Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Rushes Out Of Focus

Published : 18th December 2003


Just read in 'Screen International' about a US, 2 million dollar indie production called 'In God's hands' which will never be seen because all the rushes were out of focus. Sounds like it was a problem with the lens mounting as the article states it was because the distance between the back of the lens and the film plain had been adjusted. The problem was worse on the wide shots than it was on the close-ups.

Has anybody heard of this sort of thing happening before? Just goes to show the importance of good prep and testing before you go out on a shoot.

Mark Wiggins
DP/Operator/London
www.productionbase.co.uk/cv/scare



Mark Wiggins wrote:

>Just goes to show the importance of good prep and testing before you >go out on a shoot.

No, just shows you the importance of printing dailies to film and screening them in a real theater.

I find the story a bit hard to believe... how were they watching dailies? On a 10" tv from VHS dubs?

Jeff Kreines



Jeff Kreines wrote:

>I find the story a bit hard to believe...how were they watching dailies? On >a 10" tv from VHS dubs?

Not too far from the truth. According to the article, they were watched on a small monitor, they didn't print any until the shoot was completed.

Mark Wiggins
DP/Operator/London



>Just read in 'Screen International' about a US, 2 million dollar indie >production called 'In God's hands' which will never be seen because all >the rushes were out of focus.

I thought rushes were checked the following day. That's why we called them 'Dailies'.

That's one hell of a weird story. Tell us more?

Robert Rouveroy
The Hague, Holland

I plan to live forever. So far, so good.



Robert Rouveroy wrote:

> That's one hell of a weird story. Tell us more?

I assume the article exists on 'Screen International's' website. I read it in last week's edition (which I've only just received because of a postal strike here).

(This may well be out of date at your time of reading)

Mark Wiggins
DP/Operator/London



You would think that even without a prep (unthinkable), the error in collimation would have been caught on the first shot or two !!! Nightmare story !!

Mark Eberle
DoP



I had some real focus problems on an ultra-low budget S-16 feature several years ago. Our dailies (video only) were being done in batches, to suit the schedule of the lab/transfer house, due to the extraordinary deal that the production was getting. We only shot for three weeks and at the end of shooting we got about a weeks worth of rushes with a number of soft shots--even some static ones.

We'd started with a solid first AC, but he left due to getting a 'real' gig, and the second who stepped in was unfortunately not really ready for the job.

We were shooting a lot of low-light interiors on Zeiss T1.3 primes wide open, and I know I'm not the first to find that even a wide shot on say a 12mm at 1.3 can be soft; in fact we had more trouble with 'easy' shots than hard ones.

I regard this a failure on MY part more than the ACs as I should have anticipated the problems and dealt with them rather than assuming that everything was fine. When the 'green' AC took over I should have been monitoring her work more carefully, and there were a number of things I could have done to help out. It was a tiny film, with a small crew working in apartments and bars, and there would have been no political problem with me double-checking the focus. I could have built up the light level to shoot at a beefier stop (even a 2), I could have gone to the Canon zoom wehad rather than the primes, so I could have zoomed in to check. Most easily (and David Mullen suggested this) I could have put the extension viewfinder on the SR3 and used its magnifier. I usually hate extension finders but I could just have used it on rehearsals.

Ironically on some handheld scenes where I was pulling my own focus (like a whole scene we 'stole' on a Chicago El train)everything was fine.

If only we had true 'dailies' on that show I could have caught the problems early and prevented more from happening. Certainly I wouldn't go down the 'weeklies' road again but apparently I had to get burned to learn that lesson.

There's obviously a difference between this shoot (shooting budget maybe $20K) and a $2 million feature, but a soft shot is soft no matter what the budget of the film or whose face is soft! For that matter there are soft closeups of Tom Hanks in 'Road to Perdition,' a movie widely admired for its cinematography.

Remember the contretemps here on CML a few years ago about 'What Dreams May Come'? Major film, lots of spectacular effects, but several scenes bizarrely had very soft and badly-composed closeups of Robin Williams. Many here on CML were quite caustic in their comments, and it turned out that a CMLer actually knew the operator and AC of those shots. Our comments got back to them and they were horrified at the way their work had turned out, and very depressed at the reaction from fellow camera people. They'd consistently been thrown in on 'B' camera with no rehearsal and were over-ruled on the set whenever they asked for time to get marks or another take.

There are people in our business who are lousy at their jobs but from my observations everyone is trying their hardest. It's awfully easy to point out mistakes in cinematography but considering how things can go wrong even at the highest levels of skill, I don't think it behooves any of us to be too smug.

I try not to be.

Alan Thatcher
DP
Chicago



Alan Thatcher wrote :

>...It's awfully easy to point out mistakes in cinematography but >considering how things can go wrong even at the highest levels of skill, I >don't think it behooves any of us to be too smug. I try not to be.

It becomes you defending your crew. However, even on a small ($2mil) feature, the AC has to get the opportunity to check the gear. If he does not get it, he has to report this to his DP, who in turn has the responsibility to back the AC up at the headoffice. If they don't make time, the DP should walk off the set. If he does not, he is an ignoranus. Stupid and an ass, because in the end if all is out of focus, he'll get the blame anyway and won't work again.

Robert Rouveroy csc
The Hague, Holland



>I could have built up the light level to...I could have gone to the Canon >zoom...I could have zoomed in to check....I could have put the >extension viewfinder...I could just have used it on rehearsals...I could >have caught the problems If only we had...

Coulds, Shoulda, Woulda has no room on a film set. As you now found out.

>...and they were horrified at the way their work had turned out, and very >depressed at the reaction from fellow camera people.


Now who's here the ignoranus?

Listen, I'm not judging you and those guys on that 'Dreams' set.

Something similar happened to me and it cost several years before it was forgotten. By everyone but me. That's why my view is: better to loose that one job and keep your integrity and self-respect than go for the easy buck on a job that might blow up in your face. Because that buck stops right there : in your face.

Robert Rouveroy csc
The Hague, Holland



None of us were there to know the story of what may have happened on this film. If everything is soft it sounds like the depth of the ground glass was also off, otherwise not everything would have been wrong and surely someone would have noticed.

It's the AC's job to check the camera completely, shooting tests and making sure that everything is coming up fine. For a $2 million feature I should think that an AC would spend the better part of a week at the camera checkout going through every last little item.

But again, I wasn't there and I don't know the circumstances. I don't know the politics or who provided the equipment. I don't even know the format. So I also don't think it's fair for anyone here to be placing blame from our limited knowledge. Let this simply serve as another bit of info we can toss at producers who try to cut corners on us. There are so many ways in which things can go horribly wrong.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP



Mitch Gross wrote:

>It's the AC's job to check the camera completely, shooting tests and >making sure that everything is coming up fine.


Last 2mil feature I 1st AC'd we had a two day prep! We didn't get to shoot any tests either. We did watch nearly dalies especially on the first few days.

Bret Lanius



Bret Lanius writes:

>Last 2mil feature I 1st AC'd we had a two day prep! We didn't get to >shoot any tests either. We did watch nearly dalies especially on the first >few days.

Classic example of where an AC could be blamed for a producer's decision. As a DP I would fight for proper prep time.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP



>an AC would spend the better part of a week at the camera

On a 2 mil feature they'd be lucky to get 3 days...

I must chime in here regarding placing ALL the blame on the AC...remember, it is the job of the camera operator to make final decision for any given take. When they ask "was it good for camera'? it is the responsibility of the operator to give it a thumbs up or not...and if not, why?

Focus, boom mikes, boom shadows, apple boxes, flags, tape marks...these are all the responsibility of the operator, in addition to making good framing!

I know that if you serve as your own operator on smaller budget movies this can be difficult, but it still is your job. If the person looking through the camera can't determine whether a shot is in focus or not, for an entire film...then they have only themselves to blame.

Just my opinion however...

Ken Glassing
LA Based
OP/dp



Ken Glassing writes:

>If the person looking through the camera can't determine whether a shot >is in focus or not, for an entire film...then they have only themselves to >blame.

Of course that's assuming that the viewfinder depth is set accurately compared to the film gate. It easily can be off. Don't give an AC time to check it properly and you won't know until you see the film print.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP



>viewfinder depth is set accurately compared to the film gate.

I've never heard of this before...how do you set the depth of a viewfinder on a Panaflex? Are you talking about the flange depth?

Ken Glassing
LA Based
OP/dp



Ken Glassing wrote:

>viewfinder depth is set accurately compared to the film gate. I've never >heard of this before...how do you set the depth of a viewfinder on a >Panaflex? Are you talking about the flange depth?

Basic camera set up. If the path the light takes from the flange through the mirror to the GG is not the same distance as the film plane, then how do you know the what the film is seeing is in focus? GG depth adjustment is not something that changes frequently in my experience.

Mark Smith



Ken Glassing writes:

>I must chime in here regarding placing ALL the blame on the AC >...remember, it is the job of the camera operator to make final decision >for any given take.

If the flange focal distance is off, then everything may appear sharp as a tack in the viewfinder, yet be out of focus on the film.

Having said that, IMHO, for an entire feature length project to be shot out of focus without anyone detecting it requires the concerted efforts of a lot of people, from the producers to the AC.

I thought I'd I heard just about everything.

Brian "WOW" Heller
IA 600 DP



> viewfinder depth is set accurately compared to the film gate.

Wouldn't that be making sure that the film plane and the ground glass (via mirror) are equal distances, which would be a function of flange depth?

Roderick
Az. D.P.
www.restevens.com
12On / 12Off



Ken Glassing writes :

>I've never heard of this before...how do you set the depth of a viewfinder >on a Panaflex? Are you talking about the flange depth?

Picking nits doesn't become this forum. You know what he meant.

This thread started with describing a 2 mil feature that never got finished because the stuff was out of focus. Many views were promulgated, among others, undersigned posit that the DP should excuse himself if his crew is in any way hindered in doing their job. Not out of recalcitrance, but to protect himself and his career.

The fact remains that the DP has sufficient concerns on his mind. He has to rely on his AC and OP that the gear is in top form. As most films, particularly the low budget ones obtain rented equipment, sometimes not kept up to par, it is even more imperative that sufficient time is provided for the checking thereof.

Then we discussed how long this examination should take. Again, it varied from a day, to 3, to a week. And if a test should be shot. Actually, this is a no-brainer. It takes as long as it takes, until the DP gives his approval as then it becomes HIS responsibility. And he will back it up with the test shots.

It was a bit easier in the old B/W days. Every morning a Cinex was pulled whereupon exposure and several other variations were logged. No Cinex, no go. It showed in sufficient detail if the equipment was working properly.

Robert Rouveroy csc
The Hague, Holland



It's okay Robert, he's not picking nits.

There are two different adjustments. The obvious one that some thought I was referring to is the flange depth, which if off can produce soft images undetected, especially in wide shots. But on telephoto lenses it would be fairly easily detected and the operator should notice.

I was discussing the seating and depth of the ground glass or fiberoptic screen. It is certainly possible for this to be improperly positioned so that its distance is different from that of the gate. Set critical eye focus to an improperly positioned ground glass and the image comes up soft on film. Mark is right that it doesn't come up all that often, but it certainly can happen (yes, it has happened to me). This is normally something caught at a camera house, because that's generally where anyone would ever tough the gg to move it in any way. It's a fairly straightforward bench test to make sure this is set properly.

I'm not sure how sensitive any one camera is compared to another. I've never gone near the ground glass on a Panaflex. But some gg can be removed with just a pair of Hirschman forcepts and plop back into place by gravity and a little clip. Others slide back & forth on a track for Super v. standard centering, with only a tiny screw to hold them in place. We're talking depth tolerances here in microns, so yes they can be off.

Most rental houses check these things any time a ground glass is alterred. I'd urge any personal camera owner to have their's checked the next time the camera is in the shop as an ounce of prevention.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP



Don't give an AC time to check it properly and you won't know until you see the film print.

Hello all,

Will try to make this short,Very well known prodution company a few years back, was always on a fast pace ,owned there gear,never had it serviced,seemed to go through a lot of first ACs,one day they called on us to look at the equipment as focus was off in dailies.

GG collimation was good,then ran film through there mag on camera and flange focus was way out, pulled mag off, looked at the gate and there was so much emulsion buildup it was anyones guess how they achieved any acceptable Focus.

Back to going thru so many ACs,they were given know time to do any prep at all ,a decision from the prodution.The focus at the gate was - .060mm .045mm out of tolerance.

I know its a tough world out there in production. Always get a look at the gear before you start.

Just throwing that out there.

STACY STRODE



>Wouldn't that be making sure that the film plane and the ground glass >(via mirror) are equal distances, which would be a function of flange >depth?

Flange depth is a "global" adjustment - shimming the lens mount to the right flange depth simultaneously adjusts the distance between it and the gate and between it and the ground glass. In addition to the need for this to be correct, there is the separate issue of whether the ground glass is the same distance from that flange as the gate is.

If the ground glass is in the right place and the lens mount is in the right place (and the mounts on the lenses are in the right place) than everything is right. If the flange depth is wrong (or an individual lens's mount is shimmed incorrectly) then the film and the ground glass will both see the same wrong thing. (Focus scale may not agree with eye focus, but eye focus and actual focus on the film will agree)

If the ground glass is in the wrong place but the lens mount is correct and the lenses are correct, then the scales on the lenses will be correct but the image in the eyepiece may look out of focus when the image on the neg is IN focus (depending on what fl lens and what stop it is set at etc etc)

If both gg is in the wrong place AND lens mount (or lens mounts on lenses themselves ) are incorrectly spaced then the focus scale on the lens will be off AND there will be a disparity between eye focus and what the lens sees.

Mark Weingartner
LA based



Mitch Gross writes :

>Set critical eye focus to an improperly positioned groundglass and the >image comes up soft on film...

In a documentary situation, without an assistant pulling focus, this may go unnoticed. However, in a featrure situation, this is nearly inconceivable. If the groundglass were mispositioned the footage footage marks on the lens would not co-incide with focus through the eyepiece, or with the tape. At that point, like the first shot, it should occur to either the operator or the assistant, that something is very wrong, even if there were no checkout.

>I'm not sure how sensitive any one camera is compared to another. I've >never gone near the groudglass on a Panaflex.

Modern professional 35mm motion picture camera manufacturers devote a considerable amount of time and effort to ensure that on cameras with interchangeable GGs that the gound glass remains where it should; that is, at exactly the same distance from the lens flange as the film plane. It may seem like there isn't much holding them in place, but that is a tribute to the design and manufacturing process.

> We're talking depth tolerances here in microns, so yes they can be off.

It's usually the lens flange that has been altered. In any event a simple look with a collimator, even a Richter Portable, will tell you if there is any thing to worry about; a simple film test will confirm that something is amiss or that all is well.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



Brian Heller wrote :

>Having said that, IMHO, for an entire feature length project to be shot out >of focus without anyone detecting it requires the concerted efforts of a lot >of people, from the producers to the AC.

How about showing an out-of-focus roll to the 20 top people on a film (director, producers, dept heads), 3 times in a row on a 15' screen, and they couldn't tell that it was out of focus (to a medium+ diffusion level).

It reminded me of the projectionist at a local theater that always throws the lens out of focus to get rid of that pesky grain. Makes the film look better don't ya know.

Jim Houston
Pacific Title Imaging



> camera assistant was surely an ignoranus

Possibly, but I doubt it. Sounds like a problem with the camera or lens as others have discussed already — especially if its ALL the footage.

The real culprits are most likely the producers who "thought" they
would save money by :

1/. Not paying for a check-out day.

2/. Not paying for a few feet of film/processing/printing for a projected test or — the most likely cause:

3/. Not viewing rushes in a a proper environment (i.e. projected) not on a computer monitor.

They deserve what they got — it's harsh, but I really mean that. Even on the lowest of low budget movies I've done, the producers I've worked with so far have been smart enough to at least view the first couple of days rushes in projection at the lab. (with a couple of exceptions).

Even if this is the not the case, then, most likely, they deserve their fate for going cheapo on the day rate for a first AC and getting someone who didn't really have the training and experience for the job but who would work for the rate.

Low budget producers try to get away with this sort of thing all the time. They genuinely think they are "smarter" than the producers who do things the tried and true way. They think they are "getting away" with something, so it is not at all surprising that they get bit some times. If this is the case, then it is the producers who are ultimately responsible for the success of the film and if this is what happened, then they wasted $2 million of someone else's money by taking a few shortcuts, very probably because they thought they were "smarter" than all the people who do things the tried and true way. This has become a very, very common phenomenon.

If they finished the film (which is implied by the fact that it is referred to as a $2 million dollar film and that it will never be seen) then, in fact there were no "rushes." The person writing the article should have used the term raw footage, not rushes. Rushes are viewed; raw footage is just that.

This has been one of the constantly lurking dangers of video dailies and computer editing: often you don't see these things on a monitor, but you do see them on the big screen.

If nothing else, the story of this ill-fated film will provide us all with a useful tool in convincing producers to spend the pitifully small amount of money to do things right (in the camera dept.)

Probably not all the way to doing full projected projected dailies (that is very unlikely) but at least spend the few extra bucks for a decent first AC; view projected rushes once a week, shoot a camera test, things like that. Hopefully, the story of "In God's Hands" will make the rounds of low-budget producers. That would be very helpful.

Then, as we cinematographers explain why it really pays to do things the right way, then we can ask our producers the fateful question: "Do you really want to put YOUR movie "In God's Hands?"

Blain
DP
LA



Jim Houston writes:

>How about showing an out-of-focus roll to the 20 top people on a film >(director, producers, dept heads), 3 times in a row on a 15' screen, and >they couldn't tell that it was out of focus (to a medium+ diffusion level).

I wonder if it's the same group of people?

>It reminded me of the projectionist at a local theater that always throws >the lens out of focus to get rid of that pesky grain. Makes the film look >better don't ya know

Maybe it's time for a cml-"Ripley's Believe it or not"

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



Jim Houston writes :

>How about showing an out-of-focus roll to the 20 top people on a film >(director, producers, dept heads), 3 times in a row on a 15' screen, and >they couldn't tell that it was out of focus (to a medium+ diffusion level).

Isn't this what's know as a 'circle of confusion'

Mark Smith



As a working A.C., I have to respond to some of the early statements in this thread, implying that the AC should be blamed for the loss of a $2m feature.

The filmmaking process can be carefully controlled or a complete free-for-all, but in general it does contain checks and tests to insure good results. As someone else mentioned, for an entire feature to be out of focus requires a direct, correlated, chain of errors. While I don't know anything about this particular feature, consider the potential mistakes that could lead to a consistent focus problem :

* Producer refuses to pay for adequate prep time (incl tests)
* Producer refuses to pay for qualified AC, so less experienced AC doesn't demand enough prep (or know to ask for it)
* Inexperienced DP doesn't demand enough camera prep
* Operator fails to notice softness in wide shots
* AC fails to notice errors in focus calibration during shots
* Producer refuses to pay for printed/projected dailies (at least
on the first few rolls)
* DP fails to demand printed/projected dailies
* Nobody thinks to look at the video dailies on a large screen

The really sad part is : If any one or two of the above mistakes was avoided, the camera problem could have been spotted and corrected early enough to save the show.

Was the camera department to blame for this disaster? Partially. But we all have to step up sometimes and be part of the solution.

Taking off my "system analyst" hat, my gut reaction is that the buck should stop with the UPM or Line Producer. The root decisions about where to spend or not spend the money were a gamble that, in this case, didn't pay.

Andy Stadler
AC
San Francisco



>I'm not sure how sensitive any one camera is compared to another. I've >never gone near the ground glass on a Panaflex.

I had a learning experience recently while prepping a pair of Panavised Aaton 35's and a fairly large set of primes.

As usual, I was going through the primes, checking focus near and far (and color and sharpness), and making a "good" pile and a "bad" pile. After a while, it was obvious that my "bad" pile was bigger than my "good" pile. This points to a camera problem, not a lens problem....

The tech came over and I showed him the piles. He went back to discuss with their A-35 expert, and then he returned and explained the issue. It seems that on the Aaton 35, the flange depth (lens vs. film plane) is very stable and adjustment takes some doing. However, on this camera the GG depth (GG vs. film plane) is not very stable, and sure enough, on BOTH of these bodies the GG was out of position.

This is quite unlike a Panaflex where you must check the film plane depth every few days, but you rarely hear anything about GG problems.

So, not every camera is the same in this regard.

Andy Stadler
AC
San Francisco



Andy Stadler writes :

> As a working A.C., I have to respond to some of the early statements in >this thread, implying that the AC should be blamed for the loss of a $2m >feature.

Robert Rouveroy has made this point before. The camera should not have left the rental house without being properly checked out.

The responsibility for the subsequent chain of events that led to an entire movie's being shot out of focus, without any of the traditional methods of checking results along the way, must be shared by everyone in the chain of command.

I don't recall anyone blaming the AC alone.

Mako was blamed for a shot being in focus.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



When I made the original post regarding "In God's Hands" and the fact that it was all shot out of focus, I did not envisage that it would lead to such an interesting thread. I only hope some producers were reading!

For those of you that are interested, the Insurance Company paid out so no money was lost. The Director wanted to shoot the whole thing again but one the leading actors couldn't face doing it all again. I noticed that on the IMDb it is still listed as being 'In production' so I assume the story is not over.

Mark Wiggins
DP/Operator/London
www.productionbase.co.uk/cv/scare



Mark Wiggins writes:

>For those of you that are interested, the Insurance Company paid out so >no money was lost.

That is almost as unbelievable as the entire picture's being shot out of focus.

I guess there was no "due diligence" clause in the insurance policy. Do you know the name of that company? It might come in handy some day.

Please keep us informed.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



Mark Wiggins writes :

>For those of you that are interested, the Insurance Company paid out so >no money was lost.

Mama mia!! They paid??!? Wonder what story was told.

Robert Rouveroy csc
The Hague, Holland

I plan to live forever. So far, so good.



Japanese productions require actual film tests before a preduction ...otherwise the insurance company will not honor camera problems ... smart ... all the way around!

Mako-san, Sensei Wanna-be ... Glendale, CA



Mako writes:

>Japanese productions require actual film tests before a preduction >...otherwise the insurance company will not honor camera problems ... >smart ... all the way around!

This practice is not limited to the Japanese.

I haven't read a feature insurance policy in a while, so I'm not sure if this has changed, but the policy holder is required to perforn "due diligence" in making sure that the equipment they are using is working properly.

As Robert Rouveroy asks: "What did they tell the insurance company?"

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP



Mako Koiwai writes :

>Japanese productions require actual film tests before a preduction >...otherwise the insurance company will not honor camera problems ... >smart... all the way around!

I had always thought this was the norm for any insurance coverage of a film production over a certain amount shooting days.

Stacy Strode
Lenes



> Japanese productions require actual film tests before a preduction >...otherwise the insurance company will not honor camera problems

I frequently rent my BL4 to local companies for low-budget commercial and music video production, typically one or two-day shoots. I always give them a free checkout day with the gear, even though it's always the same one or two camera assistants working with it. (Sometimes the day before for another client!)

In my small market, this protects me as much as it does the client!

George Hupka
Director/DP
Downstream Pictures
Saskatoon, Canada



Japanese productions ALWAYS tell me to shoot a film test during the prep ... the only time I'm asked to do film tests (I only do commercials and the occasional 2nd unit or pick-up shoots for features these days) on U.S. productions is when we need to do a steaditest because of compositingwork.

Some of those commercials shoots are up to six weeks long and have multi-million dollar budgets. One day preps even then ...

The only time I insist on steaditests is if we are using SR's. If production isn't asking me for a film test ... and is only giving me one day to prep multiple cameras ... I'm available for the reshoot.

Since most of my commericals are shot in SuperTV ... I do shoot a framing chart ... so I guess that might be considered a film test ...

Of course on a multi day feature prep you would do film tests ...

Mako Koiwai