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Is there a point to shooting an indie feature film in 4K??
  • I was just wondering about 4K myself for a indie film I'm the DoP for.

    As a DoP I see 4K as falling solidly into the "nice to have" camp, but also being very non-essential (at least for now, this will change with time). So I really don't mind hugely either way, to have 4K or not. There is other more important considerations to take care of first.

    But maybe there is an extra point to 4K that I'm missing when viewing it solely through my DoP eyes.... and that is marketing!

    Might it make it easier for the producer/director to sell afterwards if it is a "shot in 4K" film? I thought I read somewhere that there are content providers (for instance Amazon who announced they'll be filming all their created content in 4K) who have a lack of 4K content and thus could pick up indie 4K films simply as "4K fillers"? It is after all very common to read consumer articles about the lack of 4K content out there.

  • 37 Replies sorted by
  • Of course they need 4K content, how else do you justify buying 4k TV, monitor, graphic card, etc. This is a classic case of manufacturers/marketers creating a demand. And after that it'll be 8k, then ... Smellorama?

    Back to your question, you can always shoot HD, upscale to 4k and employ rhetorical wizardry...

  • If you have access to an affordable 4k cam that you are comfortable working with, it will likely increase options and lifespan for distribution. Also, depending on the camera, sometimes shooting in 4k for 1080p delivery can be a good move (especially for compressed H264). Marketing or not, resolution is not going to take a step backward now, so you if you're willing and comfortable, I would consider 4k. I'm not going to argue that there is really not a huge market CURRENTLY for true 4k audience, but saying that there is nothing to it reminds me a little of the old comment '640K of ram should be enough for anybody'. But if you're not familiar or comfortable with any 4k cams (or don't really have the budget/access), then shoot on the camera you know feels right for the job.

  • The argument is that 4k will "future proof" your content. The reality is that no matter what you are making now you will probably not be happy with it in a DECADE. At that point, 4k or not, you may not want anyone seeing it.

    Speaking of future, that's when 4k will be accessible to the masses.

    Right now there is no easy physical medium (Blu-ray, CD, DVD). Streaming is not there for the majority of people and the Cable/Satellite providers are still not giving us Full HD (1080p). Many, if not most, digital theaters max out at 2k.

    So, sure, record in 4k. Edit in 4k. Grade in 4k. Render out for the 2k theatrical and the 1080p Blu-ray. Then a decade from now when they are pushing 8k and everyone is just THEN able to easily watch 4k, you will be set.

    My advice: If you have NO equipment and the money to invest in 4k now, do it. If you already have equipment and little to no money: Make the best movie you can with what you have. This is not the visual jump from standard definition to Full HD.

    More Important Questions:

    Does it have a GREAT story? Yes!

    Is it in Focus? Yes!

    Is it framed well? Yes!

    Can we HEAR it? Yes!

    Great! Instant Classic. People will love it for years to come.

  • For me it's a no brainer, 4K. But others may feel differently.

  • I'm a 4K convert, to me the files are just fantastic - I wish I had this tech 3 years ago. Having the flexibility to adjust composition in post provides tremendous freedom in the editing room. Being able to extract a single frame and blow it up for print -just like you would a film negative, is also excellent. From a resolution standpoint the files are absolutely future proof, as they surpass retina perception at "closer" distances (depends on display size vs. distance obviously).

    From a dynamic range and color sensitivity standpoint there will always be room for improvement, so that is where I suspect imaging technology will continue to improve and eventually justify the purchase of future upgrades down the road.

    @Mckinise I would agree with all of your points except for the fact that productions like Planet Earth can not be shot on 8mm B&W and draw an enthusiastic audience. At some point we should concede that image quality is just as integral to a production as story, focus, framing and audio. I would rather shoot something that will produce marketable material for 10 yrs then 2 years. 4K at $1500 is just too cheap to ignore today. We're not talking about a 2nd mortgage for a Red Epic or Scarlet in order to get an incredible baseline of quality (like just 2 years ago). Paying an extra $500 for the step up is completely worth it, whether you eBay existing gear and pay the extra premium or buy it as a first camera and begin the journey of becoming a filmmaker. For stock footage sales alone the payback difference experienced will be immediate and marketable for many more years into the future.

  • For me, it provides a way to make indie content look more professional without the Hollywood budget. It makes for really nice 1080 or 2k, it stabilises well, camera moves can be added in post, hell, I can even pull promotional stills from it if I want. This may sound like blasphemy to some, as nothing can replace good lighting and technique on set, but 4k is part of a toolbox that closes the visual gap between us and Hollywood (to my eyes.)

  • @IronFilm Indies have been shooting 4K on RED cameras for over 5 years now, and it's not because they think it's more attractive to distributors - it's just because you should shoot at the highest resolution possible (without sacrificing too much DR, etc). Don't discount the need to "future proof" your film as much as possible, there's a lot more information in a 4K file - you don't know what kind of platform people will be watching films in the future, whether it's on 100" 4K & 8K TVs, holograms, Oculus glasses, or whatever.

  • I'd say it depends on the camera you are using. Resolution can help compensate for other factors such as noise, codec, etc.

    If you're shooting 1080p ProRes on an Alexa, you've probably got more than enough to make a great looking movie (as long as lighting, audio, etc are good too)

    However, if you want to shoot 1080p on a 5DmkIII, I think you'll find that a little lacking. Not all 1080p is created equal and not all 4K is created equal.

    If you plan on using something like a DSLR, I'd say definitely consider a 4K option but if you're using a higher-end camera that only shoots 1080p, that should do you just fine.

  • I think it depends on the film. Depends on the DP. I agree with all previous comments, but certain films benefit from 4k, and it's sharpness, while others don't. That being said, it is much easier to take something out of a movie (IMO) then put it back. This is where higher resolution is beneficial. I can always go from 4k to 2k, but vice versa (with few exceptions) doesn't fly so well.

  • Thinking about the transition from SD to HD, there was definitely a period during which the dearth of HD content meant there were some channels programmed with any random HD material they could find, good or bad - mostly eye candy. That period ended pretty quickly when mainstream channels started going HD.

    I see 4k as being a much smaller deal than HD was. How big of a screen do you need and how close do you need to be sitting to it to be able to tell any difference between 1080p and 4k? Do you think people will stop caring about the great films of the last 50 years just because they are no sharper than 1080p? Of course not. Great content is great content. Personally, I want 60p before I want 4k.

  • "Of course they need 4K content, how else do you justify buying 4k TV, monitor, graphic card, etc. This is a classic case of manufacturers/marketers creating a demand. "

    That is what I'm saying, there is companies out there which need heaps more 4K content to be everywhere so they can justify their sales.

    So I suppose my question boils down to, all things otherwise being equal, is there a price premium paid for purchasing a film if it is in 4K vs 1080p?

    "Thinking about the transition from SD to HD, there was definitely a period during which the dearth of HD content meant there were some channels programmed with any random HD material they could find, good or bad - mostly eye candy. That period ended pretty quickly when mainstream channels started going HD."

    That is what I'm wondering, are we kinda still in this phase for 4K?

  • @ironfilm I doubt there is any premium place on 4k features for distro, more likely it may only help in deciding to buy it at all. In all likelihood your film will best case end up on VOD or Netflix, so there's the "future proof" angle. But again, shoot the highest resolution your production can afford. I wouldn't NOT shoot 4K if you have the ability.

  • @balazar people still view content from 50 years ago because it was shot on film, which can easily be digitized to 2k, 4k, 6k and so on. That is why you shoot for a 4k master if you can. Productions hav been doing this since the RED One, it's not simply because they want the best 1080p image.

  • I think a better question to ask might be, is there a point in shooting an indie feature film below 4K?

    If the technology is here, use it... unless you have a good reason not to.

  • people still view content from 50 years ago because it was shot on film, which can easily be digitized to 2k, 4k, 6k and so on.

    You can scan film to 80k if you want. That doesn't necessarily mean it has effective resolution any better than 1080p, and most finished films don't. Resolution is limited by lenses, focusing errors, and multiple stages of optical processing.

    But no one is complaining about a great film from 20 years ago isn't as sharp as modern 1080p video.

    All I'm saying is that sharpness isn't the most important thing to a film being good. If you have the budget for 4k, sure, there's not much reason not to shoot that way. But those budget considerations are not trivial. You need to account for storage space and computing power, as well as for cameras. Is 4k content worth a premium just for being 4k? Probably not much. I don't see guys scrambling for 4k TVs and 4k content like they did for HD when HD was new. I'd want to have raw or log shooting before I concerned myself with 4k. Good color, good lighting, good camera movement, good story, good acting, and good audio are things that all of your viewers can appreciate, at any resolution. Color grading, editing, sets, props, locations, wardrobe, catering. If you have enough budget to get all of those things at the level you want and there's money left over for 4k, by all means, do it.

  • if it's a festival film…a film that won sundance was shot on super 16mm so I think it has to do with where the film is going...

  • @theconformist +1 What he said.
    Back when Kodak was fighting to stay competitive, they were (rightfully so) pointing out how shooting on film was a future proof medium. They also bragged certain video programs were being transferred to film for archival purposes, due to lack of future proofed tape formats.

    Disclaimer: Kodak said this at a Super 16mm seminar I attended as their 'ship was starting to sink.'

  • Is there a point to shooting an indie in 4K? In a word: "no"

    Regardless of how many times you see the logo for your local movie house having a Sony 4K digital projector, odds are you're looking at a 2K DCP. You're almost guaranteed to be looking at a 2K DCP if you've ever spent $20 to see "digital IMAX" which is a dirty little secret. 4K post is not standard for Hollywood films.

    4K for the home is beyond bollocks.

    You won't get any more money for your film if you're able to sell it. You're simply going to be spending more for media while you shoot, more for media and/or suite and post time when you post and odds are very high you're not going to be able to afford to actually make it look good. Peter Jackson couldn't.

    When you don't have a lot of money to spend you shouldn't be shooting in a discreet, hyper-real, matter-of-fact way. Lack of harsh detail is your friend.

    If you're concerned about 4K, stop. There are dozens and dozens of other things far more important to be concerned with. And there's no such thing as "future proof" in the digital domain. There are no "future proof" digital formats or methods of storage. Based on the last ten years of technology you cannot guarantee that ten years from now the physical medium housing your film will still be readily accessible and readable much less the software codec used. If you can't afford to output scan your movie to film, real film, you're not even in the same zip code as the notion of "future proof". People who use that term in relation to digital technology are completely full of crap and/or selling something.

    You could, however, make money off naive indie filmmakers by renting them 4K filmmaking equipment. That's an idea with some legs. As for those few channels out there in need of 4K content to display on the 4K TVs they're selling to people, they'll do what the HD providers did, and still do in some cases: up-sample. I still see it. TNT-HD used to be the worst. They'd take SD programming and just blow it up. They wouldn't even do any clever non-uniform horizontal scale to make 4:3 content look somewhat okay on a 16:9 set, they just let everything be distorted.

    Truth is, most people don't pay attention, don't understand what they're seeing, don't understand how badly they've been lied to and financially raped by the broadcasting industry giving them a crummy picture pretty much since cable was invented. And if you don't have a set bigger than 100" you can't even see 4K from a nominal livingroom viewing distance and that's just science. 1080 digital cable and satellite is generally no better than Youtube quality anyway and the better the set you have the more apparent this reality becomes...

  • Gone Girl was shot 6k. If your only shooting 4k, your film will look like a mushy mess in comparison. Don't sell your content short, 6k at a bare minimum.

    Sadly the filmmakers behind Avatar did not future proof their investment by shooting it in measly HD, and now that film will soon be lost forever.

    +1 Burnet ;)

  • The weekend before last weekend I gaffered on a music video shot on a RED DRAGON 6K @ 100fps.

    DoP used Leica glass and a Tiffen Pro Mist 1/2. Apart from the flexibility for reframing 6k may have in post, the 15 stops (+?) of dynamic range really impressed me after recently trying to deal with a bald head in the midday sun with my GH2.

    4k or 6k may be fun for pixel peepers but I'd rather have another 4 stops of DR before I'd worry about 4k!

  • @BurnetRhoades Have you ever shot on 4K? If it cost you the same investment to shoot on 4K as HD, which would you shoot on?

  • No, I wouldn't. Not if I had the option of shooting 2K. Here's an enigma of 4K origination that is irrespective of investment: 4K digital origination doesn't look as good as 35mm film, regardless of whether you're seeing it in DCP, on BD, digital cable/satellite, streaming or DVD yet, oddly enough, through these same distribution methods, none of the 4K digital films you could point me too even look as good as the best sub-3K digital films shot on the Alexa.

    In fact, none of the films you could point me at that were 4K digital origination with 4K post production are significantly different or better looking (I can think of more than a couple that look worse) than those that were shot 4K and posted at 2K (which will be the majority, given 4K post is not standard or guaranteed to filmmakers even at the $100M budget level).

    If the $100M filmmaker doesn't get, simply by default, 4K, I don't see why it should even be on an indie's radar, other than as a test to see if their priorities are straight. Of course, there are plenty of shows shooting 4K or 5K on the RED and posting in 2K or 1080P and that's fine, I guess, if that's the camera you're going with or have access to, or something equivalent. So long as you're not so arrogant as to think anyone needs to actually work on your little movie at 4K or 5K and not charge you full retail (what I'd call stupidity tax) for their post production services.

    That slack I don't extend at all to something like the GH4 or other highly compromised 4K consumer cameras.

  • Whatever 4k eyecandy period might be going on (all the mediocre demo timelapses on showroom screens!) I bet it'll be over in three years maximum, after which 4k will just be a standard and HD will look smudgy in comparison.

    Anecdotally speaking, I'm watching some scifi DVDs right now that will probably never be redone even to HD - not enough geeks to buy the stuff to justify costs, I guess. The resolution is not a problem at all for the story, but honestly I'd rather see them at resolution close to limits of visual perception (4k and up) as it'd really enhance the feeling of "being there" in fictional environments.

    Heck, even something like Pulp Fiction would be great at 4k+ HFR, just for the feeling of sitting right there with Jules at the diner :)