HD's Implications for the Camera team, the Art Department, and Post

A turning point in the career of Public Enemies producer Bryan Carroll came when he worked as a film and visual-effects editor for James Cameron on Titanic. “That’s what sparked my interest into shooting movies digitally from script to screen,” he said. When he met Michael Mann, the director was thinking of shooting the night scenes in Ali digitally. “And that’s how I got involved with Michael, using what I had learned from many years in the digital realm,” he said. “I brought that in and building a bullet proof system, knowing we would end up on film.” He was first a co-producer on Robbery Homicide Division, the first hour-long drama shot digitally, then began Collateral working with the Thomson Viper. “This was the pinnacle of how you could really use HD in a feature film environment,” he said. “That was also the beginning of my relationship with Sony.”

Top: Michael Mann with the F23; photo by Peter Mountain

Then, Sony brought him the prototype of the Sony F23, which was 5 years in the making. “We [Mann and I] shot a Nike commercial and Sony showed up with the prototype F23, so we gave them feedback and started working on using this for a feature film,” Carroll said. “Choosing the right camera [for Public Enemies] always comes from the creative side. If we were shooting in film, we’d always choose the right stock. We approached it the same way here, doing multiple tests.”
In fact, initially, Mann thought he would shoot Public Enemies on film-until he did tests with the F23. “Michael was able to see within that something that was able to capture his vision, his paintbrush in shooting this film,” he said.

Shooting HD with its depth of field required every department to pay attention to detail. “You can’t paint bricks on a wall,” said Carroll. “We laid down cobblestones in the streets every night. When I’m producing [a movie shot digitally], you need more time and more funds for those areas. Otherwise they’d look like fake cobblestone streets.”

Carroll said the ergonomics of the Sony F23 “look like an ARRI 435 with a 400-foot magazine.” “The camera department really took this camera as one of their own,” he said. “In the past, the [digital] cameras required more maintenance, which required the DIT department to be more involved in keeping the camera running. For this camera, they’re handled much more like a film camera. It’s much more like a flow we were used to, and that was a huge advantage.”

The Sony F23 is a larger camera, said Carroll, but the deck can be removed off the body, which enables filmmakers to get it into smaller places. “Sometimes we used the Sony EX-1 or the T-cam [the Sony F950]. But the sturdiness and reliability of the new cameras helped us run much smoother on a set. In the past, I always had an engineer living on the truck fixing cables. This is truly like a filmmaker’s camera.”

Carroll revealed the production shot in video mode as opposed to raw/data. “We are firm believers, especially in the creative process, that what you see is what you get,” he said. “Exactly what we see on the monitor [on set] will be what we see on the 2K monitor, through color timing, early previews all the way to film.”

The digital workflow for Public Enemies began with what had been used on past movies. “Then we started tweaking and hot-rodding it,” said Carroll. “I would love to release the movie only digitally, but we still have a lot of theatres that want film. It’ll never be exactly the same on film. But we get it 99.9 percent of the way there with massive testing.”

The team did a “massive amount of testing with LUTs.” “The original LUTs are developed during the testing period and then adapted throughout the entire process,” said Carroll. “We continue to modify them until we see whole reels printed out, so we modify them scene-by-scene.” After testing with both Kodak Premiere and Vision stocks, they ended up going with Vision3 500T 5219 . “It was the one that emulated the digital file the closest,” he said.

The key to the workflow with the Sony F23 for Public Enemies was that it had to be adaptable. “It can never slow the creative process down, it can never slow the director down,” said Carroll. “It has to adapt. Nothing stops the creative vision. That’s why we shoot on HD-SR. Those tapes come back, and are duplicated. Selects are pulled that go to editorial. Selects also come back to us on the set. We had a screening room with 2K RGB 4:4:4 projection. Then from that, Michael derives his notes.”

Mann has an Avid Nitris in his editing suite. “As the editors finish the scene, it’s at 4:2:2 10-bit HD res. Michael can then go in his screening room and screen the movie at least once a day-at any given time’always at 2K.” For budget reasons, the editorial crew was working in standard def.

As screenings approached, Mann went to Company 3 where he worked on color timing passes with DI artist Stefan Sonnenfeld. “We don’t go nearly as extreme as if we were in a RAW or film process,” said Carroll. “When we get to the final stage, that’s when he’s doing his final color timing.”

The historic details in Public Enemies are practical. “Given that this is a period piece, I don’t think we have any 3D visual effects at all,” he said. “Effects were mainly clean-up, where we were taking away modern streetlights or transformers on telephone poles.”

The challenge was the size of these scenes with the detail and depth, as well as trying to live up to Michael’s vision. “That means to create a film that didn’t feel like you’re watching a movie about 1930 but to actually be 1930 and feel like you’re there in every detail. We were able to fulfill that with this technology.”

Carroll reported that they put the Sony F23 through some extreme conditions, particularly in the scenes shot at Little Bohemia in Wisconsin. “There were times it was -17 degrees,” he said. “We had rain that turned into hail that turned into snow and came back into rain in one night. We heard the lake freezing and the wind was extreme. And these cameras just held up and kept ticking, all the way to hot days at the prison when it was 80s. It was a pleasure having a camera that could withstand that kind of stuff.”

“It was a bold move of Michael to shoot a period piece that’s not a visual effects movie, on high-def,” said Carroll. “After Collateral, people said you could use HD for night scenes. Now, you see it is just another tool for how you wish to create your scene. Hopefully, with Public Enemies, we were able to prove it.”