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HD vs Super 16mm

Published : 19th November 2003


I am shooting a 10 day short film. We are bouncing back and forth between Super 16 and HD. The budgets seem close, but I am not sure I trust the numbers. Has anyone had this dilemma? Which format did you go with and what was the final outcome. Did you spend as much as you thought? More or less?

I think I would shoot about 15,000 of 16MM or 7 hours of tape. I could make either medium work. I prefer to shoot film. If any one has any sample budgets for HD vs Super 16 that would be great to. Thanks.

This is my first posting. GO easy on me.

Adam Meltzer
DP- Los Angeles



Forgetting the cost to rent the gear, I like to run the numbers by figuring out what it costs for me to get the footage to a standard def. tape so I can edit it. For HD that means the cost of the HD tape stock plus the cost of a downconversion. For Super-16 that's the cost of raw stock, developing and dailies transfer to SD. The per minute cost for Super-16 is about $25 while the per minute cost for HD is about $2.50.

That 10x savings is just for shooting and doesn't include gear, for which you can often get much better deals for S-16 than for HD packages. As for post beyond a basic SD edit, this is wide open on both fronts for ways in which you can finish, so I'd plant them roughly equal for roughly equal quality results.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP



Is the end goal a 35mm print? Or an HD master?

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



MitchGross wrote :

>That 10x savings is just for shooting and doesn't include gear, for which >you can often get much better deals for S-16 than for HD packages.

I've found that you can get an equal S16mm package for about half of what the equivalent HD 24p package costs. Those prices vary and will change with time, but within the last year on 2 camera packages we were saving about $7,000 per week in rental costs by going S16mm. That's for a pretty complete package.

I'd base my decisions also on the look you're after, the schedule and how much day/ext there is. Are there speed changes or over cranking. What's the delivery requirement? Is it scope or 1.85:1 ? Either format can work, it just depends on the specifics.

Mark Doering-Powell
LA based DP



Just noticed the original post did not indicate how he was posting out, to film print or to video. That does change things a bit. At $25/min for S-16 that's around $7500 and $2.50/min for HD around $1000 for the 420 minutes planned. That's a $6500 stock difference. For a 10-day shoot, say you can get a S-16 camera package for $2000 vs $4000 for an HD package (big guesstimate here). So now it's "just" a $4500 difference. If you're planning to finish out to film, then you need to indicate the planned final running time of the short film. Assuming a 10:1 ratio, that's a 42 minute film, or a 2-reel, 3800' 35mm print.

HD post costs are all over the map depending on the route you take and what work you do, but let's assume that with a real minimum of HD conform edit and very basic color correction with titles generated you're looking at a minimum cost around $5000 (that's probably too minimum, but whatever). To have a master Interpositive burned from the HD is $500 cheapest, which means a $21,000 hit. From there the costs are the same in either format (sound mix, optical sound neg., IN, check print, release print, etc.). Sub-total post cost for HD = $26,500, or $31,500 including production costs.

Finishing costs for S-16 blowup are more detailed in the traditional route, but cost less. Based on your video edit the neg. cut will run about $1000 (that's assuming around 100 cuts plus a charge for collating the neg. for match back). Credits and opticals add another $1000. A 1st Answer print in S-16 (silent) for color timing is $.80/ft. (1112 ft. in S-16) or about $900. Add a second print in S-16 for color adjustments at $.45/ft., or $500. Then the blow-up to 35mm happens in the Master Interpositive, which is about $2.50/ft., or $9700. As said before, the rest of the costs are the same for either format. Subtotal for S-16 post = $11,100, or $20,600 including production costs.

$31,500 for HD and $20,600 for S-16 when finishing to 35mm print. Of course that $11,000 difference can be eaten partly by the supervised color-correction video master that you'll still need to make for the S-16 version, which is a comparatively simple downconvert in the HD version. And you can also see that there are many, many points along the way that either of these numbers can drastically change.

A simple rule of thumb: Whatever medium you plan to finish to, that is the medium that it is cheaper to shoot in. So if you plan a video-only finish, then HD is most likely to be cheaper. But if you plan a 35mm finish, then S-16 still edges out HD for cost.

Let the flames begin.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP



Mitch Gross wrote :

>To have a master Interpositive burned from the HD is $500 cheapest, >which means a $21,000 hit.

Why not go right to an Estar neg -- save a generation and save money? I'm assuming they won't need hundreds of prints... and multiple Estar negs are still cheaper than IP/DN.

I'm betting that cheaper and faster film recorders, when they hit the marketplace, will have quite an impact -- for finishing films originated either digitally or on film.

Jeff "thinks photochemical finishing of S16 is going to fade quickly" Kreines



Mark Doering-Powell wrote :

>I've found that you can get an equal S16mm package for about half of >what the equivalent HD 24p package costs....we were saving about >$7,000 per week in rental costs by going S16mm.

I'm not trying to be a dweeb, but how did the costs work out after factoring in processing, telecine, etc (assuming you did telecine)?

Jim Feeley
Editor in Chief
Digital Video Magazine
www.dv.com



It depends on your final output to a degree but don't forget to include the things that people never do when they do these comparisons.

An example of this is the amount of time that you can save with film by not worrying about areas that are too hot or just too dark, you can fix them in post when you don't have a cast and crew standing around. The inherently greater latitude of film gives you this freedom.

Another example is the greater range of colour correction or tweaking available to you in post with a film originated project.

Another is the sheer discipline imposed on cast and crew by the slate, I know, you can take this approach with HD but most people are much sloppier as soon as money isn't burning through the gate!

The greater prestige that your end product will have is a factor as well.

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based
www.cinematography.net



>We are bouncing back and forth between Super 16 and HD. I prefer to >shoot film.

This is not to argue one over the other, (and after all this is an HD list) but if you do want an argument *for* S16 you might point out that 5 or 6 S16 > 35 blowups are playing in U.S. theatres right now...

(Of course the producers may counter that Once Upon A Time in Mexico is probably grossing as much as all of them combined...)

Sam Wells



>I'm not trying to be a dweeb, but how did the costs work out after >factoring in processing, telecine, etc (assuming you did telecine)?

Jim, I don't think you're a dweeb for asking, but that part of the budget had been talked about in a previous post. I was just addressing the camera rental costs. The $7,000/wk difference was for the rental, that's all.

Yes, it's as Mitch has ballparked : the stock, processing and telecine adds costs. So perhaps its a close spreadsheet. Other factors not yet mentioned, the crew costs on an IATSE 24p shoot are higher in that you need a DIT (or VC's/engineers) who are well compensated for their skills, and the Assistants usually get a higher Tech rate. With fringes, this can also represent a significant part of the budget to a producer.

The other factors that may be at play in the decision are : are you doing speed ramps or real slow mo and lots of day/ext's, etc. If it were a multicamera sitcom on stage I'd pick HD. If its anything else, I'd at least consider S16mm, depending on the intended look and aim of the project.

Like I said, both formats can work, it just depends on the specifics.

Mark Doering-Powell



Geoff Boyle wrote :

>Another is the sheer discipline imposed on cast and crew by the slate, I >know, you can take this approach with HD but most people are much >sloppier as soon as money isn't burning through the gate!

While I understand the advantages of "roll, roll keep rolling", this undisciplined way of working has become somewhat of a disease in many parts of the industry.

Try using smoke with that methodology and see how inconsistent your cut will be. Watch dailies as the AD's scramble to reset their background to the last pick-up line, and often fail. Or the prop master resetting something. the list goes on.

See and Assistant Editor struggle with gigabytes of dung in the dailies as they log and sift through it all.

There's a time an place for it, but it isn't always to the production's advantage.

Mark Doering-Powell
LA based DP



Geoff Boyle writes :

>Another is the sheer discipline imposed on cast and crew by the slate, I >know, you can take this approach with HD but most people are much >sloppier as soon as money isn't burning through the gate!

My brother in law recently did a doc in Super 16mm for that very reason. He said the crew took the project more seriously and he got better work out of them.

Also, he bought two good used Super 16mm packages, then sold them after. Since it was a long production, that ended up being way less expensive than renting film or video.

>The greater prestige that your end product will have is a factor as well.


Oddly, I'm finding doc funders more jazzed about underwriting an HD doc than a film project right now. That might just be my little world, but there's still a sexy glow around HD at some of the foundations.

E dits words, records sounds, produces docs in San Francisco

Jim Feeley
Editor In Chief
Digital Video Magazine
http://www.dv.com



>While I understand the advantages of "roll, roll keep rolling", this >undisciplined way of working has become somewhat of a disease in >many parts of the industry.

When I am asked by a director or producer "why did we shoot so much film?" I always tells them "Three words : 'keep it rolling.'"

Directors who give actors notes or run in to adjust a prop or do four or five takes in a row with talk in between usually underestimate how much film that eats up. Sometimes this is justified, but if used capriciously it can lead to excessive film use; particularly a problem with producers who think that the DP alone controls how much film gets shot. I hate slating as much as anybody, but it is a necessary evil and it does impose a rhythm, a discipline and a time to mentally regroup before each take.

This has always been a problem, but now with directors coming from DV and shooting on film for the first time, it is an epidemic. The biggest problem I see with DV or HD shooting is that people just don't devote as much attention to picking their shots and setting them up carefully. When everyone is aware that each take costs money there is more care and thought put into every shot and every setup.

Blain
DP
LA



When I've priced out projects for either S16mm or HiDef, I usually find that rental houses and post/lab facilities have a little more flexible with rates for S16mm than with HiDef.

(For one feature, rental houses were quoting me a four day week for a HiDef package - ack!)

From a more practical point of view, I've found that when shooting on location, there seem to be fewer logistical problems shooting S16mm as opposed to HiDef, but if you're shooting on sound stages then it would probably be a tossup.

Jessica Gallant
Los Angeles based Director of Photography
West Coast Systems Administrator, Cinematography Mailing List
http://www.cinematography.net



>(For one feature, rental houses were quoting me a four day week for a >HiDef package - ack!)

Jessica, I can still get away with a four day week for my BVW-D600s, which are hardly as sexy as HD...I'm guessing it will be awhile before you see two-day weeks in HD! (Unless there's a particular market that's oversaturated in gear and somebody's got to really cut rates to get their stuff out there and working...)

George Hupka
Director/DP
Downstream Pictures
Saskatoon, Canada



Jessica wrote :

>From a more practical point of view, I've found that when shooting on >location, there seem to be fewer logistical problems shooting S16mm >as opposed to HiDef

I was just commenting to my director today how glad I was we were shooting film rather than video. We were doing some car interiors, looking toward the windshield while filming the driver and passenger (no trailer). The story required driving through a narrow road in the woods, so we had about 5 stop range in the exposure of the exterior, depending on whether the sun was blasting through or not. We had to light the interior so it didn't overbalance the dimmer areas of the exteriors.

I had to depend on the range of 7218 and didn't have to worry when the sun blew out.

Wade K. Ramsey, DP
Dept. of Cinema & Video Production
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC 29614



>A simple rule of thumb : Whatever medium you plan to finish to, that is >the medium that it is cheaper to shoot in. So if you plan a video-only >finish, then HD is most likely to be cheaper. But if you plan a 35mm >finish, then S-16 still edges out HD for cost.

Mitch,

If those numbers make sense to everyone, then that is a gem of a rule to remember. I'm no producer and I'm a terrible mathematician but, somehow, I do get asked that question often enough and it is difficult one to answer.

Thanks for sharing it with us.

Best Regards,

Jim Sofranko
NY/DP



Geoff Boyle writes :

>the amount of time that you can save with film by not worrying about >areas that are too hot or just too dark

I watched a made for TV "film" the other night- it was so dull, flat, fuzzy, even my girlfriend noticed and complained. Daylight scenes had practically no contrast, truck/car interiors were balanced for the outside-so well balanced, it was way too "safe", flat and dull. Practically no highlights whatsoever. Not all HD is this way, but when it is, it really really sucks!

John Babl



Good question. We want to send it to the major festivals. We will probably keep it on S16MM if we shoot on S16 and transfer to 35 if we shoot on HD.

Adam Metlzer
DP-Los Angeles



>Good question. We want to send it to the major festivals. We will >probably keep it on S16MM if we shoot on S16 and transfer to 35 if we >shoot on HD.

But Super-16mm is not a projection format (no soundtrack area), so you'd also have to blow it up to 35mm or show a video transfer at film festivals. So would you transfer it to HD and do an HD-finish to the project and project it digitally in HD, would you finish it to SD and show it that way, or would you blow it up to 35mm and would you do that digitally or with an optical printer?

David Mullen
Cinematographer / L.A.



>We will probably keep it on S16MM if we shoot on S16 and transfer to 35 >if we shoot on HD.

Huh? You can't really show a S-16 print; there's no room for a soundtrack so you'd need an interlock projector (in S-16) and even a regular S-16 projector is difficult to find. Your only real options with S-16 originated material are (a) video projection, (b) a regular 16mm "blow-down" reduction print, or (c) a 35mm blow-up print. There are only a couple of places offering S-16 to 16mm blow-downs, but no one offers a direct reduction anymore so you have to go through IP/IN stages. Colorlab used to do direct blow downs but had too many problems with it so now they only offer the more complicated process. However you can get a single direct blow-up to 35mm for just one festival print.

To compare costs, figure a 110 minute feature (10,000' in 35, 4000' in 16). In 35mm, this runs about $40,000 to get through the IP/IN, an optical soundtrack and a single print. The same thing in 16mm will run about $16,000 because of the shorter footage. But a direct blow-up in 35mm will run about $20,000 including the optical soundtrack, so for a difference of $4000 you get far better picture and sound quality.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP



Adam Metlzer wrote :

>We want to send it to the major festivals. We will probably keep it on >S16MM if we shoot on S16 and transfer to 35 if we shoot on HD.

S16 is not really a release medium. I wonder if many festivals would have a S16 projector. Most festivals have limitations on what formats they will accept.

Mik Cribben

NYC/Miami - Steadicam operator