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Cameras to Watch from NAB 2014

Each April, technicians, content producers, and video gear heads from around the world descend on Las Vegas for a convention to celebrate the broadcast and all the gear that goes with it.

Well gee... I hope so.

Well gee… I hope so.

As a long time attendee of the show, I have grown a bit jaded with all the new toys and gadgets – although there still is a certain charm to manhandling a new camera prototype. To me, NAB 2014 will really be about getting to connect with people – meeting fans of the site really makes me feel like the not-infrequent 12 hour days in the studio working on the site are worth it. For all those that came up and said “hi” – THANK YOU and we’ve got something big for you guys in store…

But enough of this touchy feely crap…

2014K

I really hate that moniker… but it is true. I have been very skeptical about 4K for years now. I could see a difference between SD and HD – from HD to 4K the differences are harder to perceive. At last year’s NAB, I acquiesced that 4K for acquisition was probably going to be in my future soon. With this year’s crop of new camera entries, there’s just no question – we will all have the option of shooting 4K in our cameras very soon. We will still deliver mostly in HD although there are some networks who are hungry for 4K content, but 4K cameras are a serious reality.

And of all the cameras touted at this year’s show, the one that struck me as the most groundbreaking was AJA’s first entry into the camera market: The Cion.

Cion

Priced just under 9 grand, the Cion looks to be a real formidable player in studio and low budget production world. Capable of shooting 4K in every flavor of ProRes, you can set the data rate to what you need for that project instead of being forced into crazy high bit rate for everything.

But the most important thing that separates the Cion from other cameras in this range is it’s focus on ergonomics. The engineers at AJA know how cameras are operated on a set – altough the base unit does not come with a EVF style viewfinder, you’ll find P-tap power as well as SDI and HDMI monitor hookups in the front within a short reach. Unlike DSLRs or modular camera set ups, getting this into a shoulder mount setup involves just adding a few rails – industry standard rosettes on the side of the camera allow for quick installation of handlebars and the camera already has a sturdy leather shoulder pad. Weighing in at about 6lbs, the camera is surprisingly light on the arms.

Basically what AJA did, was make a camera, look and behave like a camera again.

Cion

 

Now if the DSLR form factor is more your taste and budget, the Panasonic GH4 and the newly announced Sony a7s are new entries into the 4K marketplace.

Sony a7s

 

Unlike the Panasonic, the Sony cannot record 4K internally, but can send a 4K signal out through an HDMI 2 cable. I spent considerable amount of time playing with the Sony a7s – currently it is the world’s smallest full frame DSLR – a fact that shocks you when you remove the lens and look at how big the sensor is compared to the body. Boasting ISO up to the 409,600 (which for the most part is too noisy to be usable – I found that 128,000 was the most acceptable high ISO judging by the back of the camera), the Sony could be real contender for the budget 4K filmmaker although Sony was tight lipped about release dates and price.

It Ain’t all About the Cameras

4K doesn’t just exist in a vacuum – there’s going to be significant needs in terms of storage and processing to handle that data. Fortunately computer video graphics cards are up to the challenge as demonstrated in this ridiculously large screen at the NVIDIA booth:

4K monitor

Compensating for something?

 

Although the gear and gadgets are cool toys to play with – let’s not forget that filmmaking is still about people first – from craftsmen, to human stories – the art of filmmaking involves people, not just imaging machines. For all the press coverage, attending the convention is still about the personal contact with the manufacturer and engineers. Where else could you see broadcast professionals playing team Pac-Man:

Pacman

… While just a few feet away, rubbing elbows with the legendary Garrett Brown, inventor of the steadicam and responsible for iconic shots in Rocky and The Shining…

The Pow! Bang! Bam! Plan to Save Marvel, Starring B-List Heroes

 profiles Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios and how he turned a cast of lesser superheroes into consistent box office gold.

Kevin Feige

Hundreds of fans had been waiting for hours behind the police barricades on Hollywood Boulevard, in front of the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles. Many of them wore Captain America masks and held replicas of his shield. One by one, the stars ofCaptain America: The Winter Soldier arrived. Chris Evans, who plays the hero, emerged from a Chevrolet Tahoe in a three-piece brown suit, waving to the crowd. Scarlett Johansson, who portrays his comrade, the Black Widow, showed up in a tight black skirt and lacy white top. She obliged the paparazzi, putting her hand on her waist, tilting her head back, and smiling. Amid the spectacle, a black SUV pulled up, and out climbed Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, the moviemaking arm of Marvel Entertainment, a division of Walt Disney (DIS).

He’d gotten stuck in rush hour traffic on his way to the première. “It took me an hour and a half to get here,” he sighed. Feige is 40 years old and solidly built, with neatly trimmed red hair. He had on a blazer, a blue shirt, jeans, and a nicer pair of shoes than he wears at the office. He blinked uncomfortably as a photographer took his picture.

Feige is one of the more shrewd and successful studio heads of his generation. Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens on April 4 and is likely to do better at the box office than Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s first film about the patriotic superhero, which grossed $370 million. He produced them both. And he’s considering a third. Feige’s films aren’t groundbreaking—they rely on epic showdowns at major landmarks, set to Carmina Burana-style angelic choruses, and the force of computer-generated graphics is strong within them. Still, they feel like a refreshment of the genre, so much so that instead of diminishing returns, Marvel’s sequels make progressively more money.

Someone in the crowd saw Feige and started a chant: “Kevin! Kevin! Kevin! Kevin!” Feige looked embarrassed. “You know, usually when people do that, I turn around, and Kevin Spacey’s there or Kevin Costner’s there,” he said. The fans knew who he was. Feige went over to the barricades and autographed their shields, their posters, and their glossy fanzines. “Oh my god, Kevin, take a picture with me,” said a young woman with a green camera. Feige posed for the requisite selfie. He didn’t want to disappoint the die-hards.

Bloomberg Business | Read the Full Article

Shinichi Sekizawa: The Guy Behind the Man in the Suit

Without Shinichi Sekizawa, Godzilla would have remained a thinly veiled commentary on nuclear war. But Godzilla’s icon status was cemented only after he because an absured and goofy character.  David Kalat follows the little known story of Shinichi Sekizawa, the writer responsible for Godzilla’s star turn.

Godzilla

To pretend that Godzilla movies did not veer into absurdity and rampant silliness is futile.  The filmmakers admitted it themselves—with screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa a chief architect of this change in direction.

It starts with a trifle called Varan, a hastily-made hack conceived as an amalgam of the least distinctive characteristics of Godzilla and Rodan, produced with the expectation it would be bought up for American TV and using recycled snippets of footage from the Godzilla films.  For the most part, this is merely garden-variety monster-on-the-loose shenanigans for its own sake.

None of the filmmakers had any reason to regard the resulting picture with pride, but it did its job and made money.

However, despite the lowered ambitions, when seen in its unaltered form, Varan may be a low-rent retread of increasingly well-worn tropes, but one salted liberally with irreverent dialog and sly humor.  The overall plot structure remains traditional in its stodgy familiarity, but the characters that populate it have quirky, sparkling personalities that comes across through Mad Magazine-worthy wisecracks.

Movie Morlocks | Read the Full Article

Ode to (21st Century) Cinematographers

 cuts together some of his favorite cinematographers from the early 21st century.

This is a compilation of SOME of my favorite shots from numerous cinematographers from around the world, roughly during the past decade. Due to not only wanting to keep a consistent look, but to also respect the cinematographers’ work by not re-cropping 16×9 media, I only used movies that were shot around a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. As you can imagine, this not only limited what I was able to use, but also prevented me from using some of my favorite display of cinematography. Among those include “Children of Men” by Emmanuel Lubezki, “Prisoners” by Roger Deakins, “Hugo” by Robert Richardson, and “Only God Forgives” by Larry Smith, to name a few.

21st-Century-Cinematography

The Most Powerful Piece of Film Criticism Ever Written

 reflects on James Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work, a book-length essay on race and America and cinema which movingly demonstrates that analysis of art can be art itself.

James Baldwin

Who’s the greatest American movie critic?

A lot of folks probably would say Pauline Kael or David Bordwell or Manny Farber; some might argue for more academic writers like Linda Williams, Stanley Cavell, or Carol Clover. For me, though, it’s an easy question. The greatest film critic ever is James Baldwin.

Baldwin is generally celebrated for his novels and (as Ta-Nehisi Coates wroterecently) his personal essays. But he wrote criticism as well. Mostly this was in the form of short reviews. There is, though, a major exception: his book-length essay, The Devil Finds Work, one of the most powerful examples ever of how writing about art can, itself, be art. 

Published in 1976, the piece can’t be categorized. It’s a memoir of Baldwin’s life watching, or influenced by, or next to cinema. It’s a critique of the racial politics of American (and European) film. And it’s a work of film theory, with Baldwin illuminating issues of gaze and identification in brief, lucid bursts. The dangerous appeal of cinema, he writes, can be to escape—”surrendering to the corroboration of one’s fantasies as they are thrown back from the screen” And “no one,” he acidly adds, “makes his escape personality black.”

The Atlantic | Read the Full Article

Here’s a link the original 1976 New York Times review of Baldwin’s book:

A decade ago, as an undergraduate, my colleagues and I spent hours poring over the works of James Baldwin. He seemed so sure-footed, then, so certain in his vision of this country, that his lacerating words were like balm to the black students who were on a whirligig in search of their identities. Because he existed we felt that the racial miasma that swirled around us would not consume us, and it is not too much to say that this man saved our lives, or at least gave us what we knew would continue to be a hostile and condescending world.

Even today, one of the group, a man employed by a large Wall Street firm, and making his way with assurance up the greasy pole, returns to “The Fire Next Time” after some special corporate praise, in order to cleanse his mind of superficial cant and to anchor himself, again, in what he calls “the real reality of America.”

Now Baldwin has published a long essay, “The Devil Finds Work,” the 17th book bearing his name, but the event does not call for rejoicing. In fact it brings forth not a little pain, for this work teems with a passion that is all reflex, and an anger that is unfocused and almost cynical. It is as if Baldwin were wound up and then let loose to attack the hypocritical core of this nation. And to what avail? None that I can see, for although the book purports to be an examination of the way American films distort reality, its eclecticism is so pervasive, that all we are left with are peregrinations of the mind and ideas that jump around and contradict each other. And this from a man who was, for my money, the best essayist in this country–a man whose power has always been in his reasoned, biting sarcasm; his insistence on removing layer by layer, the hardened skin with which American shield themselves from their country.

The New York Times | Read the Full Article

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