Training Day

Although teeming with talent, low budgets and poor film making infrastructure have kept the Middle East’s film industry from growing to its full potential. Now, the rules of traditional film making are being redefined with the launch of the HD camera, which not only takes away film processing costs but also delivers cinema-quality pictures. Digital Studio goes to a series of workshops that train local film makers to use the HDcam.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  January 3, 2004

|~|castle2.jpg|~|David Castle, marketing manager, A/V production, Sony Business Middle East & Africa, at the workshop.|~|“I will never shoot another film on film”: those are reported to be George Lucas’ famous words on one occasion after filming Episode II, Attack of the Clones. Lucas had discovered the high definition camera and has since been one of the most vocal proponents of this medium. The high definition revolution is sweeping across the world of cinematography, showing users the power it wields to redefine traditional film making and open up new avenues for budget film makers and directors who can now tell their story just as powerfully as those who use film, but with less reliance on external sources. “The industry reaction is overwhelming and people are discovering that they can do all sorts of new things with the HD camera,” says Milan Krsljanin, independent consultant for Digital Cinematography, Digital Film Mastering and E&D-Cinema. According to Krsljanin, one way to gauge industry response to HD is to look at some of the popular film festivals. The Sundance film festival, for instance, is at the forefront of the industry and considered a barometer for what is happening in the independent film sector. “Last January, 60% of the competing entries at Sundance were made digitally. Likewise, at Cannes, of the 20 movies that were entered, four were shot digitally. This is incredible market confirmation of HD’s acceptance in the industry,” explains Krsljanin. Krsljanin, who has worked with George Lucas and James Cameron on their latest projects using the Sony HDcam, was in Dubai last month to educate the region’s advertisers about digital cinematography. The event, which was held at the Grand Cineplex in Dubai, was a culmination of several workshops that Sony Business Middle East had conducted over the last couple of months in various parts of the region like Marrakech, Dubai and Abu Dhabi to familiarise national film makers with HD technology.||**||Structured workshops|~|castle3.jpg|~|Milan Krsljanin, independent consultant for Digital Cinematography, Digital Film Mastering and E&D-Cinema|~|“We wanted film makers in the region to know that there is a new canvas out there and that, there is a new set of tools that go with this canvas,” explains David Castle, marketing manager, A/V production, Sony Business Middle East & Africa. “And one of the best ways to expose them to this technology and transfer the required know-how and expertise for them to use it is through structured workshops,” he adds. The first of these workshops was held in Morocco in October during the Marrakech film festival (FIFM). After the screening of a local film dubbed Les Bandits, which was shot on the HDcam and caused much excitement among the 500-member audience, the local Moroccan TV also sent their crew to Sony to get a hands-on experience of the HDcam. “The reaction of the audience to the screening of Les Bandits was euphoric and a great incentive to film producers in the industry,” says David Castle, marketing manager, A/V production, Sony Business Middle East &Africa. “And the local Moroccan TV showed particular interest in the movie and sent all their camera crew to get a feel of HDcam,” he adds. Castle along with freelance director of photography, Peter Davies and Krsljanin also took the opportunity to conduct ad hoc workshops for those attending the festival. “We found that the Moroccan market was hungry for digital technology, expert knowledge and information and we had the solutions and know-how to provide them with just that,” explains Castle.||**||Local film industry|~||~||~|One significant reason why the Moroccan film industry is drawn to digital cinematography is because it minimises their dependence on external resources. A country of about 33 million people, Morocco is a breeding ground for film makers and has tried hard to develop its own cinema industry. Unfortunately, the country does not have the capital to develop its film-making infrastructure and is heavily dependent on external resources for making films. “They have few film cameras and no film labs at all. Every time they shoot something, these film makers have to send it to France to process it. This is a very complicated process and expensive as well,” explains Krsljanin. Filming with an HDcam negates the entire middle process and offers the local film industry a chance to flourish on its own. A good example of this is Sweden, which has adopted digital cinematography because it does a lot of films that appeal to the local market. Budgets are small and Swedish movies don’t travel that well to other territories. As a result, the country’s film makers have had to make visually attractive, small-budget movies that can compete with Hollywood blockbusters. To do this, they have resorted to the HDcam. The Middle East is in a similar position. The demand for local productions is high but budgets are small and film labs are not locally available. With an HD camera, the majority of the costs involved in post shooting can be eliminated. In short, a high definition camera puts within reach of film makers and film students, the power to tell a story on big screen. “This technology gives creative directors the opportunity to create something that is, not necessarily better, but at least as attractive to the audience,” says Krsljanin. But for film makers to make the leap from film to digital, they also require the know-how to deal with the digital technology that goes hand in hand with film production. “This is true on different levels of film production, right from the operational aspects for cinematographers and operators to the more general activities typical of producers and directors,” explains Castle. Through the workshops, Sony aimed at teaching regional film makers how to use the new technology so that they could be empowered to use it more effectively to help the local film industry to flourish. Sony Business conducted four workshops in Morocco and 50 individuals from the industry attended each session. While the workshops mainly attracted Moroccans, it also drew international producers from France as well as from the local market during the festival. ||**||New advantages|~||~||~|Similar workshops were also held in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to educate emirati film makers. “We wanted to take the fear factor out of the unknown and instead get them to be comfortable with the equipment,” explains Castle. TV director at Dubai Police, Hani Al Shaibany, who attended the workshop in Dubai, commented that his department would like to work more closely with Sony to produce socially relevant movies for the country. “Previously, I worked with the Sony digital betacam. But now, I want to do a film on a young man who lived all his life in the city but goes back to the village after his father’s death. It will be a good opportunity to use Sony’s HDcam to shoot this,” says Al Shaibany. Another participant, Masroud Amralla Al Ali, director of the Emirates film competition, explains that as more people in the country have begun to make films, there has also been the need for a cost-effective solution that can help them make quality films. According to him, the HDcam fills that gap. “Last year, when we held the Emirates film competition for the first time, the Abu Dhabi cultural foundation got 59 films in all. So we thought we’d get around 15 this year, but we were in for a surprise when we got 90 films produced by amateurs, students, and professionals. So there are more people out there who want to make films and increasingly, they will be looking at more cost effective ways to tell their stories,” he says. Although HD is not being promoted as a film replacement, there is no denying that the medium offers a lot of new advantages to film makers. For one, a director can now see a scene on screen before or while shooting a scene unlike someone who is using film. The latter would have to wait until the film was processed to know if he needs to re-shoot something, which means getting expensive actors back on location to shoot if a take is not good or making do with a bad take for budget reasons. “So there might be a compromise on the artistic quality of the film while with this, you can constantly see what’s being shot and therefore, you can change anything you want,” explains Castle. Likewise, this gives a director greater control over the way he wishes to tell his story as well. No doubt, there will always be some out there who want to shoot on film, says Castle. “Think of it as a canvas… you can paint in water colours or oil. Both have their pros and cons. At the end of the day, artistically, it is up to the person who is creating the film to choose his medium, and what he is comfortable with, to tell each of his stories,” explains Castle. The workshops themselves do not attempt to show the HDcam as a film replacement. They only aim to familiarise film makers in the region with a new technology that might make it easier to produce films although Krsljanin is certain that for “young film makers who are coming from the schools these days, this is the technology with which they will be working with for the most of their working lives.” Sony meanwhile has been working closely with partners like Avid, Quantel and Discreet to ensure seamless integration at the post production stage so that the process from scene to screen is easy and flawless. “From there, we have just gone one step further and shown film makers through our workshops that the road from screen to scene can be easy for them as well,” explains Castle.||**||

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