Meeting Notes, IFP Seminar sponsored by Technicolor, Technicolor Screening Room, New York, July 21, 1998, originally published as a Cineric, Inc. Memorandum, posted here for historical record.
Presenters: Charlie Herzfeld, Technicolor, New York; Declan Quinn, Director of Photography, Leaving Las Vegas; and David Tamés, Director of Photography, Never Met Picasso
Charlie Herzfeld started off the seminar by discussing Technicolor’s role in blow-ups. They don’t have an optical department in-house, however, they collaborate closely with optical houses in New York, for example, Cineric, The Effects House, and REI. Technicolor typically handles the timing of the Super 16 answer print and 35mm answer prints, and the optical house does the blow-up interpositive. It’s up to the client where the internegative is made, either at Technicolor or the optical house. Some optical houses, like Cineric, like to control the manufacture of both the interpositive and internegative.
Technicolor does not handle A/B roll 16mm negative, therefore, if you want the timing of the 16 OCN to be done at Technicolor you need to have your negative cut as a single strand negative. Herzfeld suggested this reduces handling of the negative and if you are destined for a blow-up there is no absolute reason why the negative needs to be cut into A/B rolls, unless the 16 answer print is needed for the sound mix or something like that.
Declan Quinn screened and discussed some scenes from Leaving Las Vegas and shared some of the considerations involved in shooting Super 16mm for blow-up. Most of Leaving Las Vegas was shot with with Kodak 7293 (EXR 200T) and the night existing light exteriors on the Las Vegas strip with Kodak 7298 (EXR 500T). Quinn found that Kodak EXR stocks do not require the traditionally recommended over-exposure that pre-EXR stocks required for good blow-up results. Many of the scenes in the film were shot wide-open in order to obtain a depth of field more similar to shooting in 35mm. Quinn mentioned that Super 16 was not chosen for financial reasons but for the mobility and ease of shooting that comes from using smaller cameras.
I discussed how Never Met Picasso was a case study in the economic and aesthetic trade-offs that play a part in the production format decision. The film was shot in Super 16 instead of 35mm because there was not enough cash available at the start production to shoot in 35mm given the shooting ratio required for the project. A reduced shooting ratio or a delay in the start date for production were both out of the question. The availability of key talent was fixed and their participation was essential to the project. The filmmakers also wanted to take advantage of the colorful New England fall. The producers were confident that once they had the film in the can, they could raise the money required for post- production, which they did. This is often a risky proposition, however, when carefully and realistically calculated, it can make sense.
The topic of overexposure was discussed. Quinn claimed that he did not overexpose the 7293 or 7298 on Leaving Las Vegas, he shot most of the film at the rated E.I. for these stocks. I stated that the negative on Never Met Picasso was overexposed a slight 1/3 of a stop, no more, no less, in order to assure solid blacks as a result of the small amount of printing-down required by a healthy negative.”
Both Quinn and I reminded the audience that proper exposure of the film prevents the milky blacks (from underexposure) and pasty highlights (from overexposure) that is so common in 16mm and Super 16mm films that are blown up to 35mm. The blow-up process exaggerates every fault in the original negative. The small negative offers less lattitude than 35mm and therefore any changes in the grain characteristics of the film due to over and under exposure on a scene by scene basis are more easily noticed in the final print. Quinn and I discussed that shooting these films with prime lenses was done in order to obtain the sharpest original image as possible. As the generations of 35mm interpositive and internegative take away a little bit of image sharpness, it is important to start with a crisp negative.
Quinn felt that the newer Vision series stocks like Vision 250D (7246), Vision 200T (7274) and Vision 500T (7279), while offering tighter grain and vibrant (maybe too vibrant) colors do not necessarily provide better results for blow-ups compared to 7293 (200T) or 7298 (500T) because of their slightly increased constrast. I explained that when you do an optical blow-up from Super 16 to 35mm you pick up a little bit of contrast, therefore 7293 (200T) and 7298 (500T) provide more pleasing results.
For a successful blow-up it’s very important to choose an optical house whose quality standards are high. Quinn praised the optical work and answer printing that Metrocolor did on Leaving Las Vegas and I similarly praised the optical work done by Cineric and the answer prints timed by Mark Ginsberg at Technicolor on Never Met Picasso (this was before I accepted a position at Cineric). Quinn went on to discuss that most of the opticals on Leaving Las Vegas were done as part of the blow-up from Super 16 negative to the 35mm interpositive, therefore they remained at the same image generation as the rest of the film. This is imperative for the highest quality opticals, as you are starting with a very small negative, so the less optical generations you subject it to the better. An optical house doing a scene-to- scene timed interpositive on a computer-controlled optical printer will be able to do most fade, dissolve, superimposition, step frame, skip frame, freeze frame, etc effect as part of the blow-up itself instead of additional optical steps. Depending on the film this can amount to a cost savings compared to 35mm post.
For both Leaving Las Vegas and Never Met Picasso an answer print was made from the Super 16 negative prior to making the 35mm blow-up interpositive. By carefully timing the negative, making an answer print, and doing a round of timing corrections you arrive at the optimum scene to scene timing which is then used used in making a timed 35mm blow-up interpositive. A 35mm interpositive, with the proper scene to scene timing, makes it possible to then make a 35mm internegative that will require only minor timing changes. It’s important to take into account any variations in the original photography and adjust for those at the time the interpositive is made, not later when prints are made from the internegative. At this stage of the game it’s too late for the highest quality image.
On some projects the producers have chosen to save money by cutting corners in the manner in which the interpositive is made, sometimes even bypassing the Super 16 answer print stage, however, this may yield an uneven internegative, which may require making additional answer prints in order to arrive at the optimum timing. The additional answer prints required eat away at the money that was saved earlier in the process. Quinn told us he was unhappy with the blow-up of Vanya on 42nd Street (which he also shot) because budget did not allow making a Super 16 answer print and a scene-to-scene timed interpositive, therefore the overall quality of the image was uneven since the timing of the 35mm interpositive did not account for varying densities in the original negative. Keep in mind the old adage: “speed, quality, price: pick two out of three.”
The question of bleach-bypass came up. Quinn talked about Kodak’s Vision stocks being so colorful and life-like that cinematographers are looking for ways to create less saturated images. Quinn explained that flashing the negative and bleach bypass are two options for reducing the saturation of the colors.
With bleach-bypass (a.k.a. silver retention) the bleach step is either bypassed or reduced. This allows the metallic silver– which is usually washed away leaving behind only color dyes–to remain in the film, essentially leaving a black and white image super-imposed over the color image. This results in desaturated colors, increased film speed, and increased contrast, therefore your shadow areas go to black. Bleach-bypass works best with soft, low contrast lighting to make up for the increased contrast of the process. This process is usually done to prints, as it’s risky to do this with the negative.
Seven is a classic example of this process. The original negative was flashed to reduce contrast and the initial prints were bleach-bypassed. Many of the release prints were not bleach-bypassed, instead an IP was made in order to get the effect but not require bleach-bypassed release prints.
Someone asked what Pi, which recently started a theatrical run at the Angelica, was shot on. I explained that it was shot in 16mm black and white reversal. The 16mm reversal original was blown-up to a 35mm internegative by Cineric. Since Director of Photography Mattie Libatique’s images were so high in contrast, both the blow-up negative and prints required pull-processing to keep the contrast under control and to have the 35mm prints look as close to the original reversal as possible. Shooting on reversal not only provides a unique look, but it also saves money in the blow-up since you can blow-up directly to a negative instead of the two step process of interpositive and internegative.
I also screened some clips from Lithivm, an unusual Super 16 blow-up to 35mm which is currently in progress at Cineric. The filmmakers shot the film using cross-processed reversal stock in order to obtain a particular look. Cross processing reversal yields a high contrast negative image with beautiful false colors and increased grain. Testing demonstrated the tendency towards green etc., but by adapting the set design, colors and lighting to the stock they ended up with the look they were after. One of the most popular examples of this technique is Clockers. The cross-processed reversal requires special handling in terms of timing and printing for optimum results, The image texture is not the only unusual aspect of Lithivm. The image was composed as a “wide screen” film with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 centered within the 1.66:1 Super 16 frame!
The blow-up involves making a flat (full frame, no anamorphic squeeze) 35mm blow-up interpositive from the Super 16mm negative frame. Then a 35mm scope internegative was made from the 35mm flat interpositive using a special lens that converts the 2.35:1 portion in the frame of the interpositive to an anamorphic image on the internegative. From the internegative, scope prints were made. With scope (a.k.a. CinemaScope or Anamorphic) prints the image is squeezed and is then unsqueezed during projection to a 2.35:1 frame using a special lens. Many big budget films are released with scope prints, but this is an unusual approach for an independent film, particularly one shot in Super 16.
Film clips from the following films were screened at the seminar:
Leaving Las Vegas, 35mm, 1.85:1, Color, 1996
Featuring: Nicolas Cage & Elisabeth Shue, Director: Mike Figgis, Cinematographer: Declan Quinn, Blow-up laboratory: Metrocolor, Clips courtesy of United Artists.
Leaving Las Vegas tells the story of Ben (Nicolas Cage) who goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There he runs into Sera (Elisabeth Shue), a hooker, with whom he forms an unusual friendship. The film won numerous awards including Independent Spirit Awards for “Best Cinematographer” and “Best Feature.” Nicolas Cage earned an Oscar for “Best Actor,” Elisabeth Shue recieved an Oscar nomination for “Best Actress” and Mike Figgis recieved an Oscar nomination for “Best Director.” The film is beautifully shot and demonstrates that shooting in the Super 16 format need not limit box-office success.
Never Met Picasso, 35mm, 1.85:1, Color, 1996
Featuring: Margot Kidder, Alexis Arquette & Georgia Ragsdale, Director: Stephen Kijak, Cinematographer: David Tames, Blow-up Laboratory: Cineric, Clips courtesy of Turbulent Arts.
Never Met Picasso, Stephen Kijak’s debut as a feature director, tells a story about artists and the issues of sex, art, love, and clairvoyance. Many of the scenes have a painterly quality in terms of composition and lighting. The film won awards for “Best Actor” (Alexis Arquette) and “Best Screenplay” at OUTfest ’97, The Boston Globe pointed out the “nicely composed cinematography” and Variety described it as a film with “colorful lensing.”
Lithivm, 35mm, 2.35:1, Color, 1998
Director: David Flamholc, Cinematographer: Marten Nilsson, Blow-up Laboratory: Cineric, Clips courtesy of Caravan Film AB.
Lithivm, David Flamholc’s third feature, is a thematically mixed story dealing with an ambitious young female journalist and her boyfriend who drives a cab. She receives “a letter to the editor” from a man who claims his girlfriend has disappeared, and that the police won’t help him. She gets involved in his case and discovers he is a serial killer. Conversations between David Flamholc and cinematographer Marten Nilsson led to the decision to use cross processed reversal stock in order to attain the special “high contrast saturated colors” look of the film. David, at 23, is currently the youngest feature film director among Swedish filmmakers.