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The Digital Filmmaking Handbook 4th Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-1435459113
ISBN-10: 1435459113
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Editorial Reviews Review

Notes from Sonja Schenk, Author of The Digital Filmmaking Handbook

Sonja Schenk on Film, Video & DSLRs

Shooting film-like projects with DSLRs is an inescapable fact of life in the entertainment industry this year. Since January, I've worked on a scripted feature film, a non-scripted TV pilot, and a big 3D movie; all of them used footage shot on the Canon 5d, 7d, or T2i, and two of them had footage shot on the Go Pro as well (although it did not make the cut in the end).

What have I learned? A lot! Here's the distilled version...

Shooting with DSLRs

Shooting with a DSLR is rather difficult for the camera operator. It's very hard to keep focus and maneuver a camera that's not designed to move at the same time. If you want your footage to look its best, you'll need an AC (Assistant Cameraperson) to pull focus, because your camera operator only has two hands. Special rigs, like those by Zacuto and Redrock, are great; but it's still harder to use these cameras than regular video cameras, especially when not using a tripod. But is it worth it? The footage looks fantastic! It holds its own against stunning 3D digital cinema shot on a high-end Red camera. Not to say that it looks the same, but it looks good, and--more importantly--when you are watching your 3D shots on a big screen, you won't be saying, "Why does that stuff look so bad?"

Recording sound when using a DSLR to shoot video is like taking a step back in time to 30 years ago. Slates, hand claps, all the old school methods for making sound and picture syncable in post are all valuable tools. I know that almost every single person out there is saying the same thing: What about Plural Eyes? Plural Eyes, like its sister product, Dual Eyes, is great. But in my experience, it's only going to get you partway there. When you're in post, and Plural Eyes can only sync 75% of your footage, you will be very happy to have that slate and to have sound and picture that start at approximately the same time. And if Plural Eyes can't sync something, rest assured it will be the stuff that's difficult to sync--noisy footage at a party, footage where the video camera was far away from the sound recordist, and so on.

So what should you do in the field to make sure you can sync your footage easily in post?

  1. Record audio with your DSLR camera mic; it's always better if you have a guide track to listen to, even if it sounds terrible and Plural Eyes can't work without it.

  2. Start your camera and your sound recording at the same time. Use the old school protocol: say "Roll camera," wait for the camera operator to say "Speed," then say "Roll Sound," wait for the sound recordist to say "Speed," and then use a slate to make a sync mark. The slate doesn't need to be electronic because your DSLR doesn't have a timecode input so you can't jam sync your camera and sound device to the slate. A simple clapper will do and if you don't have that, a hand clap will work just fine. You can also use an iPhone/iPad app like MovieSlate, but I found it to be a tad slow.

  3. When you are done with your shot, call "Cut" and make sure your camera & sound person both stop recording.

  4. Have your sound recordist voice-slate any non-sync audio recordings (i.e., wild sound and room tone).

By doing this, you'll have one piece of sound for each piece of video/picture. Near the start of each piece of sound and picture, there will be a slate. Your editor can quickly match the audio media to the video files and look for the slate clap and find the sync. It doesn't take that long to sync dailies in post if you shoot this way. But it can be a whole lot harder if you don't. Remember, your editor is "blind." They won't know that you recorded room tone after the second take unless there is a voice slate telling them that's what this piece of audio is. Without a voice slate, they may listen to five minutes of white noise, waiting to find the sync clap.

Also crucial with DSLRs and other types of file-based media on the set is having a plan in place for media management, backing up and transferring files from camera cards to hard drives. There is no standardized way of doing things but I recommend having a day's worth of cards for your camera so that you don't have to delete any cards during your shoot. I also recommend having a media workstation on the set and immediately copying your media to two sets of hard drives as you shoot. At the end of the shoot, store one set as an off-site backup and take the other set to post.

If you are using FCP, make a disk image of each camera card because FCP uses the directory structure of the camera cards. This is an inexplicable pain, as are many things associated with FCP.

DSLRs in post

If you followed the tips above, synchronizing isn't going to be too much trouble. But before you sync, you'll have to transcode your camera raw media. DSLRs shoot using the H.264 codec, which isn't native to either Final Cut Pro or Media Composer. Most likely, you'll choose to transcode to either Apple ProRes if you are using FCP, or Avid DNxHD if you are using Media Composer. There are many flavors of each of these codecs, but for DSLR media I would choose Apple ProRes 422 or Avid DNxHD 115. Frame rates and pixel dimensions vary depending on how you shot the footage. These codecs will not degrade your camera original media and are safe choices.

However, they will make each file about 2.5x larger than the camera originals. A feature film with 1TB of raw media will need over 2TB of storage when transcoded. Transcoding also takes a long time. For the scripted feature, we left our dailies processing overnight every night. For the feature doc, which shot about 80-100 GB/day, it took 12-15 hours to transcode a day's worth of footage.

A word to the wise: if you are going to rename your file or organize your media into folders at the OS level, do so before you import your media into your editing app. Once you do so, it's best to leave it as is. If you must move or rename files at a later date, do so from within your editing app so that the crucial link between your file-based media and your editing software isn't lost.

Once you spend all that time transcoding and synching, your new set of media is going to represent lots of man hours. Time to create another set of backup drives: you'll now have two sets of camera original media and two sets of transcoded media. You will never regret this. Trust me.

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1. Introduction. 2. Writing and Scheduling. 3. Video Technology Basics. 4. Choosing a Camera. 5. Planning Your Shoot. 6. Lighting. 7. Video Cameras. 8. Digital Still Cameras (DSLRs). 9. Shooting. 10. Production Sound. 11. Workstations and Hardware for Editing. 12. Editing Software. 13. Preparing to Edit. 14. Editing. 15. Sound Editing. 16. Color Correction. 17. Titling and Motion Graphics. 18. Output. About the DVD. Glossary.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Cengage Learning PTR; 4 edition (July 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1435459113
  • ISBN-13: 978-1435459113
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 7.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sonja Schenk is a Los Angeles-based writer, director and producer. She recently directed the feature-length comedy, The Olivia Experiment, and has written several screenplays. Her short films have been shown in film festivals and galleries across the country. Her producing credits include several prominent television series, including The Bachelor, High School Reunion and others. She has edited scripted feature films shown at film festivals such as Sundance and documentaries for European and American television. She is the author of The Digital Filmmaking Handbook and has contributed many articles on filmmaking and technology to various publications.

Visit for the latest digital filmmaking tips and techniques from Sonja and Ben.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jamie Wilson VINE VOICE on August 15, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If I were to recommend only two books for the beginning digital filmmaker, it would be this book and Kurt Lancaster's "DSLR Cinema." "The Digital Filmmaking Handbook" is around 200 page longer than "DSLR Cinema," goes into much more detail, and covers far more topics. "DSLR Cinema," however, puts a lot of emphasis on case studies and I think it's extremely beneficial for filmmakers to learn from the techniques of other filmmakers in addition to the basics of filmmaking. These two books work very well together and I'd highly recommend both.

The authors of "The Digital Filmmaking Handbook" did their best to cover every topic a filmmaker needs to be concerned with in producing a film and while it would be impossible to cover every topic comprehensively, the authors do a fantastic job of giving students the amount of information they need to get the job done. Students then have a solid foundational understanding of the concepts they can later build on with more detailed instruction. It's like film school in a 500-page nutshell.

Chapters include: Writing and Scheduling, Digital Video Primer, Choosing a Camera, Planning Your Shoot, Lighting, Using the Camera, Production Sound, Shooting and Directing, DSLRs and Other Advanced Shooting Situations, Editing Gear, Editing Software, Preparing to Edit, Editing, Sound Editing, Color Correction, Titles and Effects, and Finishing. The final chapter covers mastering, web video, video-on-demand, preparing for film festivals, DVD and Blu-Ray, archiving your projects and more.

One of the things I really like about this book is little tidbits called "What to Watch" scattered throughout the book that give the reader examples of films that illustrate the topic being discussed ("DSLR Cinema" does something similar). It's a great way to see the concepts in action and, perhaps, generate some ideas in the filmmaker.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are lots of guides to making movies out there - and it used to be that they all had to include some reference to the traditional equipment used to make movies with film. This book manages to be thorough and comprehensive, covering in some detail all the different aspects of making movies from pre-production to post (apart from fund-raising and marketing, which are nicely covered in other books like The Filmmaker's Handbook). It also manages to be up-to-date, describing these processes in ways that are likely to be relevant for independent and low-budget movie makers now - who will likely shoot on HD digital video cameras or DSLRs (and there's a useful chapter in here focused on the advantages and disadvantages and techniques associated with going the DSLR route) and are likely edit on their laptops. Having said that, it's not one of those "digital rebel" guides that aims to make the process of making movies seem like an anarchist art. It's focus is on outlining the stages of a shoot for professional crews, who happen to be shooting and editing and correcting digitally from start to finish. It's a worthwhile guide, though, as some others have noted it reads a bit like a textbook and unless you were using it in a class it wouldn't be something to read through from cover to cover but to focus on sections that detail steps of the process that aren't clear. Of course, because it tries to cover everything it doesn't cover anything in a huge amount of detail. The chapter on titles and effects, for example, is pretty spare, and if you really want to do anything along the lines they outline here you'd want to master a compositing and effects program such as After Effects. Still, each chapter offers a fair place to start for the subjects it covers. This would make a good textbook for a beginning movie production class and I expect that do-it-yourself filmmakers could pick it up and learn a lot about how to add "production values" to their projects.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Walker on August 24, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you or someone you know wants to make a film, this would be a great place to start. It's an all-in-one guide to making a movie, and covers just about everything. It'll lead you through every step: equipment selection, scriptwriting, storyboarding, shooting (covering lighting, audio, video, etc), editing (including some how-to with the software, which some other similar books lack), adding titles and effects, etc. If you want to make a short or feature length movie, this book will show you how to get there. This latest edition includes more info on shooting with DSLRs. If you don't need the latest technical info, an earlier edition may suffice (and be cheaper!)

Here's some people the book wouldn't be ideal for though:

1. Anyone just wanting some random clips of family activities (doesn't require this much detail).

2. If you're only going to be involved in a small part of the production, working in a particular role (there are specialty books on every subject that likely go into more detail).

3. If you intend to spend hundreds of dollars on books to get ready for your movie (a large collection of specialty books would likely contain more information than this all-in-one).

4. If you've got a trillion dollar budget and your last name is Spielberg, you likely know all this stuff already.

For everyone else intending to make a film/movie though, this book contains just about everything you need to know to jumpstart the process, and do it right. There are a bunch of other resources available though, here are a few that may be complementary:

...Read more ›
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