Monday, October 10, 2011

Test Shoot at Mumbai Filmistan

I made my first outing onto a Bollywood stage last Friday.  We shot a camera and VFX test at a studio called Filmistan (not to be confused with Film City, Camerastan or any other similarly named Mumbai film lots.) We tested an Arri 435 film camera against the latest Red Epic digital capture device. We shot the regulation grids and charts and skin tones, looking particularly at contrast and dynamic range. We also shot some effects passes using the Red Epic to check out the mattes from chroma and the viability of repeatable heads. 

We were in one of the smaller "floors" as they call them here. There are some nice studios in Mumbai (I am told) but this was not one of them. It wasn't a lot worse than the dumpy warehouse we shot in in Melbourne, but it was worse. No grid, oddly shaped spaces and very dirty, even by film studio standards. It wasn't too hot though which was a blessing. It was certainly workable and not uncomfortable per se but all the things you're used to, even in the makeshift studios in Australia and Canada, are simply missing. Power is hard to come by. There's no sanitation. Of the restrooms, I was told "You don't want to go in there."  There were no chairs, no fire and safety areas, no controls on power and no safety officers. You just have to look out for yourself. Morocco was the same, only in India people also look out for each other, so it's not quite so dangerous. I'll be interested to see how things change when we're in full cry with big name actors around. Supposedly the big names shoot on the nice stages unless the film they are doing is self-financed in which case they apparently would rather have the money in their pockets so they shoot at places like Filmistan. 

We did somehow manage to get a nice green screen with the spandex textured surface which I was told was non-existent in India. Probably scammed off one of the other VFX heavy Bollywood projects headed by an American who demanded a "real" green screen. I was told to expect something like a Green Bay Packers jersey unless I used my Hollywood clout to demand a good screen. I guess that worked!

Beyond the building itself, everything was pretty well sorted. The lights were not numerous but not old either. Lots of Kinos and Arris in good working order. Flags and stands were all in good shape and the people working them were professional and efficient. It worked like any other experienced set I have been on. There were a few loose ends here and there but not more than I have seen elsewhere, especially on a one-off test day. We did have HD video assist and we had a mixer (SD) for lineup. The VFX team handled all the data from the Red as we have the expertise there. We're asking for a load of work to take on the DIT and data transfer to editorial etc. but the guys are game and they know what they are doing technically so at least we can be sure that the image quality matches our exacting standards. We had a MacPro on set which allowed us to look at the HDRX output of the Red right after we shot it using the Red software. We are planning to build up a cart that will allow us to do on-set compositing of digital backgrounds in addition to QC on the Red data stream and various other VFX related malarkey. That's something you don't always get.

So it's a mix of low standard amenities but high-standard filmmaking tools. Obviously it's all about the image quality in the end, so it's the right place to put the focus I think. The set design and performances will put good things in front of the camera. It's less important what's behind it. I get fat at Crafts Service anyway.

More on the results of all this in an upcoming post.

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