Achieving ‘that video look’

Throughout the last 9 decades of cinema, Directors have been stuck with the same tired look forced upon them by the constraints of their technology. Cinematographers at the vanguard of their industry, disenchanted with the timelessness of film, are now looking to achieve that elusive ‘live’ look – video!

The world of moving pictures has gone by a number of pet names, one of which describes one of the pitfalls of having to pay for your recording medium by the half-cubit or ‘foot’ as some would say. ‘The Flicks’ were just that – flickering images in a dark room, destined to cause many a strained eye.

Whilst motion could be recorded at or above 20 frames per second, there was a problem in that the human eye’s persistence of vision (that eye-blink time where a ghost of a bright image dances upon your retina) means you can perceive flicker up to about 40 frames per second. So your movie had smooth movement at 24 or 25 frames per second, but it still flashed a bit.

Of course, clever engineers realised that if you showed every frame TWICE, so the lamp illuminated each frame through a revolving bow-tie cunningly pressed into service as a shutter, then hauled the loop of film (due to mass, intertia, etc – tug the whole reel and you’d snap it) down one frame and give that a double flash. Rinse, repeat.

Every student of film will get taught the special panning speed to avoid juddery images – then forget it. Ditto the use of shutter speeds beyond 180 degrees. And so we’re stuck with motion blur and the last vestiges of flicker in the eyes of an audience reared on a visual diet of 75fps video games.

A collection of flim makers, some with their roots in the DV revolution of the 1990s, are looking to their true source of inspiration, trying to mimic the hallowed ‘television look’ by the simple expedient of shooting a higher frame rate. This gives their work a sense of ‘nowness’, an eerie ‘look into the magical mirror’ feel.

As post-production 3D gains traction, Directors are taking a further leaf out of the Great Book Of Video by using a technique known as ‘deep depth of field’ – where the lens sharply records all from the near to the far. An effect very reminiscent of the 1/3” class of DV camcorders. This will, of course, take huge amounts of lighting to achieve pinhole like apertures in their ‘medium format’ cameras such as Epic, Alexa and F65, but as leading lights such as James Cameron and Peter Jackson jump on the bandwagon, the whole industry can now concentrate on achieving ‘That Video Look’.