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Lights, Action... Sundance Film Fest 05!

A 10 Day Non-Stop Party! By Douglas Spotted Eagle
?I came to Sundance to meet people, to network, to party, and to watch movies, says Kelly Riggs, director/editor of Bluff Point, an independent film shown on the streets of Park City, Utah this week at the focal point of the Sundance Film Festival. ?I also wanted to check out the competitive landscape, because I want to have a big film here next year. Based on the short film Bluff Point, Kelly is well on her way to making her goal happen.

There certainly is no shortage of people, parties, and movies at the largest film festival in the US. Screenings abound in every sort of imaginable venue in this winter wonderland 5000 feet above sea level. Racquetball courts, hotel conference rooms, convention halls, bars, social halls, and any where else that will hold people is fair game for a screen and projector installation. Seating ranges from standard theatre seats mounted to plywood for portability to folding chairs, and even floor seating in some rooms. Most of the long lines require outdoor waiting, and fortunately Mother Nature is cooperating with warm and stable temperatures averaging in the low 40s.

Movie fans from around the world have come to the Sundance Film Festival, and it shows in the name cards that sponsors and entrants of the event are required to wear. Ive spoken with people from South America, Canada, Germany, Russia, Japan, Iceland, Sweden, Africa, India, and Java, not to mention the people from all over the States.

While many people have come to the festival to watch the films, this is a place to see and be seen, attracting Hollywood stars such as Jodie Foster, Matt Damon, Kevin Spacey, Calista Flockhart, Neve Campbell, Steven Soderbergh, and many, many others. Some fans will block the streets just to get a glimpse of their favorite stars.

HBOs ?Entourage held streets up for quite a while on Wednesday, as they shot part of an episode at the festival. Film cams, mike booms, street barriers, huge crowd scenes, and a ready-made group of extras made for early morning chaos in front of the Park City Mall turned Technology Center.

Also present at Sundance are the ever present and ever creative marketing geniuses. While having dinner with the president of Nero software, a group of boys pounded on the below street level restaurant windows. As we looked up to assess the cause of the noise, the young men  proceeded to drop trousers and bare their butts, emblazoned with the name of their film. Vehicles with rear projection screens drive the streets, and young filmmakers not fortunate enough to have been accepted for the festivals screenings roam the hills with laptops and portable DVD players asking festival patrons to watch their movie, hoping to meet that one special producer that might be slumming instead of searching out the next blockbuster film. Imagine what Edison might think if he only knew what he'd started all those years ago.

If advertising and marketing are any indicator, ?Grizzly Man looks to be one of the hits of the festival, but films like Murderball, Trudell, 5th World, After Innocence, Lonesome Jim, Dirty Love, and many others draw large crowds, long lines, and lots of excitement. My favorite so far is Craig Brewers Hustle and Flow, with a fast paced, gritty real story line that echoes whats happening in the music world today.

Digital Mania   

Lets face it, without the technical side of making movies, there wouldnt be as many movies nor as much excitement. Although this is a ?film festival, the majority of screenings were originated on digital video of some format or another, and filmmakers abound in the streets carrying their Panasonic DVX100as, Sony PD 170s, and Canon XL-2 cameras with a variety of odd attachments, mounts, lights, dollies, and other home-brewed accessories. Perhaps the most uniquely designed accessory seen was a remote controlled camera mount built from a mirror ball motor.

The Park City Mall has been transformed into a Digital Technology Center featuring displays from a wide variety of manufacturers. Adobe and Sony lead the pack, while Avid, Panavision, Canon lenses, Intel, and smaller displays fill out the eye-candy laden room. Seeing half million dollar cameras and lenses in between Adobe and Avid definitely makes a point about the state of the state in the film industry, where digital and celluloid meet. Adobes Ron Nydham, commented, ?Adobe is supporting the indie film market with an internal initiative to support the independent film industry. Adobe has a strong showing in the Sundance Film Festival with a nod to Dust to Glory which was posted in Adobe Premiere Pro and printed to 35mm from the Premiere timeline.

?Adobe wanted to show our Digital Intermediate Workflow that was used for the feature film Dust to Glory, an indie film released to about 850 theatres across the US. Using 422 Cineform wavelet codec, the films editors were able to maintain color fidelity, and record out to 35mm film print, DVD. Its astounding how fast and accurate the Cineform codec is, providing a workflow and cost advantage because the filmmakers avoided neg cut costs, transfer costs, and is an amazing way to get a film print from the Premiere timeline, said Nydam.  Adobe uses the Cineform Aspect product as part of their Premiere Pro workflow.

Avid is showing Avid Xpress Pro HD application, which of course is one of the most used platforms in the film industry, but no new announcements were present from Avid at this particular outing. ?Weve been at Sundance for several years now, showing new technologies for filmmakers that will enable them to create their stories or films with a variety of solutions, said Michael Phillips.   Avid is showing the Xpress family of products on both Mac and PC laptops, demonstrating the power of Avid in the field. Avid also has an on-site classroom, allowing filmmakers to experience hands-on use of the software. Phillips added,?The Avid Xpress software has a portability that provides filmmakers with the confidence of immediate feedback on the set.

HDV Does J.A.G.

Sony's new camera dominated the show with HDV being the monster buzz around the Technology Center floor. Offering two HDV workshops each day, the rooms were packed with curious directors, DPs, aspiring filmmakers, and a few stars in the industry as well. Even Robert Redford stopped by the Sony booth to check out the new HVR-Z1U camcorder, taking a few pictures with folks in the process.

In the HDV workshops, Jody Eldred, a well known DP, director, and cameraman for shows like N.C.I.S., J.A.G, Peter Jennings, and other internationally broadcast shows was on hand to offer his opinion on the HVR-Z1U.

?Compared to the images coming off my F900 CineAlta camera, Im none too thrilled with the quality Sony has packed into this little camera! said Eldred. He showed footage he shot from a Huey helicopter gunship for the J.A.G. television series commenting, ?No way could this shot have been acquired with a 35mm or F900 camera, there simply wasnt room in the gunship to get it over the shooters shoulder and down the machine gun barrel. Eldred then went on to show other footage hed taken with the HVR-Z1U at a football bowl game, and shots of Las Vegas under extremely difficult situations. Most impressive were shots in the bowl game where he was shooting directly at merc-vapor lighting with cheerleaders in the foreground, and all skin tone, bright red clothing, blonde hair, deep greens in the background, and high motion were all extremely intact. ?Is this a replacement for my F900? asked Eldred? ?No. But for five thousand bucks vs one hundred sixty five thousand bucks, it better not be. However, this image is close, maybe too close. If I can cut it with footage from the F900 without having to do much color treatment at all, thats impressive. Every F900 owner I know has already ordered one of these.

Beto ?Mooncricket  Lopez, a filmmaker preparing a film for Cannes,  was also on hand showing footage hed shot with the HVR-Z1U camera. ?I cant believe that I have access to this sort of camera quality for such a low cost. Ive shot extremely high motion break-dancing with this camera, and I was impressed when I discovered the enormous difference. I cant stand working with DV after being spoiled with the HDV camera.

The most common surprised expression was based around the solid colors seen on the 16 foot display screen, and the dynamic range of the camera. Audiences loved the CF 25 and CF30 modes of the camera captured a lot of attention, and is being called ?very filmic by most of the workshop attendees.

Sony also has Vegas 5 on display at the Technology Center, featuring yours truly, Mannie Frances, and DMNs own Jeffrey P. Fisher,  author of the ?Instant Surround, ?Instant Sound Forge, and co-author of the ?Instant Vegas books. Fisher has been on hand to answer questions from film makers ranging from the neophyte to the established, high end editors. "The Cineform codec and relationship to Sony Vegas makes for a very powerful and fast workflow, said Fisher, ?Notice that Im running three separate instances of Sony Vegas with HD on all three instances, thanks to the efficiency of the Cineform codec in Sony Vegas.

Sony also has the CineAlta cameras on display, right next to the very impressive Blu-ray systems.

Jody Eldred does an interview about the Sony HVR-Z1U for the Sundance television crew and Park City television station.
Jody Eldred does an interview about the Sony HVR-Z1U for the Sundance television crew and Park City television station.
?Sony has always been a strong supporter of the Sundance Film Festival, said Mel Medina, Product Marketing Manager for the Professional Video products, ?Were thrilled to be able to provide filmmakers with not only one of the most powerful cameras with outstanding images, but also a tool that is accessible to the professional filmmaker at a cost that doesnt break the budget. For Sony, the Sundance Film Festival is an important event, as Sony provides products and tools for every step of the filmmaking and display process from the cameras to the Vegas editing application, HDCam or DVD delivery, all the way out to the projectors used to show the films on the screens.

All in all, this show is clearly leaned towards the independent film maker, but with Hollywood heavyweights showing up by the boatload, lending their names, their faces, and their bucks to the films, the line between independent film and major motion pictures is blurring. Whether hanging out at the Sundance Technology Center or waiting in the cold winter air to get a chance to see a movie screening, the show carries a solid aura of excitement for the craft, passion for the creative energy, and a strong exuberance for how the industry is shifting towards empowering more filmmakers in the digital realm. The attendance of the Hollywood crowd only serves to show what an important stop on the filmmaking journey that Sundance Film Festival has become.

And for the young networking filmmakers and tomorrows version of Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford, and James Cameron like Kelly Riggs? There are plenty of parties, places to meet, and movies to sate even the most movie-crazed soul.

Happy Editing!

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DOUGLAS SPOTTED EAGLE, Managing Producer Douglas Spotted Eagle is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy Award winning productions.

Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters. He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others.

Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He remains active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.

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