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Cinematography page 6


Cinema release prints

Making cinema release prints is a somewhat prolonged process made so by the need for many release prints (possibly in the hundreds) for worldwide distribution, all of which must originate from the single camera negative. Even if one were prepared to try and print all the release prints from the camera negative it would simply not be mechanically strong enough to make that many prints. 

What is needed therefore are a number of duplicate negatives (obviously of high quality) from each of which a sensible number of prints can be made, or 'struck' as the process is often referred to.

The process starts with the A and B roll cut negative. This will be graded and a trial print will be struck; this is known as the first answer print. It may take several answer prints before the director, the DP, the producer and the laboratory are all happy with the finished result. When they are happy a fine grain, graded, inter-positive will be struck. 

From the inter-positive an inter-negative will be struck. Finally a print will be made from this and checked by all concerned. If the test print from the first inter-negative is considered to be all that is expected then further inter-negatives would be made. From each of these inter-negatives many release prints can be struck. 

The concern of all is that the camera negative, now cut as A and B rolls, must be run through a printer as rarely as possible for it now consists of the whole of the producer's investment. Obviously, there is much relief when a successful inter-negative has been struck. This is because only then, for the first time, there is an alternative to the master camera negative should something unfortunate happen to that master.

On very big budget pictures, when all the required inter-negatives have been approved and, perhaps, a safety copy of the original inter-positive has been made, a single print may be struck from the camera original A and B roll cut negatives. This is known as the premiers. There is a very slight loss of quality as the image goes through the various prints and negatives that come between the camera negative and a normal release print. In order to make the premier showing as special as possible these premier prints will occasionally be struck.

Film grading
It is quite common to find in a DP's contract either for a cinema film or a major television drama a clause stating that, subject to their availability, they will be asked to attend (and usually supervise) the grading at the laboratory. This is the moment for the cinematographer to add the final polish to the film.

The process usually consists of the DP and the grader from the laboratory sitting in a viewing theater and looking at the cut rush print. From this they decide what changes they wish to make in order to strike the first answer print overnight from an A and B roll cut negative. This answer print will be viewed the following morning and hopefully be perfect. More likely at least a second answer print is needed.

If too many answer prints are ordered however, the producer may start to question the quality of either the master negative or cinematographer's abilities, consequently feeling they spending too much of their post-production budget. The film grader should be taking notes during the viewing in order to be sure of the changes the DP wants. 

These notes are most often a plus or minus sign in from of a printer point change number with the color shown. A very experienced DP may be able to communicate with the grader directly in printer points, but this is neither essential nor always preferable. For example, it is not uncommon to ask for a picture to be a little more green, or even less magenta- which, though technically being similar, sound different and might communicate better what they feel is needed. 

Asking for a little more warmth is also perfectly acceptable. Grader are very experienced and very much on the cinematographer's side so just about any means of communicating feelings of how they wish the picture to look is fine. It is hard to communicate feelings with printer light numbers.

The Cinematographer's Craft
In cinematography things are actually simpler than with still photography. There is still shutter speed and lens aperture but the shutter speed is nearly always the same for it is primarily dictated by the number of frames per second the camera is set to run at. For the cinema the standard frame rate is 24fps (frames per second). Most cameras use a 280 degrees shutter. This means the shutter is closed for exactly half the time and opens for the other half. 

There are four basic types of exposure meter. Some work in different ways, though they all have one thing in common; they all think they are looking at a scene with an average reflectance value of 18 percent. The four basic types are: Built in camera meters, Reflected light meters, Incident light meters, and spot meters. A fifth type of meter, the combined meter, has recently come onto the market.

Light meters may be essential for some cinematographers but others do not use them at all; it is all a matter of experience and personal preference. As Cinematographer John Schwartzman states, "the most important thing I learned from (cinematographer) Storaro was to trust my eye," he recalls. "The light meter doesn't matter," he would say, "if you like the way it looks, shoot it." In fact, he would be pissed if he saw me with meter in hand.

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