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Monday, February 26, 2007

David Fincher's 'Zodiac': The Latest Feature Shot with the Viper FilmStream Digital Camera

David Fincher's 'Zodiac' is out this Friday. Early reviews are positive. This is the first feature that Fincher has shot with a digital camera: the Viper FilmStream from Thomson Grass Valley, the same camera Michael Mann used for 'Miami Vice' and 'Collateral.'

As far as I know, it's also the first feature shot digitally by Harris Savides, the cinematographer on 'Zodiac.' One more first: 'Zodiac' is likely the first Hollywood feature recorded directly onto hard drives from the camera -- no videotapes were used.

So a few links about the digital cinematography on 'Zodiac'...

From Filmmaker Magazine, a piece headlined 'Are We There Yet? HD Continues Its Journey Into the Mainstream' Jamie Stuart writes:

    The straight-talking Savides describes the situation bluntly: “Everybody who’s shooting this stuff is a guinea pig right now.”

    “Everything is still R&D,” he elaborates. “I feel like these movies being made are just little experiments for the big conglomerate studios. They’ll see what it’s like, what’s gonna happen, see the best way to handle it down the road.”

    The fluctuating nature of the technology means that most filmmakers still have to fight to shoot their films on HD. Directors like Steven Soderbergh and Robert Rodriguez can get away with HD because they keep their budgets down. But once budgets start rising to $100 million, or tent-pole status, the resistance is much fiercer. Savides says his hat is off to Fincher for making Zodiac happen in such an unconventional manner: “He’s amazing. I don’t think anybody could’ve done it this way. David had to figure it out on his own, and then present it to the studio. He had to do smaller projects, commercials. He’d been using the Viper, got really used to it. So by the time I stepped in he had gotten the Viper integrated and he’d figured out how to make the camera work. When I got there, 90 percent of the problems had been ironed out. I was just part of the creative solution.”

Digital Content Producer has a piece about the movie's workflow and an audio interview with Fincher.

Fincher also talks a bit about the Viper in this interview with film critic Emmanuel Levy.

And here's even more on 'Zodiac' from HD for Indies.

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  • i was struck by the irony of the description of zodiac as being the first digital film shot without tape.

    we shot our short film last june on the hvx200 using panasonic's p2 card system. hot-swappable and you just take the pcmcia card out and pop it in your laptop, import the footage into fcp and voila! ready to go. we watched dailies that night from the laptop on a widescreen hidef television in my friend and co-producer's condo.

    it's just strange - used to be the big guys led the way with technology. but when i read that article about zodiac i thought "what the big deal? we did that."

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 9:11 PM  

  • Well, to be fair, it says the first HOLLYWOOD movie shot directly to hard disc. Plus it's certainly the first movie that you can go to a multiplex and see that was recorded to disc.

    "The Jazz Singer" wasn't the first movie with sync dialogue, but it was the first feature with sync dialogue that millions of people got to see.

    As for the big guys leading with technology, maybe you havelnt been reading this blog long, but right here on this blog is an article which says indies have always lead Hollywood in terms of technology.

    By Blogger Dylan Pank, at 11:46 AM  

  • i did read that article when it was posted. and to be fair, i didn't classify myself as an indie. more like an amateur. and i don't count wealthy playboys and mini-studios as little guys. if cameron sparks the next wave of 3d is his achievement going to be co-opted as yet another "indie" contribution?

    most technological advances haven't come from the scrappy individual, romantic as that notion may be. for most of us, the ability to utilize the same technology and tools as the professionals working in major systems has been a pipe dream.

    innovation on the other hand, often does come from mavericks.

    bottom line is, my reaction is valid. we're in a unique position in history where technology is moving faster than industry and conventional operations are being turned upside down.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 12:32 PM  

  • Deep-

    Sorry to overlook your movie... I do think that often the indies who *actually* push the technology forward (IE, not Lucas, Cameron, or Fincher) don't get proper credit, because their movies aren't widely seen.

    By Blogger Scott Kirsner, at 2:30 PM  

  • Hey Scott -- love your blog -- but the notion that Collateral was shot on the Viper is mostly untrue.

    According to the American Cinematographer article, the team ran into a number of problems with the Viper, calling it "just not production-ready" and lamenting tethering issues.

    According to the same article, 'The production began shooting with a pair of Vipers, but Cameron testifies that “by the end of the first day, we switched to two F900s as our main cameras.”'

    Roughly 20% of the pic was also shot on film--notably interiors with higher frame rates.

    I'm not any camera's fanboy, but as I often read that Collateral was shot on the Viper, I thought I'd use your comments section to needlessly nitpick. (Mann's Miami Vice, on the other hand, was a Viper pic.)

    By Blogger Pliny, at 4:11 PM  

  • lol, you don't have to apologize to me scott, mine is just a short film, and zodiac started (and probably finished) shooting before we did (june 06). i just thought it was interesting that the tech is hitting everyone at every level in similar ways.

    i don't disagree with what dylan said so much as think it should be refined. indies don't always lead. sometimes they do, sometimes they're not quite indies, sometimes the big companies that have the big r&d budgets are making the groundbreaks, and sometimes indies just apply something in an unusual way.

    nothing wrong with any of it tho. the democracy of a tech (either by ubiquitousness or disuse) is what's important.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 2:02 PM  

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