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.
Looking for mentorship in the film industry? Schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with Shane Hurlbut, ASC today! This is where you can get expert advice from an industry professional on your career or a particular project.
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.