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Film Dailiespage 2page 3
DVDpage 2page 3
A Flexible Finish
American Cinematographer Magazine
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It's impossible to calculate the value of film dailies. Wood feels that digital dailies "hurt younger cinematographers working on independent features the most. Sometimes they don't see their work on film until we get to work prints, and they're forced to make aesthetic compromises."

When Kramer Morgenthau went to Montreal to shoot Godsend, a relatively low-budget feature, he succeeded in convincing the producers and Lions Gate executives that film dailies were necessary. He explains, "As a cinematographer, you have to assume the role of being a guardian of the art form. That's why I'm willing to fight for film dailies. You're making a movie for a canvas that's 40 feet wide or larger, and the reality is that with digital images you can't see nuances on actors' faces or in colors, how a costume works with the production design, or how grain structure and contrast will play on the big screen. You also can't see critical focus or how diffusion is affecting light.

"If it were up to me, every department head - the director, producers and actors - would watch dailies," he continues. "That's what collaborative filmmaking should be about. We're like a family of artists getting together to make a film. Cinematography is a reflective form of expression. You look at dailies and react to what you have seen when you shoot that day. Some people don't seem to care what the movie looks like, but I don't think they're trying to sabotage our work. I think they just don't understand."

Dean Semler, ASC, ACS discussed how he handled dailies while he was shooting The Alamo at a remote location near Austin, Texas. The negative he exposed was shipped to Los Angeles, where the front-end lab work was done at Deluxe. "I believe that dailies are vital," he says. "We had a 40-foot-long mobile trailer with a good screen and film projector. At lunch break, vans would pick us up and take us to the trailer, which was parked at a convenient location. Our lunch was waiting for us at our seats. All of my operators and first assistants came, and my gaffer was always there, along with the director, the editor and his assistant, and sometimes the producers. Quite often there were people from the wardrobe and art departments. The trailer was packed every day. We'd run the first take of each scene and move on. I looked for everything - focus, lighting and consistency - because many times you are matching to something you previously shot. Watching film dailies was uplifting. It energized everyone."

Don McAlpine, ASC, ACS recently shot Peter Pan (AC Jan. '04) in collaboration with director P.J. Hogan. The film was a venture involving Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Revolution Studios and Warner Roadshow Studios, and it was produced almost entirely on soundstages at the Warner Roadshow complex in Queensland, Australia. Dailies processing was provided by Atlab Queensland, which is part of the Atlab Group in Australia. Operating under the guidelines of the Kodak Imagecare Program, the front-end processing lab and dailies screening room are on site at the Warner Roadshow Studios complex.

McAlpine used a digital still camera to document each setup, and he then manipulated the images with an Apple laptop computer on the set. McAlpine showed Hogan the images to make certain that their ideas were in tune, and then used a heat-transfer printer to make hard copies as a reference for dailies timer Gary Keir. McAlpine felt that the still images were a more tangible reference than a note saying something like, "Make this shot a little more blue." Film dailies were screened for McAlpine each morning, and he let Keir know what needed to be tweaked. Keir delivered reports to all departments by mid-morning.

"I believe it is important to see film dailies," McAlpine contends, "because that is the way the audience is going to experience the movie. If you transfer the film to another medium, what you end up seeing is someone else's interpretation of your work. Maybe that will be different someday, but there are just too many variables today." Atlab also provided Hogan with DVD dailies, which he used to evaluate performances.

Daviau offers a last word on the subject: "One of the problems with digital dailies is that there is someone between you and the images who is making subjective decisions. When we view film dailies, we are getting an objective rendering of the information that is recorded on the negative. You can judge nuances in sharpness and what the lenses are doing. Maybe you want a slight distortion, so you want to see how it will play with the film on a big screen. Film dailies are also a reliable reference for continuity, and they tell us how much further we can go in stretching the negative to interpret what is happening in a scene. After I see dailies, I might decide that we can be a little more daring in how we're using light to create contrast. Film dailies are a creative tool for all cinematographers."

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.