With the cost of film and postproduction services (not to mention gear rental), shooting a feature in 35mm film isn’t feasible for most indie filmmakers. But for the vast majority working in digital cinematography, obtaining that "35mm-film look" is their "Holy Grail." So what defines a 35mm-film look, and how does a shooter achieve it working with digital camcorders? Besides the obvious—good lighting, proper framing, etc.—there are several factors that involve achieving a cinematic look. Most filmmakers or cinematographers would probably agree that the three most important factors include: 1) a frame rate of 24 frames per second; 2) a wider aspect ratio such as 1:1.85 (most common for 35mm film) or 16×9 (for high-def); and 3) a shallow depth of field for selective focus.
Usually, the biggest giveaway of a movie shot on video is depth of field, which can be defined simply as the distance range in which objects appear to be in focus. For the videomaker shooting with a consumer or prosumer camcorder, everything in the frame tends to be in focus and on the same visual plane—which essentially appears flatter.
(This "everything in focus" quality is due to the camcorder’s smaller sensor, which typically measures 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 inches, compared to the larger size of a 35mm film frame.) For a movie shot on film, the filmmaker often will use selective focus to guide the viewer’s eye by keeping a character in the foreground in focus with the background falling out of focus, for example. The general rule is that, at the same distance, the longer the focal length of the lens, the shorter—or shallower—the depth of field will be. For years, videomakers have been moving their camera position away from their subject, zooming in the longer part of the lens, and using neutral density to open up the lens in order to emulate 35mm depth of field.
REDROCK TO THE RESCUE
In 2000, a collection of indie filmmakers working in digital video (for economic reasons) wanted to achieve a film look without its high costs. "In the video world, we now have 24 fps, cinema gamma and postproduction tools like Magic Bullet—these were all big milestones," says Redrock Micro’s partner Brian Valente. "We felt that the ability to use selective focus was one of the most important missing ingredients. After doing extensive research, we found existing solutions were too expensive and we wanted our solution to be more ‘indie-film friendly.’"
Redrock (www.redrockmicro.com) started to build what eventually became its M2 Cinema Lens Adapter—the first adapter in the marketplace targeted toward the low-budget filmmaker.