IFH 020: Why Indie Filmmakers Should NOT Shoot with a 4K Camera!



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Now I’m not talking about the compress 4k files you get from a DSLR or GoPro. I’m speaking about the big, chunky files you get when shooting 4k ProRes or RAW on a RED Camera, Blackmagic URSA Mini or Arri ALEXA.

An issue I see come up again, and again is indie filmmakers shooting a format that they can’t handle in production, post-production or in delivery (like 4k, 5k, 6k or 8k). Currently, the big buzzword is UHD (Ultra High Definition).


Technically, “Ultra High Definition” is actually a derivation of the 4K digital cinema standard. However while your local multiplex shows images in native 4096 x 2160 4K resolution, the new Ultra HD consumer format has a slightly lower resolution of 3840 X 2160.

Now while having a larger image to play with is better it does bring a ton of baggage along with it. RED Cameras started popularizing 4K cameras with its first camera the RED ONE. It was so far beyond anything else on the market at the time that it ignited the imagination of indie filmmakers everywhere.

Now shooting 4K in today’s world is a bit different. It cost much more than you’d expect once you factor in all the things you’ll be dealing with down the pipeline.

More Hard Drives

Your budget will be stretched since you’ll need more hard drive space to house and back up the larger files. Also, transfer times will take longer because of the larger 4K file sizes. Your onset DIT (Digital Imagining Technician) will need to have large and fast hard drives to push the extra gigs of info.

On those films with really small budgets, every minute you have on set is precious. If you only have two solid-state capture cards and two back up hard drives to transfer them too, then you might be waiting to shoot. You might shoot through a card faster than a DIT can download, check it and transfer it to your back up drive.

I’ve seen this situation play out a ton of times on set and trust me it’s not fun to be that poor DIT when the entire set is waiting for him.

4K Post Production

I did a podcast a few weeks ago on Post Production Workflow (Post Production Workflow: Understand it or Die!). The episode breaks down the craziness of not understand the entire workflow from camera to deliverables.

Distribution is not there…yet

As of now, 4K is not a mandatory deliverable for distributors. Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime are not ready to stream 4K. The internet pipe is just not there…yet. Yes, Netflix has a 4K option but the need for 4k as the standard is not there yet.

I just sold my film, This is Meg,  to Hulu who only asked for 1080p. I handled all the deliverables for a $10 million+ Hulu series and they only wanted 1080p.

Mastering in 4K is really expensive and time-consuming. If you are doing visual effects than you VFX guys are going to hate you and it will cost you more money. Dealing with 4K plates is what $150 million films deal with and they have the budget to do so. A smaller budget indie film doesn’t have the resources to deal with any issues that might come up working at 4K instead of HD or 2K.

Also, when you color grade 4K footage it will cost you more money. Again processing, pushing and rendering that larger format kills your budget. Would you rather have more time to color your film at 2k or rush it to master in 4K?

But I need 4K for my theatrical DCP

Again another myth. Mostly ALL theatrical releases are in 2K DCP. Why you may ask because movie theater chains do not want to upgrade to pricey 4K projectors when the 2K looks fine.

I mastered my film on at 1080p, then did a small blow up on to 2K for my DCP. When I saw it projected I was blown away how good it looked. Check out the trailer for This is Meg below.

On the Corner of Ego and Desire

I shot my second film On the Corner of Ego and Desire on the BMPCC 1080p. I screened it at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and it looked amazing. It world premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in the UK. Watch the film here: On the Corner of Ego and Desire on IFHTV

 I love 4K…really!

Listen I’m not a 4K hater by any means. Hell, I’d shot all my films in 20K if that was possible. I’ve always shoot 4K on my projects. You can recompose shots in post-production, more color space, etc. It’s great but I also have the budgets and hardware to deal with that workflow. This is sound advice for all aspects of the filmmaking process, do what you can within your means and do it well.

Don’t try to make Avatar right out of the gate. James Cameron started on Piranha 2: The Spawning and built his way up over time. He made the best movies he could with what he had access to at the time.

The new RED Weapon camera has been a problem to deal with for many indie filmmakers. The RED Weapon shoots 4K, 5K, and 6K and has extremely large files to deal with. If you don’t have a RED Rocket X card (cost: $6750 + Warranty $395) that helps you process the footage, you are out of luck in post-production.

It will take you weeks, depending on your system, to attempt to transcode all that footage. Editing in RED RAW will be out of the question.

I’m just saying shoot a format that is within your capabilities. Don’t make your filmmaking process more difficult than it has to be. In this episode, I go over a ton of info on why you shouldn’t shoot 4K if you’re an indie filmmaker.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
Now guys, this episode is something I've been wanting to bring to you guys for a while, the whole concept of the camera porn as they call it, people being so caught up with like, I'm shooting 4k, I'm shooting 6k I'm shooting, I'm shooting with the area Lexa this conveyed this range and this aspect ratio and this size of file and it's kind of like you know, I'm going to shoot with the red weapon and because I shoot with the red weapon or shoot 6k it's gonna make my movie better, you know? And No, it doesn't. It's about story. And it's always about story. So I wanted to kind of go over a few things. What are some reasons why you shouldn't if you're an indie filmmaker, you have to understand there's a lot of things like whenever I shoot anything, I always shoot at a high resolution as high as I can get that I can handle. So, but I also have a post house. So there's a big difference, it is within my capabilities to shoot 4k or shoot 6k I have the hard drives, I have the horsepower to push that kind of stuff. where people get caught up, or filmmakers get kind of in trouble is when they they get that they get that they get that red epic or red weapon or God knows whatever the camera has 15k or whatever that is at the moment. And then they have no understanding of how to work through it. And I did this episode a little bit ago on post production workflow, which is, is B actually the most popular episode of the entire series of indie film hustle. So that told me a lot that people are really, really interested in understanding this kind of stuff that I guess nobody's really talking about. So I wanted to bring to you guys the reasons why you should not shoot 4k. If you're an indie filmmaker. First and foremost, nobody can really tell the difference. Even if you shoot 4k, no one's going to be able to see the 4k, unless you're at a very specific distance that you can actually appreciate 4k. But most people are not, you're not going to see the difference. Honestly, and I deal with this kind of stuff all the time. And my post production company, and a lot of things are being eventually going to end up on an iPhone or an iPad or a computer screen. So really, it's almost a waste shooting at 4k. Now, with that said, there is advantages of shooting at a higher resolution or higher aspect ratio like a 4k or 6k, your ability to be able to zoom in recompose shots, things like that, again, all wonderful things as long as you have the capabilities of handling it. Now it will second thing it will stretch your budget and take a ton more time to deal with these bigger files, these raw files these 4k or 6k files. It's like shooting on the Blackmagic and your shooting progress. Are you going to shoot RAW? Well, raw is a beast to deal with, especially the Blackmagic raw codec is not that great read is actually the best codec I've ever seen. Meaning that the size of the frame, let's say the size of the image. And the size of file is like it's very manageable in that in that ratio, but still shooting at 4k shooting at 6k or higher, it's going to stretch your budget because you're going to need more hard drives, you're going to have to copy it and you know back it up more and more. So it's going to need it's going to also take a lot more time to transfer these larger files. And again, for what that's the question you have to ask yourself, what is this doing for my film? Is it just ego? Am I just wanting to to say hey, I shot this at 4k, you know, 2k is a phenomenal format for an independent filmmaker. It's wonderful like that is what was being you know all the movies from five years ago and back probably were all being mastered at 2k most movies are still being mastered a to k. But if you're going to transfer to film or do a DCP every instrument to K is perfectly fine. It is wonderful and affordable. And you can do something with it. You know, I've actually had a theatrical movie that I worked on that we shot that was measured in 1080 P and then we went and blew it up to 2k for 400 screen release by a major studio. And it looked great. And we shot and we and we did it on DCP and we upload and we put it onto film and believe it or not I was editing I was coloring this going back a little bit I was coloring in apples color. So it wasn't even like the highest end coloring system at the time. Believe it or not Something something collared a shot on a red and they shot it a 4k, we were able to handle the workflow. But we edited and mastered everything at 1080 p because they could not afford the mastering process to go to 4k, there was just no, there was so many zoom ins and things like that, that it just didn't make any sense to do it. So they mastered a 2k. And then we colored in color, and then I'll put it to film, and to DCP digital cinema package for people who don't understand that is the digital package that movie theaters want or need in order to project digitally, at any standard movie theater or throughout the country. So all of that was being all of that was done with a 2k master. Don't underestimate the power of 2k. Please and it's just it's something I see so many filmmakers like I just got a film guy shot a little while ago, we had a film coming through the doors that was shot on the the weapon, reds weapon that was shot 6k. And they could barely even do anything with it. Like they could barely move it they were able to like the editor who was editing it was like, What do we do? This is too much and and again, it goes back to workflow. And they were like we were thinking of mastering at six can like are you absolutely mad, you can't master at 6k. Now you can't even master at 4k. Now the other reason why you wouldn't want to master at 4k and mastering at 4k is in my opinion, at this point in 2015 is ludicrous. It's you don't need to, you can great, fantastic. But you don't need to. And I know a lot of people are going to talk about future proofing. Oh, you know, 4k monitors and 6k monitors coming out in the future. Great. That's wonderful. Do you know how much how much material movies media that is in the marketplace right now from the past 100 years, that is not at 2k or 4k levels. You know, seriously, there is tons and tons of stuff. So the whole excuse of future proofing again, if you can't afford it. And if you have the horsepower to do it, by all means knock yourself out. But most independent filmmakers are not made of money. And most independent filmmakers don't have the resources to be able to push 4k in a mastering format or even in an editing, editing up editing process. So the other reason that you shouldn't be mastering at 4k is that distributions not ready for 4k yet. You know right now streaming companies like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon can only deliver between 60 and 60 megabytes per second, while 4k delivery is 6000 megabytes per second, just so you understand. So would you rather Would you rather master at 2k or 1080 P and it'd be really tight and look good and not be super super compressed? To be able to make it work within Netflix or Hulu or your VOD format or would you rather master at 4k where they're going to jam so much compression on the movie is going to look like crap when you do get it finally out into a Netflix environment or Hulu or Amazon or so forth. So think about it think about 4k right now is not a requirement for for movie distribution deals. But the good news is believe it or not the 35 millimeter is becoming a discussion now. Now I come from a world where I used to work in 35 millimeter all the time. Now people like oh film is dead film is dead film is it might be dead is a shooting format I don't think it will be I hope it's always around I hope it's an option for filmmakers. It's a wonderful option. But right now film is still the only sure way to ensure that your film will survive. The new type of film will ensure that your movie will survive at least 150 years in a salt ball vault somewhere as opposed to hard drives which is five years old five years tops for hard drive so you're constantly have to change your hard drive. You're also going to as new Codex come out new compressions come out new everything comes out you're going to be constantly re compressing it real putting it read this read that all all of it. But if you master it on a film or you archive it on film, and you put it in a salt mine somewhere in in Utah, where all the studios have there, they're all they're all the backlog of studios like Warner Brothers Disney all that they all have their stuff on film, and they put it in the salt vaults and they sit there for hundreds you know for decades and it protects them you know that's how they were able to go back and you know they dug up Star Wars you know they dug up the original prints from Star Wars when they were doing the re releases of it and jaws and all these other movies. That's how they did it. They didn't put it on hard drives. So right now there is a discussion going on with a lot of distributors that they want 35 millimeter prints, Master prints so they can archive I have it now this is obviously much bigger studios much bigger distributors. But it is a discussion as things are, people are starting to, to talk about again, because it is what works. You know, digital is wonderful. But film is what works as far as a archiving format. So if you don't believe me that you won't see the difference between 2k and 4k, go do a test. Go to the lab, if you have a lab and master, you know, have them output, you know, for, you know, like, five, four minutes, three minutes of some scenes. And, and don't tell them tell them not to tell you what's what, have them do a 1080 have them do a 2k and haven't do a 4k, you know, and just and see how it works. And see what what it looks like see what progress looks like, see what uncompressed looks like so let's take a look at it on the screen, or wherever your final outputs going to be. And that's the other question guys, you got to figure out what you're going to out. Where's your endgame on this, you know if it's theatrical, which is great. And that's a wonderful thing. You focus on theatrical, but remember theatrical is a very small window of how people are going to consume your media or consume your movie, it's a very small window, it's mostly going to be consumed on on streaming formats, specifically now more and more than ever on the streaming formats. And on a lesser, lesser note, DVD and blu ray for as long as they'll they'll be around with us. But it's going to be a digital streaming format. So that means it's going to be either on TV, on your monitors on your iPhone, on your iPads, or on your computer monitor. And more and more people are watching movies on their iPhones, iPads and computer monitors, and then also on their TVs as well. But the mobile devices are coming up so you work all this hard. And I do this, I do this, I'm going to do a little quick side note, I have a buddy of mine who's a master he does a mastering of audio audio mastering and he actually has a full blown Atmos you know rig so you can do the utmost like the the most amazing surround sound, state of the art surround sound that you can get. And he has all that at for a feature for feature release the IEEE and for five one mix for your you know, for your home stereo system or for your home entertainment system. And then I was there listening to the mix. And then I saw these two little crappy speakers on the top of the on the top of the council and he's like, well, What's that for? He goes, Oh, that's for what I mix this for, for VOD, or for digital, or for an iPad or for YouTube or online. I'm like really, because Yeah, because I could do all this work on this five, one mix. But if you've crunched down that five, one mix or the Atmos mix, down to a stereo that's going to be playing outside of an iPod or iPad, or iPhone, it's gonna sound like shyt. So So what he says he's like, I have to remix it for the worst case scenario. So he had to go back and remix it for the worst case scenario. So even audios are already dealing with this, with the whole new technology, how fast is changing. So do that test guys, and let me know what you know, figure it out, if you can actually see a huge difference between the 4k and the 2k. You know, apples to apples, then my god go to 4k. But again, it's all about your money. It's how much money you have, how many resources you have, and what kind of horsepower you have to push it, you know, so my advice for indie filmmakers on a budget, you know, that have small budgets anywhere from and I'm not going to say what budget it is because I've worked on million dollar movies, I didn't have the horsepower after everything was said and done, because they didn't have enough money in their post budget. So it's all relative to what how much money you have, if I were you, like I've always said bring in a post production supervisor during pre production, or at least consult with a post production supervisor before you start production. It's so valuable, you have no idea if you really want to go to 4k and you really want to shoot 4k and master to 4k, or shoot 6k and mash it up whatever you want to master to 4k, 2k whatever, at least you really should have an understanding of what it's actually going to take financially between hard drives and backup hard drives and di T's on set and how fast it's gonna go and all this kind of stuff. And at the end of the day, guys, it's really not about about what the camera is or how what kind of case you have on your mini case, different case you have on your format that you're shooting on. It's always about story. You know, we don't have a lack of cameras with four 6k or high resolution cameras in the world. We have a lack of good storytellers. We have a lack of good filmmakers out there, because they're so concentrated on getting the latest gear and they're not learning their craft of storytelling. So my advice is always look at the story first, and then look at the gear that's going to help you tell that story. And the resources are going to help you tell that story and the best way. So I hope you guys got a lot out of this episode. It's something that's been dear to my heart for a while I really wanted people to kind of understand There's a lot of confusion between all the damn K's all over the place in the world and how far how big the files and all that stuff is concerned but I hope this is some practical advice to hopefully get you guys movie movies off the ground and actually get made in finished. So of course if anyone has any questions I do offer consulting post production supervision, and post production consulting on indie films. Just head over to indie film hustle comm forward slash consulting and let me know. Also don't forget to head over to film festival tips.com that's Film Festival tips calm, so you can download my free ebook on how to get into film festivals for cheap or free. As always, keep that hustle going. Keep following those dreams. Keep making it happen. Talk to you soon.




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