Is It Film or is It Filmlook: Use Your Illusion
By Robert Stone
Hollywood is all about illusion. And when it comes to making video look like film, many filmmakers turn to Filmlook (www.filmlook.com).
Founder and inventor Robert Faber studied the intricacies of film’s appearance and designed the patented real-time post-production process that, like the name suggests, captures the “essence” of film on video-shot productions. This look is largely achieved through affecting motion characteristics, gray scale/contrast and grain pattern. By altering gray scale, color and contrast, the video mimics typical film characteristics and is given the “feel” of film. “The whole idea was to end up with something that would simulate the look that you get from films,” Faber explains. “Since film has 24 frames per second and video has 30, two fields would represent one image or one film frame. The next three fields would be the next film frame. That is a two/three sequence which is the normal way the 24-frame film gets transferred to video. And to the greatest extent possible, the process attempts to mimic saturation, color levels and contrast characteristics that you would have from a film origination.”
With Filmlook, many of the difficulties and expenses of shooting on film—lab processing, dailies, telecine transfers—are eliminated. Faber, who combined his love of filmmaking with his engineering background, faced some opposition early on from film purists. “Some weren’t too thrilled with the idea,” he recalls. “One comment was, ‘Gee, if we wanted it to look like film, we’ll shoot it on film,’ which I didn’t think made a lot of sense.”
R.J. Cutler was one of the first filmmakers to use Filmlook on a feature documentary—A Perfect Candidate (1996). Since then, he has used it on his recent nonfiction television productions, including American High (PBS), Military Diaries (VH1) and the upcoming The Residents for TNT. “For me, Filmlook is more consistent to the look I’m aspiring to,” Cutler says. “I’m not a fan of the flatness of video, which looks like a lot of live TV and news coverage, as opposed to something that’s a little more mythic looking. If you see American High or Military Diaries, the material for those were shot with DV-Cam and mini-DV, and they really come out looking terrific. It doesn’t look exactly like film, but it doesn’t look at all like video, and for viewers it’s a really cool look.”
Carl Byker and Mitch Wilson have used Filmlook on several projects, including Woodrow Wilson, which recently aired on PBS. Wilson, who was also the project’s DP, believes that if you can spare the extra cost, the results and advantages are exponential. “Once I saw Filmlook and what it could do, I made the decision never to shoot video again without being guaranteed going in that it would be ‘filmlooked,’”
Liz Garbus, whose film The Execution of Wanda Jean premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival and can be seen on HBO, says, “I always want to shoot on film, but with this project there were too many budgetary restrictions. Also, we knew we would be shooting so much and would be shooting in prisons and cramped courtrooms. We needed more flexibility where we could shoot fast and not be so dependent on special lighting. So Filmlook offered a terrific alternative.”
Cutler also points out that because almost everyone edits on video with systems like the Avid, documentary filmmakers are used to seeing their material “digitized” in the different resolution formats. “When you were in the edit room seeing your footage in AVR 3 or AVR 5, it had a filmic quality about it. And then when you’d online it with your camera original tapes, it was a little bit of a letdown because it had that flat video look. Filmlook restores that filmic look that, for me, is much more comforting to view.” As for the future, the company recently came out with a way to combine Filmlook technology with their in-house da Vinci 2k color correction system to enhance 24P productions. In addition, Filmlook owns patents that relate to video cameras being able to reproduce the look and feel of film. Sony Corporation has taken a license from Filmlook Inc. and Przyborski Productions relating to the 24P functionality of Sony’s progressive frame cameras.
Faber says filmmakers who are considering using Filmlook for their next project are welcome to bring some of their material to the Burbank facility for a complimentary demo. And when possible, he suggests meeting with an engineer prior to a film’s shoot to discuss the specific challenges of a project and suggestions for shooting for optimal results. As Faber states, “When making a film, you’re trying to end up with something that will best serve your material and present it in the best way possible. So this is really one more tool to help make the finished product more attractive and closer to what the filmmaker originally envisioned.”
Rob Stone is an award-winning producer of documentaries and specials, which he has produced through his company Vienna Productions. He can be reached at email@example.com.