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Sundance 2017: DPs Discuss Shooting Docs In 4K At Canon Creative Studios

Shooting in 4K panelists from left to right: Alan Jacobsen, Ben Bloodwell, Bryan Donnell and Chris O’Falt.

The Canon Creative Studio was a happening place at Sundance 2017. Beyond a haven from the snowy weather, the bright and open storefront was a perfect setting for visitors to partake in a hand’s on demonstration of the latest Canon Flagship cinema camera, the Canon EOS C700. Also available for a test run were the latest ISO Canon ME20F-SH multi-purpose camera and the Canon CN-E 20-1000mm CINE-SERVO lens as well as a variety of Canon mainstays.  Those looking for a little frivolity were invited to have their portrait taken by Utah-based photographer Michael Ori, the president of Ori Media.  In addition to photography, Ori specializes in creative production, design, marketing, PR and branding needs.

In addition to hands-on sessions and demonstrations, the Canon Creative Studio presented a series of informative panels throughout its four day appearance. Amongst the panels was “Filmmaking in 4K.” Welcoming three DPs who have used Canon cameras and equipment for their 4K productions, all featured in the festival, were Ben Bloodwell (Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On), Bryan Donnell (Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On) and Alan Jacobsen (Strong Island).  Chris O’Falt, editor of Indie Wire’s “Filmmakers Toolkit” moderated the panel. “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On” and “Strong Island” are both documentaries, adding an additional component of spontaneity and an abundance of footage to the complexity of a 4K shoot.

O’Falt kicked off the panel by asking Bloodwell and Donnell about the discussions behind using 4K for the upcoming series that was greenlit by Netflix. “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On” explores the ever-increasing mainstream nature of porn from the viewpoint of those creating and watching it. While the camera team explained the requirements of photo-journalism involved in making a documentary to the studio heads, Netflix requires all its original content to be shot on 4K. Fortunately, the Canon C300 Mac 2 had just entered the market, and the camera’s smaller body aided in the intimacy needed for documentary interviewing.

“It’s the only 4K camera that can do this right now,” said Bloodwell.

Bloodwell and Donnell noted documentaries by nature have a small crew base. They devoted attention to finding crew members who were able to handle the tremendous load of media management.  They stressed a dedicated individual who can not only efficiently wrangle the quantity of media, but manage the time appropriately, was essential.

“Strong Island” is a personal story that explores director Yance Ford’s brother who was brutally murdered. The films investigates racial tension and fears that ultimately allowed his brother’s murderer to go free.   Much of the film’s historical information is set to family photos, which Jacobsen wanted to ensure were captured in the best possible quality.  Initially the team set the images up in a newsstand style, however positioning and reframing each image was taking up too much time.  He eventually let the camera role during the swapping of photos.  Seeing hands in the frame led to a happy accident

“seeing the hand appear in the frame added a personal aspect,” said Jacobsen. “4K was key to adding to that visual language.  It really let us get into that intimate space.”

Jacobsen re-emphasized the importance of media management on set. Noting there is no space to fall behind in the task, he spent extra time training his very small crew the fundamentals of media management.  He also rigged equipment that allowed his crew to drop files into multiple drives.

“You do find you are more conscious of when the camera is rolling,” said Jacobsen. “Documentary style is to keep the camera rolling.  With 4K you have to think about this differently.”

“You don’t want to have to cut yourself off,” noted Donnell. The magic always happens after the camera stops.”

Donnell went on to describe the need to really dig into the image in post. Jacobsen agreed that in 4K you don’t have control over the lights and darks the way one would like.  While he’s begun his next documentary project, which involves at least four years on location, in HD, he does like the overall quality of working with 4K and admits with more projects down the road he’ll really have to decide on what to use for his shoots.

The panel went on to discuss the need for greater prep time when working with 4K. They also recommended that plenty of filters be prepped and ready for a shoot,  and suggested that directors and DPs limit their amount of time working with a monitor.

“It is not a level of quality, but the expectation of real life,” said Bloodwell.

All Canon’s 2017 Sundance panels were live-streamed by IndieWire staff (owned by Variety 411’s parent company Penske Media Group) and are available for repeat viewing. To view the 4K panel and all other Canon Creative Studio panels, visit IndieWire’s Facebook page: