Philip Bloom goes solo with ALEXA
Renowned digital guru Philip Bloom represents a new breed of cinematographers. By continually testing and embracing new digital technologies while maintaining a hugely informative web presence and hosting workshops all over the world, he has become a highly influential figure in the world of digital filmmaking. An expert in all types of digital cameras, from small form factor models and DSLRs to high end cinema cameras, Bloom is uniquely attuned to the needs of real world users and capable of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of digital equipment very rapidly. In recognition of this, ARRI in the UK recently lent him an ALEXA for a weekend. Here below is his feedback...
The plan was grand. High concept; great location; great actor; but as seems to happen a lot these days, things went pear-shaped the day before.
ARRI were kind enough to let me borrow their wonderful ALEXA camera for a weekend and I had lined up a superb project to shoot on it, but as I mentioned - it was not to be. Well, I wasn't going to waste my first time with the camera, so I decided to simply shoot something on my own. Low concept; no actors; just me - but a chance to get used to the ALEXA; I opted to shoot a mix of indoor lit scenes at my home and high contrast outdoor scenes at Dungeness in Kent.
Influential digital filmmaker, blogger and educator Philip Bloom was lent an ALEXA for just one weekend. Despite his initial plans falling through, he managed to produce a short film by serving as DoP, director, camera operator and actor, all at the same time just to prove how easy ALEXA is to use.
The ALEXA is a cinema camera; that's what it is designed for and what it excels at. It produces 14 stops of latitude, which is just exceptional for a video camera. Most cinema cameras need a team to operate them - not the ALEXA. It's actually a really beautifully easy camera to use, incredibly intuitive with one of the simplest and most accessible camera menus I have ever seen. I shot most of this project on my own; all the stuff inside my house was just me. The dolly moves were done with a Kessler CineSlider programmed with an Oracle controller.
I placed the CineSlider on my kitchen table and mounted the ALEXA to the caddy. Ideally you would use a High Hat, but I wanted the camera to be as close to the table as possible so I mounted the camera plate to the caddy. Plugging in the Oracle, I simply performed a real time slider move using the joystick and programmed the Oracle to remember it, leaving enough time for me to get in position before it started! I did the same thing on the beach in Dungeness.
I shot everything at ProRes HQ using SxS cards; I also shot it Log C, a super flat image that looks awful when recording but you can monitor on the EVF and external monitor in REC 709 mode without affecting the recording, which makes it look much nicer. Don't try and shoot with Log C in your viewfinder - it's horrible, but the information you can pull out of it is simply amazing!
The little film isn't much - just me getting used to the camera. The challenge was to create a sense of misery and finality through the images and sound design. If I can't tell a story through images then I'm not doing my job! This piece shows you just how easy it is to use an ALEXA, and it was my first time with the camera. There was no crew apart from down on the beach; in the shot of me smoking the cigar, I even pulled focus with my spare hand!
I have shot with a lot of video cameras in my 20-plus-year career, but never have I used a camera as well made, intuitive and capable of incredible images that I could only have dreamt about a couple of years ago. The ALEXA is the Aston Martin of digital cameras, I fell in love the moment I recorded my first clip. This is simply the best camera on the market bar none - I shed a tear when I gave her back, although ARRI have been kind enough to let me borrow her again. Next time I won't let my big plans get messed up!
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