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The Gizmo Guy: Things are getting blurry - and it's a good thing!

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By Gordon Meyer
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One of the purposes of this column is to tell you about resources that I see as valuable to the film and television professionals who comprise P3 Update’s readership, including resources, whether products or services, that may not necessarily be on your radar, but once you learn about it, a light goes on as you begin to see yourself taking advantage of these resources.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the shorts and filmmakers I encountered at the second annual New Media Film Festival in Hollywood.   One of the things I found interesting is that two of the most acclaimed shorts in the 3D category were made with what many would label “consumer” tools.   

According to filmmaker Brian Quandt, his film, “The Music Peace,” was partially funded by Intel on the condition that he make his 3D short, celebrating a painting by artist Miles Regis, using only off the shelf consumer products, which in this case included several modules from the Adobe Creative Suite. Quandt used the Adobe products to both scan Regis’ painting and then animate and render several elements in stereoscopic 3D. 

Director Ned Wiseman’s 3D short, “Staycation USA” was shot using a hand-held HD 3D rig that Wiseman told me cost him less than $700, including the twin HD cameras.  The entire rig was about the size of a 450 page hardcover novel.  At the festival, Wiseman told me that he sees the lines differentiating pro gear, pro-sumer gear and consumer gear as now completely blurred, depending on how the equipment is used.

Ever since I started writing for P3 Update, I’ve regularly spoken with DPs who’ve told me how they regularly use supposedly consumer products like DSLR cameras and the $199 Flip HD on professional projects with often great results.  Now, the palm-sized Flip, which sadly is in the process of being discontinued by its parent company Cisco, was used to shoot a feature film called “A Love Affair of Sorts.”

Director David Guy Levy shot this feature using two of the Flip camcorders and, according to a feature article in the June 23 issue of the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-flip-cam-movie-20110623,0,1379761.story), Levy managed to get a New York/Los Angeles theatrical release for his micro-budget feature.

According to the Times feature, “the motion is shaky (and) the lighting imbalanced.”  Hey, it’s a $200 camera with webcam-sized lens and no way to manually override its automatic exposure and focus features.  No one is claiming that a Flip or similarly priced consumer products will replace a Panaflex or a RED ONE.  But according to Times reporter Sophia Lee, “the fact that a Flip is only a few inches tall helped create an intimacy that bigger, fancier cameras couldn't offer.”

The Flip’s compact size is what has drawn a number of DPs that I’ve interviewed over the past two years to also use either the Flip or similar compact “consumer” products to help them capture otherwise hard to shoot footage, though usually this use has been for B-roll or cut-away footage.  

But the point is that, as Ned Wiseman told me, whether it’s a palm-sized camera that costs under $200, like the Flip HD, a studio-grade camera like the afore mentioned Panaflex, or anything in between, at the end of the day all these cameras are simply storytelling tools for the filmmaker.  If it’s used for a professional project, like a feature, a music video or commercial by someone who knows what they’re doing, it IS a professional tool because it’s a tool used by a professional in a professional environment and context.  Just ask David Guy Levy.

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