Podcast – Talking Digital Cinema with Steven Poster (ASC)

While it’s true that affordable digital cameras and editing software have put impressive means of production into the hands any boot-strapping filmmaker with a dream, digital filmmaking at the highest end of TV and motion pictures is actually more complex and more expensive than the days of celluloid-only production. ¬†As part of my focus on digital cinema, I interviewed cinematographer Steven Poster (ASC) via Skype in Los Angeles.

Steven has more than 50 credits as a Director of Photography. He has served as president of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and is currently the National President of the International Cinematographer’s Guild (Local600/IATSE). Steven has also been on the forefront of technical and creative examination into the use of digital cinema technologies.

© 2012, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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5 comments

  • Wow, that was fascinating!

    A couple of things have crossed my mind as I was listening, the foremost being that making things ‘better’ doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be better. This I think applies both to the issue of frame-rate and to the actual resolution and dynamic range of the frame. I’m no cinematographer, of course, but I believe that part of the magic – if you will – of cinema comes from the imperfections of the medium.

    Looking at music, which has all but made a complete transition to digital accross the entire production workflow – to say nothing of listening – we’ve seen a whole range of software come in to re-introduce all the flaws that were inherent in old analogue gear – everything from valve distortion to (this is a new one for me) channel cross-talk on the mixer. It seems like the idea is to get the best quality (meaning sample rate and resolution) input you can, which you then procede to degrade in all manner of interesting ways. The funniest thing about this, of course, is that a lot of brain- and processing-power is devoted to replicating something that older and – supposedly – inferior gear would introduce as a matter of course.

    I am thus wondering – kinda like Steven, I guess – whether the transition to digital in cinema will lead to the development of similar ‘imperfection-simulators’. Film emulation (by brand)? Auto-jitter? Granulation algorithms?

    Lastly, I’m really not sold on the idea of higher frame-rates. I think we have sufficient material for comparison (video, f’rinstance) to say that aesthetically it really doesn’t cut muster. I guess I’ll have to go see the first Hobbit film – should Jackson decide to go ahead with the higher frame-rates – when it comes out (however painful I anticipate the experience to be) and see for myself.

    • Thanks for posting, Faza. While talking to Steven, I was also thinking about music and the reactions I heard from may audiophiles who were unhappy with the loss of certain sounds during the early transition from analog to digital. I also thought that Steven is describing sort of a reverse situation — certainly not one in which the camera is failing to capture minutiae but perhaps capturing too much. The question he poses is whether the result of, say, 4K an 60fps will be a kind smoothing out of the experience to the point where the unconscious mind ceases to work during the screening to interpolate the series of images. I also happen to think a lot of HD can look truly hideous to conscious mind, too.

      Like your music experience, we video editors have had no end of plug-ins to “make video look like film,” so I find myself wondering the same thing you do with regard to adding back the imperfections. Still, digital means a lot of different things, and there are some truly remarkable products out there. One thing that should be heard loud and clear, though, is that digital cinema is not easier and it is not cheaper.

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