Nick Upton 27.11.2007

AS THE DIRECTOR OF ¡§SPIRITS OF ORCHID ISLAND¡¨ I¡¦VE BEEN ASKED TO REFLECT ON THE EXPERIENCE OF WORKING WITH HD VIDEO WHILE SHOOTING AND IN POST PRODUCTION ¡V AND I¡¦LL DO THAT WITH A MIX OF MY OWN THOUGHTS, SOME CLIPS FROM THE FILM AND SOME GLIMPSES OF THE CREW AT WORK, SHOT ON MINI DV. THE CLIPS FROM THE FILM SHOULD LOOK BETTER VISUALLY OR WE DID SOMETHING WRONG ALONG THE WAY!

I¡¦M A FREELANCE DIRECTOR FROM THE UK AND HAVE BEEN WORKING ON WILDLIFE AND ENVIRONMENTAL DOCUMENTARIES FOR 20 YEARS, ORIGINALLY WITH THE BBC, BUT MOSTLY AS AN INDEPENDENT. I¡¦VE MADE 2 PREVIOUS FILMS IN TAIWAN WITH PTS INVOLVEMENT AND MAYBE BECAUSE BOTH FILMS DID WELL IN TAIWAN AND WON SOME INTERNATIONAL AWARDS, PTS OFFERED ME THE CHANCE TO DIRECT AN HD PRODUCTION FOR THEM. I SUGGESTED LANYU¡¦S WILDLIFE AND CULTURE AS THE SUBJECT AS I¡¦D HEARD A LOT ABOUT THE ISLAND WHILE MAKING THE OTHER FILMS AND I HOPE AUDIENCES FIND IT INTRIGUING.

I SHOULD MAKE CLEAR THAT I¡¦VE MOSTLY WORKED WITH SUPER 16 MILLIMETRE FILM BEFORE AND A RANGE OF SD VIDEO FORMATS.? I HAD DIRECTED SOME HD SHOOTS BEFORE, BUT THIS IS MY FIRST FULL HD PRODUCTION,? SO IT¡¦S BEEN A BIG LEARNING EXPERIENCE.

I¡¦LL DESCRIBE SOME OF THE GENERAL CHALLENGES I FOUND IN WORKING WITH HD, AND SOME OF THE SPECIFIC PROBLEMS OF USING IT IN QUITE A TOUGH ENVIRONMENT. I¡¦LL ALSO SAY A LITTLE ABOUT THE STYLISTIC APPROACH I USED, WHICH MAY NOT BE TYPICAL IN TAIWAN, BUT IS WHAT I FELT WOULD WORK FOR AN HD PRODUCTION AND TO ADD INTERNATIONAL APPEAL.

ON THE TECHNICAL FRONT, I CHOSE TO USE THE PANASONIC VARICAM AS I LIKED ITS SLOW MOTION CAPABILITY AND HOPED IT WOULD COPE WELL WITH THE HIGH CONTRAST SCENES I KNEW WE WOULD ENCOUNTER. I ALSO WANTED GOOD COLOUR SATURATION AND QUITE A FILMIC LOOK, WHICH I¡¦M USED TO AND? HOPED IT WOULD DELIVER.???

WE USED A SONY Z1 HDV CAMERA UNDERWATER AND? FOR A FEW SCENES FILMED INSIDE ROWING BOATS WHERE AN HD CAMERA WOULD HAVE BEEN TOO BIG? - AND TOO VALUABLE TO LOSE OVERBOARD.? WE USED A LITTLE STANDARD DEFINITION ARCHIVE, BUT NOT FULLSCREEN AS I¡¦LL EXPLAIN LATER.

PERSONALLY, I WAS PLEASED WITH THE DETAIL IN THE OPENING LANDSCAPE SCENES, IN THE MACRO CLOSE UPS? AND THE DEPTH AND RANGE OF COLOUR. AND ALSO HOW HDV UNDERWATER FOOTAGE SEEMED TO WORK ALONGSIDE HD SHOT TOPSIDE.

I HOPE THIS OPENING WILL GRAB AUDIENCES¡¦ ATTENTION SO THEY¡¦LL WANT TO WATCH MORE OF THE FILM.???

I¡¦LL NOW DESCRIBE THE STYLE I WAS LOOKING FOR AND HOW I FOUND THE HD CAMERA DURING SHOOTING.

FOR AN HD FILM WHICH I HOPED MIGHT BE SHOWN ON BIG SCREENS AT FILM FESTIVALS AS WELL AS ON HDTV, I ASKED CAMERAMAN CHANG HSIAO HAI TO SHOOT EVERYTHING IN A VISUALLY SMOOTH WAY WITH FLUID, GENTLE CAMERA MOVES. I ALSO WANTED? TO ENSURE VISUAL CONTINUITY AND NO JUMP CUTS IN THE EDITING BY GETTING A NUMBER OF SHOT SIZES AND DIFFERENT ANGLES OF ANY ACTIVITY WE COVERED.? IT¡¦S THE STYLE I¡¦VE USED WHEN DIRECTING FILM SHOOTS ¡V PLANNING AHEAD AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE AND MAKING SURE EACH SHOT WORKS WELL, AS OPPOSED TO VIDEO SHOOTS WHERE I¡¦VE USED MORE HAND-HELD CAMERAWORK TO REACT QUICKLY TO FAST CHANGING SITUATIONS AND TO SHOOT MORE CONTINOUSLY.

THE APPROACH I USED MEANT MORE WORK FOR EVERYONE, BUT I HOPE THE RESULTS IN TERMS OF LOOK AND VISUAL CLARITY OF WHAT IS GOING ON IN EACH SCENE JUSTIFY THE MEANS.

THIS PROJECT INVOLVED GETTING LANDSCAPE, HUMAN DOCUMENTARY AND WILDLIFE FOOTAGE? AND SOME NIGHT TIME SCENES WHICH THREW UP MANY? DIFFERENT CHALLENGES? FOR HD SHOOTING WHICH I¡¦LL DESCRIBE SEPARATELY.

TO CAPTURE ORCHID ISLAND¡¦S SCENERY I CHOSE ALWAYS TO USE A TRIPOD, TO GET STEADY SHOTS AND SMOOTH PANS AND WHERE WE HAD TIME, WE USED? A MINI JIB TO DO BIGGER MOVES.

I RELIED ON THE CAMERA ASSISTANT TO SET UP THE CAMERA¡¦S MENUS TO BEST EFECT. ALSO, HE OFTEN USED GRADUATED FILTERS TO BALANCE OUT VERY BRIGHT SKIES, AND POLARISING FILTERS TO REDUCE GLARE AND IMPROVE CONTRAST. WE USUALLY HAD TIME FOR THIS WHILE SHOOTING LANDSCAPES, BUT THAT WASN¡¦T ALWAYS THE CASE WHEN SHOOTING HUMAN SCENES AS I¡¦LL EXPLAIN LATER.

WHEN THE EDITOR, TU MIN-CHI, FIRST VIEWED THE FOOTAGE SHE HAD SOME CONCERNS THAT PANNING SHOTS IN FORESTS LOST DETAIL AND HAD BUZZY INTERFERENCE PATTERNS, AT LEAST ON THE DV COPIES WE USED FOR EDITING. BUT THE EFFECT WAS BARELY NOTICEABLE ON THE ORIGINAL SHOOTING TAPES AND SEEMED TO DISAPPEAR ONCE CONVERTED TO 60i IN POST PRODUCTION.

FOR DOCUMENTARY SCENES INVOLVING PEOPLE THERE IS RARELY MUCH TIME TO ADJUST CAMERA SETTINGS AND FILTERS AS THINGS TEND TO HAPPEN FAST AND THE LIGHT OFTEN CHANGES WHILE SHOOTING. YOU JUST HAVE TO REACT TO A SITUATION AND COVER IT AS WELL AS POSSIBLE, OR RISK MISSING THE ACTION. ALL THAT IS ANOTHER KIND OF TEST FOR AN HD CAMERA¡KWHICH I¡¦M USED TO WITH FILM, BUT I DIDN¡¦T KNOW IF HD WOULD COPE SO WELL. WE KNEW THAT SOME SHOTS MIGHT BE TOO CONTRASTY, THAT LIGHT LEVELS WERE LOW AT TIMES AND THE CAMERA ASSISTANT HAD SOME MAJOR CONCERNS, BUT HAVING EDITED AND COLOUR GRADED THE FOOTAGE , I WAS REALLY PLEASED WITH HOW FEW PROBLEMS WE HAD IN THE END.

WHEN THINGS HAPPENED REALLY FAST OR UNEXPECTEDLY WE USED THE HD CAMERA HAND-HELD A FEW TIMES, BUT IT PROVED UNCOMFORTABLE TO HOLD AND TRICKY TO OPERATE AND I THINK YOU¡¦D NEED A SPECIALISED SHOULDER MOUNTING SYSTEM IF YOU WERE DOING A LOT OF SUCH WORK.?

IN ONE SCENE, WHEN THE TREE FALLS AND THE SUN SHINES IN, PART OF THE SHOT GETS OVEREXPOSED BRIEFLY,? BUT IT¡¦S DRAMATIC AND I FELT I COULD STILL USE IT. EVERYTHING ELSE SEEMED TO WORK FINE AFTER COLOUR GRADING ON A DA VINCI SYSTEM.???

THE GRADING TOOK LESS TIME THAN I EXPECTED ¡V JUST 8 HOURS, WHILE I¡¦M USED TO TAKING 10-12 FOR PRODUCTIONS SHOT ON FILM. THIS MAY REFLECT HOW EVEN MOST OF OUR HD SHOTS WERE THANKS TO THE CAMERA ASSISTANT¡¦S WORK, AND THE GRADER WAS SUPER FAST, BUT I ALSO THINK HD VIDEO GIVES MORE CONSISTENT COLOUR AND EXPOSURE THAN FILMS SHOT WITH DIFFERENT FILMSTOCKS, PROCESSED AT DIFFERENT TIMES.

THE TREE FELLING CLIP RAISES THE ISSUE OF HOW WORKING CONDITIONS ON THE ISLAND AFFECTED OUR HD FILMING. THE TREE WAS ON A VERY STEEP SLOPE AND FINDING SOMEWHERE TO POSITION THE TRIPOD WAS VERY TRICKY. JUST GETTING INTO THE FORESTS WAS OFTEN QUITE A SCRAMBLE WITH EQUIPMENT, ESPECIALLY AFTER RAIN HAD MADE THE TRAILS SLIPPERY

I¡¦VE WORKED IN A LOT OF TOUGH PLACES FOR WILDIFE FILMS AROUND THE WORLD USING FILM CAMERAS WHICH ARE FAMOUS FOR COPING WITH HEAT, COLD, HUMIDITY AND ROUGH HANDLING ¡V BUT ORCHID ISLAND CERTAINLY CHALLENGED THE HD EQUIPMENT AND THE CREW IN ALL KINDS OF WEATHER. IN AROUND 40 FILMING DAYS WE HAD ONLY ABOUT 6 SUNNY CALM DAYS? - THE REST WERE EITHER VERY WINDY, VERY WET, OR JUST GREY AND OVERCAST.? I WANTED TO SHOOT OUTSIDE IN SUNSHINE, OR IN REALLY FOUL CONDITIONS TO SHOW THE WORST OF THE ISLAND¡¦S WEATHER, BUT WE SHOT FAR LESS ON GREY DULL DAYS AND MOSTLY USED THOSE FOR SCOUTING OR FILMING INTERIOR SENES.

GETTING INTO THE BEST FOREST AREA INVOLVED A VERY STEEP HIKE.
IT WAS HARD WORK BUT WE DID GET SOME REALLY IMPORTANT SHOTS ON THIS DAY.
AND IT OFTEN CAME ONTO RAIN? - BUT WE USED THE SHOTS WE FILMED HERE AS PART OF A STORM SCENE.

WE HAD TO STOP FILMING FOR A WHILE TO PROTECT THE EQUIPMENT AS BEST WE COULD ¡V BUT CARRIED ON LATER AND GOT SOME MORE GOOD SHOTS.

PREDICTABLY, PERHAPS, THE EQUIPMENT WAS AFFECTED BY THE CONDITIONS.?? AFTER THE WETTEST MORNING¡¦S FILMING, A LENS MISTED UP AND THE CAMERA STARTED RUNNING WITHOUT BEING TURNED ON AT TIMES.? IT MAY HAVE BEEN RAIN BLOWN IN UNDER THE CAMERA COVER, OR JUST VERY HIGH HUMIDITY ¡V BUT A FEW HOURS IN A CUPBORAD WITH A WARM LIGHT BULB DRIED IT OUT WITH NO AFTER EFFECTS.? OUR STEREO SOUND RECORDING GEAR ALSO FAILED AND SOME REPLACEMENT EQUIPMENT HAD TO BE RUSHED OUT FROM TAIPEI.??

WHEN IT RAINS, HAVING A WATERPROOF COVER FOR BOTH CAMERA AND SOUND GEAR AND USING UMBRELLAS AND EXTRA PLASTIC SHEETS IS VITAL, BUT WHEN IT¡¦S REALLY WINDY IT¡¦S IMPOSSIBLE TO KEEP ALL RAIN DROPS OUT AND USING SUCH SENSITIVE EQUIPMENT SEEMS TO BE QUITE RISKY IN FOUL WEATHER.??

I¡¦LL NOW SAY A LITTLE ABOUT SOUND RECORDING AS MAKING A HIGH DEF FILM NEEDS ENOUGH TRACKS FOR A SURROUND SOUND MIX AND SINCE ANY SOUND RECORDING IN SUCH A WINDY PLACE POSES MAJOR PROBLEMS.? WE RECORDED MONO SOUND TO CAMERA FOR INTERVIEWS AND MOST DOCUMENTARY SCENES, AND STEREO SOUND TO CAMERA FOR MANY SCENIC SHOTS AND DID A LOT OF EXTRA STEREO SOUND RECORDING TO HARD DISC. THE SURROUND EFFECT WAS CREATED LATER DURING MIXING, ALTHOUGH? IN FUTURE I¡¦D LIKE TO USE SURROUND SOUND MICROPHONES FOR EVEN MORE EFFECT.

I CHOSE TO DO ALMOST ALL INTERVIEWS OUTSIDE AS I THOUGHT SYAMAN RAPONGAN WOULD BE MORE RELAXED IN PLACES HE LOVES AND I WANTED THE INTERVIEWS TO HAVE GOOD BACKDROPS.? BUT WE HAD TO AVOID THE WINDIEST DAYS FOR RECORDING? AND IT WAS NEVER REALLY CALM.? SO GETTING REALLY CLEAN INTERVIEWS TOOK A LOT OF SKILL.?

WE ALSO NEEDED GOOD STEREO TRACKS IN ALL SITUATIONS WE FILMED AND SINCE IT WAS OFTEN TOO WINDY TO GET GOOD TRACKS AT THE TIME OF FILMING, OR THE DIRECTOR WAS TALKING TOO MUCH TO THE CREW, MANY OF THEM WERE RECORDED SEPARATELY TO A RECORDER . HERE ARE SOME CLIPS OF YANG CHIA-HAO RECORDING MONO SOUND FOR INTERVIEWS AND THEN STEREO SOUND IN THE FOREST AND ON DIFFRENET KINDS OF SHORE, INCLUDING SOME REAL CLOSE UP WAVE SOUNDS.

ANOTHER CHALLENGE WAS TO LIGHT A NUMBER OF SCENES WITH LITLE POWER AVAILABLE OR RELYING ON A PORTABLE GENERATOR.? I ALWAYS WANTED AN ATMOSPHERIC LOOK AND WE USED A COMBINATION OF SMALL DEDO LIGHTS AND A 500 WATT OMNI LIGHT.

IN THE FIRST LIT SCENE IN AN UNDERGROUND HOUSE, I USED LESS LIGHT THAN PERHAPS WE SHOULD HAVE DONE. THE IMAGE LOOKED FINE ON THE FIELD MONITOR, AND I KNOW IT¡¦S BETTER TO UNDEREXPOSE HD VIDEO THAN OVEREXPOSE, BUT ON VIEWING THE FOOTAGE ON A GOOD? HD MONITOR LATER, SOME GRAIN SHOWED UP IN DARK AREAS OF THE SHOTS.? WE MANAGED TO NOISE REDUCE THEM A BIT AND THEY SEEM FINE NOW, BUT WE ALWAYS TOOK CARE TO AVOID UNDERLIGHTING OTHER SCENES AFTER THAT AND WE GOT REALLY NICE NIGHT FOOTAGE, EVEN IN DIFFICULT FIELD SITUATIONS WHILE SHOOTING WILLDIFE.

WILDLIFE FILMING RELIES ON KNOWING HOW CLOSE YOU CAN GET WITHOUT SCARING A CREATURE OFF, ON USING THE BEST LENS FOR THE JOB AND USUALLY ON MOVING SLOWLY AND? KEEPING QUIET WHILE FILMING.

WE USED AN ANGENIUEX HD ZOOM LENS FOR ALMOST ALL FILMING AND SINCE IT COULD FOCUS VERY CLOSE, WE SHOT SPIDERS AND SOME INSECTS WITH IT. BUT AS IT ONLY HAD A SMALL ZOOM RANGE, WE COULD NEVER GET CLOSE ENOUGH TO EASILY-STARTLED INSECTS, BIRDS AND LIZARDS.?? SO FOR JUST 10 DAYS, WE HIRED A REALLY BIG LENS ¡V A? 40X HD CANON ZOOM WHICH IS VERY EXPENSIVE TO HIRE BUT IT REALLY DELIVERED.? WE SHOT ALL THE BIRD FOOTAGE, THE BUTTERFLIES, THE LIZARDS, THE CRABS, AND SOME OF THE INSECTS WITH IT.? THE IMAGE QUALITY WAS SUPERB EVEN WITH THE APERTURE FULLY OPEN, WHICH IS UNUSUAL FOR VIDEO LENSES.

ANOTHER BIG CHALLENGE WAS TO GET FOOTAGE OF PEOPLE FISHING AT SEA FROM PLANKBOATS BOTH BY DAY AND BY NIGHT ¡V WHICH WE MOSTLY SHOT FROM MOTORBOATS. WE TIED THE TRIPOD DOWN CAREFULLY TO REDUCE THE CHANCE OF LOSING EQUIPMENT OVERBOARD AND HAD NO DISASTERS, BUT THE NIGHT FILMING ESPECIALLY WAS VERY TRICKY. OUR LIGHTS WERE POWERED BY A SMALL GENERATOR? - WHICH BARELY GAVE US AN EXPOSURE SO THE DEPTH OF FOCUS WAS VERY SMALL, AND WE HAD TO KEEP ADJUSTING THE LIGHTS AS THE BOATS MOVED. CHANG HSIAO HAI ALSO GOT INTO THE PLANKBOATS WITH HIS HDV CAMERA AND GOT SOME GREAT CLOSE-PERSPECTIVE SHOTS? WHICH? REALLY HELPED WHEN WE CAME TO EDIT THESE SCENES. COLOUR GRADING ALLOWED THE HDV AND HD FOOTAGE TO CUT TOGETHER SURPRISINGLY WELL ESPECIALLY AT NIGHT.?? USING THE VARICAM, WE SHOT SOME DAYTIME ROWING SCENES IN SLOWMOTION, AND GUO DAHREN FILMED BOATS AND DIVERS UNDEWERWATER AT THE SAME TIME USING HIS HDV KIT. WE WERE ACTUALLY VERY LUCKY AS AFTER A WEEK OF REALLY HIGH WINDS, WE HAD CALM SEAS AND SUNSHINE FOR THE 5 DAYS GUO WAS WITH US. WE SHOT MOST OF THE FISHING SCENES ABOVE AND BELOW WATER AND HE GOT SOME REALLY NICE FOOTAGE OF FISH AND SEASNAKES IN THAT TIME.

AS FOR ARCHIVE, WE USED A LITTLE STANDARD DEFINITION FOOTAGE, BUT SINCE THIS WAS SHOT IN 4 X 3 ASPECT RATIO ON A MIX OF DV, BETA SP AND 16MM FILM, I DECIDED TO USE IT AT LESS THAN FULL FRAME SIZE.? WE COMBINED IT WITH OUR HD FOOTAGE USING SILICON GRAPHICS¡¦ INFERNO SYSTEM.???? OF COURSE, WITH HD, GRAPHICAL PROCESSING TAKES FAR LONGER THAN SD DOES ¡V AND EACH TWEAK WE MADE TO A 10 SECOND SHOT TOOK 10-15 MINUTES PROCESSING TIME.? HERE¡¦S HOW IT LOOKED.??

FINALLY, I¡¦LL SUM UP HOW I FOUND WORKING WITH HD.
AS A FILM-MAKER, I? BELIEVE THAT STORYLINE AND EMOTIONAL CONTENT ARE THE MOST IMPORANT THINGS, BUT I DO THINK THAT USING HD CAN MAKE THE MOST OF MANY SITUATIONS AND FILMS CAN BE MORE POWERFUL AS A RESULT, ESPECIALLY ON BIG SCREENS.? DISTRIBUTORS AND TV EXECS AROUND THE WORLD HAVE ALSO BECOME LESS AND LESS INTERESTED IN SD PRODUCTIONS, SO IF YOU WANT A FILM TO WORK INTERNATIONALLY, YOU REALLY MUST DELIVER HD QUALITY THESE DAYS.??

WOULD I USE IT AGAIN?? DEFINITELY, GIVEN THE REQUIRED BUDGET AND TIME.

AS FOR THE FUTURE FOR HD IN DOCUMENTARY PRODUCTION,? I THINK IT WILL BECOME THE NORM FOR FILMS DESINGNED FOR INTERNATIONAL DISTRIBUTION AND AS MORE HD CHANNELS ARE LAUNCHED. THE TECHNOLOGY IS BOUND TO KEEP CHANGING AND SYSTEMS THAT CAN RECORD EVEN MORE COLOUR DETAIL AND EVEN HIGHER RESOLOUTION ARE ALREADY ON THE MARKET OR THEY ARE BEING DEVELOPED.?

I THINK THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEED FOR GOOD STORYTELLING, THOUGH, AND THAT JUST LOOKING GOOD WILL NOT BE ENOUGH, BUT DIRECTORS NEED TO BE AWARE WHAT TOOLS ARE AVAILBALE, HOW BEST TO USE THEM AND MUST KNOW WHAT THE TV MARKET REQUIRES. I HOPE THIS PRESENTATION HAS BEEN USEFUL TO PEOPLE USING OR THINKING OF USING HD.???