The ‘Filmic Look’

Since uploading the review of the Sony PXW X70 (which, incidentally, moved from page 26 to the number two slot on page 1 Google search in two months) I have gotten a lot of comments on the YouTube video as well as a number of comments on the blog and personal emails. They’ve all been truly great.

Confession: I’ve never been a geek. I admire those who are and those who understand all the ins and outs of codecs and all things electronically technical. I really do.

Some of those folks have commented now and then that I should look into some of the available pre-sets on the X70. More than a few have commented that with a proper setting my videos wouldn’t look so ‘video-like’.

Well, I really do want to look into those settings when I get a moment. In fact, I look forward to it.

And while I may eat my words after I’ve done so, I do want to mention something on the subject of the ‘filmic look’ that I didn’t mention in the book ‘Run ’n Gun Videography published recently.

I started off in cinematography. Film. First 16mm with a $50,000 camera/lens kit (in the early 80s), then 35mm with cameras costing between $50,000 and $250,000.

Funny thing. Even then I didn’t like the ‘filmic look’.

That, to me, meant GRAIN. And we were forever testing films and ASA (ISO) going for the least amount of grain as possible.

Anyway, in the early 90s I was assigned to a video documentary team. And at once, I loved the immediacy of video. You didn’t have to send it to the lab. You could play it back right then and there. And, of course, there was no grain. We had pretty good broadcast quality Sony cameras, so the picture quality was excellent. Crisp. Clear. Great color reproduction. I was in heaven.

Guess I was never really a film snob.

So my point is this: “What’s wrong with the ‘video look’? What’s this urge for people using video cameras to make them seem to be film cameras?

The chapter in the book that covers this subject was meant to clarify what is really meant by the ‘filmic look’. It’s a bit ironic actually how the filmic look came about—including how shallow depth of field came about. But as I said in the book, there hasn’t been a director or cinematographer in history that attributed any part of the success of a film at some awards ceremony to ‘depth of field’ or a particular film stock. It just never crossed their minds. Sure, they’d talk about their choice and manipulation of film stock for some particular look or mood they achieved, but that was in technical magazine articles. There’s something else far more intrinsic and important to the filmic look than all that stuff and that was the point of that chapter in ‘Run ‘n Gun Videography’.

But I also pointed out that I’m not ‘down on the filmic look’ either. I know what they’re talking about.

It’s just that I’m not down on the ‘video look’ either.

Maybe I’ll have to eat my words after I check into the X70s alternative pre-sets, but I can’t imagine that they won’t just be another version of the ‘video look’.