HDSLR Revolution: Story Over Technology
I had the privilege of experiencing NAB from Montreal while shooting Deadfall. I stepped back and looked with some objectivity at the frenzy of technology. Having a far-away perspective this year made me think again about what is at the core of filmmaking – the story. The first time I ever went to NAB was after becoming immersed in the HDSLR revolution. For the last 13 years, I only shot film because video cameras were not taken seriously in the feature film world.
Story is what matters most, not the tools. When I read a script for the first, second, and third time, I do not think about my responsibilities as a filmmaker. They are always at the back of my mind but not the go-to reflex.
Pioneering the HDSLR
I love experimenting with new technology. Pioneering like Lewis and Clark, navigating uncharted land, making the next great discovery. But this is only a means to an end. You are trying to tell a story with images that enable people from around the world to share in that experience.
I never embraced HD until the Canon 5D came along. The only reason was because it was the right tool in telling the story, and that story was the covert operations of the Navy SEALS, the feature project Act of Valor.
After reading the script several times, the directors, Scotty Waugh, Mike McCoy of Bandito Brothers, and I felt that the best way to tell this story in a unique and different way was to immerse the audience in a cinematic, visceral experience. One that they had never been in before other than in a video game as a first person shooter. The Canon 5D was that cinematic tool, the right device, the only device, to pull this off.
As a result, I was asked to attend trade shows – none that I had ever visited before – and asked to speak about this technology. I had spoken at ASC events and been on technology panels before, but nothing like this. It was different and new.
I started speaking at a small little conference in 2009, called the Collision Conference in L.A., where stills and motion collide. It was a cool concept; I was in. I didn’t have any pictures, nor a keynote presentation, just experience, passion, and stories. Story is at the heart of everything. Go with what you feel, find your own way.
The most important thing is knowing what you want to achieve, not just the techniques for getting there. This is something that I remind myself almost every day I am creating. It keeps me grounded, with this tech world changing a million miles a second.
Keeping up, staying on that treadmill is exhausting and unproductive. You have a vision; it’s in your mind and your heart. Decide what your duties as a filmmaker are after the story speaks to you.
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About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.
So true Shane. As people get mored into advanced technology, their most important aspect seems to disappear; the story. It’s the story which makes the movie, and the camera is the tool to help make it. In saying that, I need to work on my stories for my films. Thanks man
Brendan, the story is what sticks, not what you shot it with. The camera is not the draw, the story is what inspires and moves people.
Shane thanks for your post. Yes absolutely wholeheartedly. Tech comes and goes and as much as it can be fun, it dates and we move on. The story is what survives and how we tell it is what evolves.
Cheers and thanks again.
Yves Simard, you are so welcome and thank you for your support.
re: “Story is what matters most, not the tools.”
So so true, Shane. Glad to hear you vocalize this so well. I went through a kind of gear melt-down last fall. While gear is cool to a degree, it became so wearisome to hear debates of pixel-peepers. I love using my 5DM2, but a funny thing has happened… I’m having so much fun producing art with whatever I have at hand, that I have so little time to talk about specs, pixels, and gear. :) Indeed there are so many stories to tell…
Carl Olson, Hi Carl, great to hear from you, thank you so much for the support my friend.
Do not tell a story you do not like, otherwise you might have a problem.
Everyone who works for clients, must occasionally produce a movie for themselves (I do). Choose a topic you care about. Try to learn something of the process you follow in the conversion of the subject (your passion!!) into a movie. Then the technique is not really your biggest concern. This process can teach you something that you can use if you are filming someone else’s story, that of your client.
Well said, Shane. I went to NAB this year and ‘frenzy’ is the perfect word for it. The low cost of these cameras combined with the image quality is what’s driving this movement. There is this explosion of people who were financially prohibited from using professional tools that now can afford these cameras and are putting out some pretty amazing stuff. Of course on the other side of that there’s also a ton of crap. Content is king and story is everything. Looking at a series of pretty pictures will hold your attention for about half a second. I chose to start shooting with DSLRs because of the size and versatility. It’s perfect for the kind of shooting I do. Plus, I love experimenting with new technologies and pushing the limits of it. But in the end the camera is just a tool to tell the story.
I’m a film maker from Australia. Like all who seem to visit, I admire and appreciate your masterful work, but most of all I’m a fan of the generosity, honesty and warmth that comes through so strongly in all of your blogs and responses. It is inspiring and of great value to developing film makers like myself. Today your latest entry was very valuable and pertinent to me. So I wanted to write in and say thank you.
In January 2012 I will be shooting/directing my first low budget Indi feature – a goal I have been trying to achieve for the past 9 years. For the past twelve weeks I have spent a huge amount of time researching in aid of making the best equipment decisions I can with my 15k equipment budget. It has been an enjoyable process in no small part… However over the past 2-3 weeks (NAB news) I have also felt an uncomfortable inner pull and insecurity growing… I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but I have consciously noticed my excitement and creative desire becoming eclipsed by an almost compulsive need to find the “best” solutions, immerse myself in what ifs and fears I will not have enough… Yet even as uncomfortable as this all is, and conscious of it as I am, the power is undeniable – it’s like some kind of technological siren song, singing a promise of endless distraction within it’s gadgetry cantata.
But beneath another part of me senses, if not quite my creative death, (Warned yo about that melodrama :)) certainly my own mediocrity beckoning as I content myself – as Denis Waitley eloquently puts it, by “Instead of tackling the most important priorities that would make us successful and effective in life, we prefer the path of least resistance and do things simply that will relieve our tension, such as shuffling papers and majoring in minors.”
I still have many difficult decisions to make in order to make best use of my budget.Perhaps you could even help advise me. But reading your blog helps affirm exactly what my heart is yelling at me… Not to sweat it too much, because the most important choice I can ever make, is always available to me… and thats to be about the work of creating.
Lliam Worthington, thank you so much for these amazing words of support. This is awesome!! Forget about the tools. Lead with your heart and your story. I would choose what makes the most sense for your story and with that it also means your limited budget. The gear shit I hate, everyone is in a coma over all this noise, is what I call it. Technogear noise. Just grab what ever is available to you and create, it is as simple as that.
Enjoy your time connecting with your family. I’m sure you will :))
So very true! Shane would you mind taking a look at my short DP reel? Every single one of your tips from this blog went into every production I’ve worked on in the past 4 months and I wanted to show how much they’ve helped me along:
Alex Walker, I will take a look at it when I have some time. Right now I am trying to reconnect with my family after being gone for 3.5 months.
You bet. Family first. I’m actually visiting mine shortly before heading out to San Francisco to start work on a feature.
Hi Shane. Your graciousness in spending the time to help educate in the art has been instrumental for me. I took the path more traveled in life but always wondered what the lesser would bring. A quick google search for short films one day led me to The Last Three Minutes and the DSLR images changed my world. I have always had an idea of how I want projects to look and feel but have never been able to use gear that would properly bring them to light therefore I took the aforementioned path. I do understand this no excuse.
“If one advances confidently in the direction of one’s dreams, and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” I heard this Theroux quote around the same time I watched the short and have dedicated myself to absorb as much information , experience and advice to help start a career in this industry. Doors will and are opening and I owe you for the kick in the ass.
Brent Dobbs, I cannot thank you enough for these kind words, these are what inspire me everyday to go the extra mile, to answer all of you personally. Lead with your heart.
“Story is at the heart of everything. Go with what you feel, find your own way. The most important thing is knowing what you want to achieve, not just the techniques for getting there.”
Very well said… always important to regularly step back from the technology and realize the greater vision.
Great stuff Shane – keep on creating.
Sebastian_TR, thank you so much for your kind words. I will keep it up. Thanks again for the support.
Truth well told.
Beautiful words Shane.
Inspiring as usual! On a side note…. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on the Technicolor Cine Style.
Absolutely! A good story shot with the media most appropriate to its expression should always be the mantra.
In a couple of days I will have shoots, where I want to use Black ProMist and a Polarizer, so I have a quick question:
In what order do I put them? And what’s the science behind, when u need to make this kind of decision?
P.s. Sorry that it’s not related to this theme, did not know where I could ask u.
Great article Shane! However, technology, or the lack of certain equipment bit me in the ass in 2008. Here’s what happened…
We had an opportunity to do a doc on the first ever female pilot to fly with the Air Force Thunderbirds. Not wanting to miss the window, we shot with what we could afford, a Sony HDV camera. It was a very moving story and often elicits tears with those watching it. We distributed it to PBS, through an independent program distributor in 2008.
An international distributor contacted me and took over distribution. A Blu-ray was made in Japan, it was peddled at Cannes…it even made it into the hands of Discovery Channel. They liked it, then came the question, “What did you shoot it on”, when I said HDV, they declined to carry it saying they have strict regulations on technical requirements and HDV didn’t cut it.
So while it has reached many, many people, the technical limitations we had at the time, prevented it from reaching a bigger audience, and also prevented us from getting some of the money back we invested in making it! So while story is indeed of the utmost importance, if your technical equipment is lacking, it can come back and bite you in the ass!
Love your work and your blog, thanks for allowing me to comment!
Here’s the preview of the show in case anyone is curious!
Thank you for your encouragement to focus more on vision and what story you are trying to tell first. Obsessing over what gear I need clouds the vision.
I needed this post today. Thanks.
Jeff Dolan, I find that so many filmmaker’s get clogged up with the gear. Story, story, story!!! KISS, (keep it simple stupid). I am glad that I could help, you are very welcome and thank you for your support.