Indie filmmakers will argue about kit and formats until the end of the world (which, at the time of writing, is scheduled to be in about an hour according to nutjobs and the easily distracted), yet I’ve somehow managed to keep this blog going for six years or so without ever writing about it once.
This started as a vaguely conscious decision, based upon the fact that in 2003 when I was planning TrashHouse I was trying to cover up the fact that it was a digital shoot. Sounds crazy, but it’s easy to forget how much the filmmaking world has changed in nine years. Those were the days before YouTube, before home editing and before the acceptance of digital as a dominant or even viable format. I wanted people to assume that I was shooting TrashHouse on 16mm and tried to keep shots of the cameras out of behind-the-scenes publicity right up until the point I’d safely signed a distribution deal.
This is the camera TrashHouse was shot on:
The Canon XM1, known as the GL1 in North America. Purchased around 2001 largely because it was a 3-chip camera and touted as ‘better than broadcast quality’ at the time, the clincher was the fact that it had DV in/out which almost no cameras in my price bracket did. I teamed it up with a DV500 capture card, which made it possible to (gasp!) get video footage onto my PC, and bought a monster PC with a ridiculously huge TWENTY GIG (ooh, shiny!) harddrive on which to edit my feature film. I tried various tricks in terms of deinterlacing the footage in a desperate attempt to make it look more like 16mm, and suspect that I fooled absolutely nobody. The stupid thing was, of course, that was I was doing was actually pretty cutting edge for an indie at the time and I really should have been pushing it as an angle rather than covering it up. Hindsight is 100%, etc. etc.
By the time the back-to-back feature shoot of 2006 rolled around, the world had moved on. HDV was the format just breaking through, and I grabbed it and embraced it.
I opted for a Sony FX1.
The camera’s bigger brother, the Z1, was just slightly out of my price range, but by teaming up the FX1 with a Beachtek XLR breakout box I was able to get pretty much the same camera for a grand or so less dosh. It was at this point that I also made the jump from PC to Mac; having been haunted by endless, endless, ENDLESS system crashes whilst editing TrashHouse on a PC running Pinnacle Edition, I found cutting Hellbride and KillerKiller, on Final Cut Pro 5 and a Power Mac G5 absolute bliss.
That kit served me well. I shot KillerKiller, Hellbride, The Devil’s Music and my chapter of Bordello Death Tales on the same camera, plus countless music videos and promos. I didn’t change up until I used my cheque from the Strippers vs Werewolves screenplay to invest in some DSLR kit after seeing some of the stunning results other indie filmmakers had been getting.
So, my weapon of choice is now the Canon 7D:
I used this new camera for the first time on my Nazi Zombie Death Tales chapter, and am likely to stick with it for the foreseeable future. It gives me so much more control over the image than the FX1 ever did, and as a result the stuff on screen ends up looking more like the stuff in my head. Which is a good thing.
I think kit can end up becoming a sidetrack for filmmakers planning those first few shoots. I’ve spoken to an awful lot of people who use lack of the ‘right’ camera as a reason to never film anything, but the truth is that, in my experience, it matters astonishingly little. It ain’t what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. The mighty Marc Price shot his astonishing debut Colin on standard miniDV (in 4:3) at a point when HDV 16:9 was considered by many to be some kind of ‘minimum’ technical spec, but the fact is that if your movie is strong enough, (in terms of grabbing the audience and taking them on a journey), then nobody really gives a shit about the tech specs.
Incidentally, I was lucky enough to catch an advance screening of Marc’s new movie Magpie a couple of weeks ago at an advance screening at the BFI. It’s an astonishingly brave, dark, beautifully performed and incredibly human movie which I can’t recommend highly enough. If Marc hadn’t just picked up a camera and gone for it back when he shot Colin, we’d have never got to see it.
So forget the tech specs and go and shoot something.
PS. Since writing this blog entry I’ve stuck to the Canon 7d as my weapon of choice. I also discuss choices of camera and kit and how much (if?) it matters in my live show Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws which you can watch for free on the video below. It’s NSFW and features strong language, bloody violence and nudity. Thankfully, the nudity isn’t me.