world.”
“Blackmagic Design today announced DaVinci Resolve 15, a massive update that fully integrates visual effects and motion graphics, making it the world’s first solution to combine professional offline and online editing, color correction, audio post production, multi user collaboration and now visual effects together in one software tool. DaVinci Resolve 15 adds an entirely new Fusion page with over 250 tools for compositing, paint, particles, animated titles and more. In addition, DaVinci Resolve 15 includes a major update to Fairlight audio, along with over 100 new features and improvements that professional editors and colorists have asked for….”
“Apple has now released a new update for its flagship music recording software, Logic Pro X. While we are getting a very long list of minor tweaks and enhancements here, version 10.4 is bringing some major new features to the table along with some serious gear in the way vintage EQ emulation, new orchestral instruments, a pair of multi-effect plug-ins and hundreds of new sounds.…”
Apple’s affordable though high-end sound and visuals post-production software suites, Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X, have been given some impressive updates recently with the former gaining pro-quality colour grading features while the latter has received plenty of music-oriented improvements and content.
Now the stage is set for Apple to introduce some really big, long-needed improvements in its audio-editing and sound design capacity to equal or surpass the credible threat rendered by Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 14 and its built-in Fairlight Audio page tools obtained as the result of the purchase of the legendary Fairlight audio and video hardware and software company.
Apple’s two separate post-production suites need to be made to work together in a far closer, far more intuitive way than they do at the moment to the degree that it would be unthinkable to use one without the other.
Let us hope that Apple has some pleasant surprises up its sleeves this year, but not too late in the year as Blackmagic Design is already roaring ahead with full audio integration in the free and paid-for versions of DaVinci Resolve 14.
digitalfilms, a blog by Oliver Peters – Apple Final Cut Pro X 10.4 – “The hope for an enhanced, roles-based audio mixer has once again gone unanswered. On the other hand, the built-in audio plug-ins have been updated to those used by Logic Pro X and there’s a clean path to send your audio to Logic if you want to mix there.”
digitalfilms, a blog by Oliver Peters – Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 14 – “But is that enough to sway loyal Final Cut Pro X, Premiere Pro, or Media Composer editors to switch?… I wouldn’t be surprised to hear news of a TV show or small feature film being edited with Resolve in the coming year.”
“Music by Nick Driftwood. This is a 10-bit 420 encode using Handbrake HEVC x265. Now you can use Handbrake to encode your HLG Rec2020 / videos. This is an extreme example at hi rez anamorphic but basically the settings for handbrake h265 HEVC encodes are the same. Use the CRF constant Rate Factor to slide/change quality (lower is better quality but longer encodes).
Use chrome or other compatible browser to view upto 8K (Anamorphic x2 desqueeze to 9 884 pixels x 3 744 pixels in great quality INTRA).
“… DaVinci Resolve 14 is the biggest release in the history of the product, and has been designed to be a complete revolution in post production. DaVinci Resolve 14 is the world’s only fully integrated professional editing, color correction and audio solution. It scales from a single user all the way up to the largest collaborative studio workflows.
New features include up to 10 times performance improvement, a whole new audio post production suite with Fairlight audio built in, and multi user collaboration tools that let multiple people edit, color and mix audio from multiple systems, all in the same project at the same time. In addition, DaVinci Resolve 14 includes hundreds of new features for editors and colorists, including over 20 new effects such as automatic facial recognition and tracking so customers can quickly refine and enhance faces in their shots.
DaVinci Resolve 14 is like 3 high end applications in one. Customers get professional editing, color correction and new Fairlight audio tools. All it takes is a single click to switch between editing, color and audio. For multi user studios, DaVinci Resolve 14 Studio features bin and timeline locking, secure chat, a graphical timeline comparison tool for accepting and merging changes, and more. These features dramatically change post production from a linear to a parallel workflow. Customers no longer have to import, export, translate or conform projects. Everyone can work on the same project at the same time….”
“You may have heard of DaVinci Resolve as a color grading tool—it has a strong pedigree in color, and about a decade ago, you only would have seen it inside high-end post-production houses and finishing facilities, replacing the color timing workflows for film with cutting-edge digital intermediate workflows.
However, it’s also great for syncing audio, preparing dailies, conforming, and in the past few years, has even started to offer tools for editing and sound mixing. The sound mixing tools are brand new, so the industry hasn’t adopted them widely yet, and the editing tools aren’t yet as robust as what you’d see from Apple, Adobe, or Avid, but they’ll suffice in a pinch. This whole collection of tools, together, makes Resolve one of, if not the most powerful tool in post-production. It’s the glue that holds the entire post-production workflow together….”
A number of Panasonic Lumix GH5 owners using Final Cut Pro X with LUT loading plug-ins have reported varying LUT interpretation results with 8-bit and 10-bit footage. The problem involves clamping or lowering the footage superwhites after LUTs have been applied.
High whites are well-preserved in GH5 V-Log 10-bit 4:2:2 footage with Leeming LUT One applied in Premiere Pro, before and after
So far the specific causes of this problem, and its permanent solution, have not been 100% identified, but it may be useful to share a list of the free and paid-for LUT plug-ins and related software that are currently available. If the cause resides in one or more specific LUT plug-ins, then it may be wise to try out others on the list below.
Meanwhile Premiere Pro itself has some problems with correctly supporting 8-bit and 10-bit GH5 footage and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve colour grading software-cum-NLE also seems to incorrectly clamp super whites after LUTs have been applied.
LUT and colour grading plug-ins, and applications
Chromatic – currently undergoing development, CoreMelt’s Chromatic color grading plug-in is their “all in one color grading plugin that combines curves, color wheels, tracked masks, inside-outside mask grades, selective color correction, LUT loading and management and degrain, regrain all in one tool.”
ScopeBox – professional scopes application for macOS computers, that allows feeding video from a range of DIT tools and Adobe video software as well as Final Cut Pro X into ScopeBox via ScopeLink. ScopeBox maker divergent media says that “the scopes found in most desktop editing applications leave a lot to be desired – they’re not accurate, they’re slow, and they’re not configurable”.
The crux of the problem and a workaround
Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT One describes the problem as follows. The LUTs from his unified, corrective LUT system are “designed to maximize dynamic range, fix skin tones, remove unwanted colour casts and provide an accurate Rec. 709 starting point for further creative colour grading”.
The Leeming LUT One system provides “the best possible settings to maximise dynamic range and image quality for that camera, while minimising noise and other unwanted artefacts”. Thus the system’s LUTs are “designed to work with the full float levels of the video clips as they come out of camera”.
“Some cameras stop at 100 IRE, but others such as Panasonic and Sony retain superwhite up to 109 IRE (usually), so my LUTs are designed around that limit, not the 100 IRE limit,” Mr Leeming says.
He offers one potential workaround, until LUT plug-ins are updated to support float space. “The easiest temporary solution is to adjust IRE for clips to fall within 0-100 IRE, then apply the LUT, as in theory the distribution of values in float space should be the same. That should avoid clipping”.
Mr Leeming notes that he designs Leeming LUT One in Premiere Pro which “handles superwhites with the LUT directly” and “no need to pull down exposure” and was “not aware that there were programs which didn’t pull down superwhites or lift superblacks”.
A more permanent solution
Roger Bolton of CoreMelt, developer of Chromatic and LUTx, has further insights into the problem and its solution:
A LUT is defined in the color ranges 0-1 in float with 1 being defined as the highest legal level (100 IRE). You can stretch the LUT out to handle the additional levels but that’s changing the look of the LUT if it was designed on legal levels. There’s not really a “correct” solution that I’m aware of, so how a LUT loader should handle this is something that needs flexibility.
As Chromatic is currently under development, Mr Bolton says that “we plan to allow a few different ways of dealing with the issue” and has asked users to send him their requests. He states that LUTx will be updated to handle superwhites and Chromatic will also handle them when released.
CoreMelt has released Chromatic and its is available as a 14-day free trial or as a special launch offer for one week only, closing at Pacific Standard Time (PST) 7th August 2017. The special offer contains Chromatic and over 150 LUTs.