DSLRs For Feature Films

Editor’s Note: As HD video proliferates the DSLR world, more and more still photographers are trying their hand at moving images. Vincent Laforet’s Reverie opened the floodgates, and the torrent has flowed forth. Cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II in their stock configuration are being used for projects like Reverie as budding cinematographers take advantage of the relatively low cost and the cinematic look that the DSLRs’ large image sensors give.

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Bigger projects also have been in the news as the general-interest press has been captivated by the notion of a DSLR being used to make a Hollywood movie. It’s certainly true that cameras like the 5D Mark II are being used for these projects, but it’s important to put things in perspective. Filmmakers are tricking out DSLRs with special adapters and, in some cases, doing entire firmware reprogramming for their needs. Some of the 5Ds in Hollywood are just 5Ds in the way that James Bond’s car is just an Aston Martin. In this article, HDVideoPro magazine editor Neil Matsumoto tells the story of the short film, Indian Gangster, which is being made with Canon EOS 5D Mark IIs.

Cinematographer Rodney Charters, ASC (operating camera), and director Snehal Patel (behind Charters) observe a scene.
With the end of HBO’s The Sopranos, filmmaker Snehal Patel felt the timing was right to create his own mob series, which became the premise for his recent short film, Indian Gangster. “The story is actually fantastical because there’s no such thing as Indian gangsters in L.A.,” says Patel, with a chuckle. “I thought it would be cool to show a different type of character for South Asians in America.”

To generate industry buzz, he decided to shoot a short pilot as a pitch. With the help of FOX’s 24 cinematographer, Rodney Charters, ASC, Patel employed a Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR to shoot his ambitious short, which involved low-lit interiors, moving-car scenes and gun fights.

Born and raised in Chicago where he went to film school and then produced and directed commercials, Patel took a big step and moved to India to pursue directing a feature film. Once there, he found himself working in marketing for a production company, and it was there he saw how the Bollywood system operated.

“Up until now, it was basically private entities investing in filmmaking,” explains Patel about the country’s prolific movie industry. “As you can imagine, their budgets are very low compared to the corporate structure we have here. They do a lot with very little money and they really push their laborers. They also work really fast.”

For the film, Charters had Panavision build him a special PL mount in order to use a Panavision 10:1 zoom lens.
As the HD revolution began in the U.S., Japan and most of Europe, the transition was a little slower for India. According to Patel, it wasn’t until file-based camera systems like the Silicon Imaging SI-2K appeared (which shot much of Slumdog Millionaire) that high-def cameras began shooting. Still, Bollywood turned out to be a great training ground for Patel when he returned home three years ago. Like 70D camera? Choose some best lenses for canon 80D !

“We have so many things we can do here in America,” says Patel. “I can use a crew of 10 people and put together a music video that looks amazing. In India, it’s practically impossible to do anything with 10 people. As soon as you call a light on set—like a 1K baby—a guy comes with it, so the crew grows exponentially.”

In terms of finding a cinematographer, Patel did a lot of research on DPs who were shooting digital. Even though they had no previous relationship, Patel called Rodney Charters “out of the blue” and the busy DP agreed to meet him for breakfast. “I wanted to find someone who could really shoot an action thriller,” says Patel. “Since Rodney is on 24, he’s already doing guns and cars blowing up, so my project should be easy.”

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