Magical Blackmagic Design
Conversations With Dan May and Devin Lawrence

By Nathan Edmondson



Dan May.Blackmagic DesignEvery company should have a spokesperson like Dan May. President of the US division of the Australian video technology company Blackmagic Design, Dan has the knowledge, enthusiasm and personability (seriously it only seems right to call him Dan, not Mr. May) to draw you in and make you want to buy his company’s products. Most importantly, one can’t help but be interested in checking out a company that is determined to bring affordable, cinema-quality video tools to the masses.

At its outset, the founders of Blackmagic Design were interested in leveling the playing field. Coming out of the production side of the film and television industry, they saw first hand that established industry professionals had an advantage.  If you were from this or that studio or production company, you often received a product discount that a lesser or unknown buyer wouldn’t receive.  So, Blackmagic began offering products at an affordable and set price for all.

When Blackmagic decided to develop cameras, they approached the market with the same philosophy. Dan says they saw two major ways in which the everyday user was at a disadvantage with what was currently on the market: ease of use and price point. DSLR cameras were finally offering a quality image at a relatively affordable price but were limited in how much the image could be manipulated in post-production so they weren’t quite on par with what a cinema camera could produce.  On the other end of the spectrum, cinema cameras were super expensive and, as a result, would have to be rented more often than owned.  Additionally, the vast amount of settings on both DSLRs and Cinema cameras required a decent amount of technical know-how from the operator.

Blackmagic offers a line of cameras that utilize a familiar and simple user interface, that require a minimum of technical know-how to capture cinema-quality images and that are available at affordable price-points: the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, the Cinema Camera and the brand new Pocket Cinema Camera which looks just like it sounds.  The first two cameras are two different levels of what could be categorized as production cameras while the third looks like a point and shoot camera: a full-blown, cinema quality video camera that fits in the palm of your hand and can be taken virtually anywhere without looking like you’re there to make a movie.

Dan sees their cameras as having a universal appeal as well. Whereas the Pocket Cinema Camera may be a perfect primary, or A camera, for a film student; the same camera could be “strapped to a crash car” by a larger production. The Pocket Cinema Camera has even enabled up and coming filmmaker director Devin Lawrence to utilize the camera’s small size as POV cameras integral to the story for his new film “Sympathy Said the Shark.”

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So how do these cameras, ranging in price from $3,000 down to $1,000, provide that cinema quality?  The cameras shoot in ProRes and Raw and have the ability to capture 13 stops of dynamic range which (in my tech-limited brain) means they capture a lot of information while you’re filming (For more detailed information, PLEASE go to their website).  The more information you have to work with in post-production, the better quality image with which you’ll end up.  Since Blackmagic is a post-production company and offers their post-production software with the purchase of each camera (a lite version of the software for the Pocket Cinema Camera), this approach of leaving the brunt of image manipulation to post-production makes sense.

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We live in an age where video reigns supreme and is available on every platform at our disposal: televisions, computers and handheld devices of all sorts, sizes and shapes. Thanks to the universal accessibility of the internet, anyone with a camera can upload content to be shared and enjoyed with the click of a button. Not just a platform for sharing cell phone captured cat videos and home movies, the internet has opened the door for more serious independent filmmakers and content-creators to reach an audience with their work in a way never before available.

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“We want to provide tools for people to go and create amazing stories.  When you look at video, it looks like video, a home-movie; and it loses something that cinema gives you.”  Dan went on to liken the difference between that of a record and a CD.  “Is one better?  No.  But there’s an emotional response to cinema-quality productions and that’s where we feel there’s an advantage.  It looks more professional.  It’s why people still go to the movies.  Dollars shouldn’t limit peoples creativity alone.  I’d rather have great tools out there for everybody and not just the ten most powerful icons in the industry.”  If you’re hoping to take your filmmaking to the next level, head over to Blackmagic Design’s website and see what they have to offer.

For more information about these Blackmagic cameras and their new cameras announced at NAB last week visit their website


Writer and Director Devin Lawrence has had enough. After his second script with a budget of about $1M failed in the final stages to raise enough money to enter production, Devin decided it was time to write a fail-proof film. He set off to create something that could be shot on a super-low budget in a short amount of time with minimum locations and crew. Having come so close to production and having to stop once was tough. For it to happen a second time was too much. Devin didn’t want there to be a third time.

bawi6jxccaadjmeIn between shooting short films with his production partners and supporting himself on an income from his editing gig on the Travel Channel’s hit show Ghost Adventures, an idea emerged that fit Devin’s restrictions.  In fact, the restrictions seems to spark a new level of creativity for Devin which seemed fitting.  One way or another, this film was going to be made and if it was to be his only feature, he wanted it to have an original voice.

Devin pitched the idea to his producing partners and they set off to raise funds for the modest $65,000 budget.  With production set for late December 2013 and his do or die attitude, Devin was set to pitch in whatever he could of his own money if they came up short.  If they still didn’t have the funds, he was going to make the film on whatever they had.  Luckily, as principal photography grew near, Devin pitched the idea to his Ghost Adventure’s boss Zak Bagans, who signed on as an additional executive producer.  The psychological thriller “Sympathy Said the Shark” was on its way.Devin pitched the idea to his producing partners and they set off to raise funds for the modest $65,000 budget.  With production set for late December 2013 and his do or die attitude, Devin was set to pitch in whatever he could of his own money if they came up short.  If they still didn’t have the funds, he was going to make the film on whatever they had.  Luckily, as principal photography grew near, Devin pitched the idea to his Ghost Adventure’s boss Zak Bagans, who signed on as an additional executive producer.  The psychological thriller “Sympathy Said the Shark” was on its way.

Currently in post-production, IMDB posts the following description: When a young couple opens their door to a soaked, bleeding, and estranged friend they quickly discover that their night is going to get even stranger.  I don’t want to contribute any spoilers to this stark description but it’s useful to know that a good portion of the film is shot and told from the POV of the three main characters.

While researching equipment for production, Devin’s longtime friend and Director of Photography Mark LaFleur stumbled on the yet to be released Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera.  A mere 5” wide and only 12.5 ounces, the Pocket Cinema Camera had the specs to provide a cinema-quality image while being small enough to mount on a helmet device devised by LaFleur.  With a micro 4/3 adapter, LaFleur was able to use all his Nikon lenses on the Pocket, and the actors were able to wear the camera themselves which Devin attests helps bring the audience directly into the subjective experience of the characters in a complete and exciting way.

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For any aspiring filmmakers out there, Devin recommends jumping into as many projects as you can to gain as much experience and contacts as possible.  Finding a group of like-minded and equally motivated collaborators with whom you can develop your craft is paramount.  He attributes the efficient ease of production for  “Sympathy Said the Shark” to the fact that his team has been working on projects together for years.

Although I wasn’t able to glimpse any footage of the film, Devin’s enthusiasm for his project is palpable.  A truly original idea mixed with the unique storytelling devices utilized to make his story a reality, I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about “Sympathy for the Shark” on the festival circuit and beyond.  To keep track of the films progress, check out @SSTSmovie on Twitter.

 

For more about Nathan Edmondson check out reel9productions.com or follow him on twitter @edmondsonnathan

 

 

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