When I called Shane Hurlbut, he was just returning from a shoot with the US Marine Corps in North Carolina. Shane is one of the most visible and vocal proponents of using the HDSLR for cinematic applications. From the first time Shane held the 5D Mark II, he instinctively knew the technology would not only change the film industry, but the world as well.
Born and raised on a farm in Aurora, New York, Shane moved to Boston to attend Emerson College where he studied film production. Shortly after, Shane and his, now wife Lydia, packed up their Ford Ranger and a U-Haul and headed West to Los Angeles to begin his career in the entertainment industry. Once there, Shane paid his dues working for Key Light Rental House, but it would be a little horror film with a huge cult following that would change his life. During our conversation, Shane shares how he got into the business, and why he decided to shoot motion pictures using an HD enabled still camera.
Everything I Looked At Was Light
PVC: When did you know you wanted to be a cinematographer?
SH:The producer of Phantasm II Roberto Quezada came by Key Light to negotiate a lighting package. They met with me and really liked my energy and wanted to know if I would leave Key Light to work on Phantasm II. So I did. One day on the set while I was running a flag into the crematorium set, the best boy was walking up the stairs when he stopped and asked me this question, “Would this set scare you if you watched it in the theater?” I thought about it and said no. There was no shadow- every nook and cranny was lit. At that moment, although I didn’t have aspirations of being a DP, it was like, BANG! And from that moment on, everything I looked at was light.
Processing Super 8 in a Bathtub
Shortly after wrapping on Phantasm II, Shane went on to shoot several music videos. His first video became one of the anthems of generation X. Smashing Pumpkins’ Cherub Rock, featured dirty, gritty imagery and went on to epitomize grundge music for entire generation.
SH:Kevin Kerslake directed this music video and we shot it all on Super 8. We processed all of the Super 8 footage in Kevin’s bathtub and didn’t clean it so there was dirt on it. Just the old school of crazy, experimental film making.
After producing several other music videos, Shane worked with the late photographer Herb Ritz, and then he shot his first narrative feature, The Rat Pack, where he was nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers for Best Cinematography. Since then, Shane has continued his success and gone on to serve as director of photography for several other films including Drum Line, Crazy/Beautiful, We Are Marshall, Semi-Pro, Swing Vote and Terminator: Salvation.
Fate and the 5D
PVC: At what point did you decide to shoot motion picture films with what, until now, was a traditional still camera?
SH: I’ve only shot HD Video for commercials here and there, never really been a big fan of it. I think it looks plastic. I don’t like the whole way you go about capturing HD. I don’t like black tint. I don’t like the distance from the actors and the set. I like to be one with the camera. But, in 2008, I went to a little wine and cheese social sponsored by the ASC at Samy’s Camera where they had the Canon 5D Mark II. When I put this thing in my hand, I just started to look at the depth of field and the quality of the image. I realized at that point it would change everything. It seems like God had a path for me because every job from that point on seemed to want this camera.
Terminator and the Helmet Cam
PVC: What was your first professional application of the 5D Mark II.
SH: I got a call from McG to do nine webisodes for Terminator: Salvation. Everything was shot with a helmet cam. So I immediately said “Oh my God, if I’m able to put this camera on a helmet it will be cinematic instead of a big wide angle lip-stick cam where everything’s in focus.” So that’s how it started. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had no clue about the menus or the picture styles. I tried to do my homework as much as possible. I knew when I turned this camera on, and I started to light it, it looked great. When I saw it on a big projection screen, I knew it would hold up.
Act of Valor
SH: The company that produced the Terminator webisodes was doing a movie called Act of Valor, a narrative piece on the Navy Seals. I wanted to come up with a visual style for the film that was a combination of film, stills and 5D Mark II footage. But during the first week of shooting, I just got my hat handed to me. Everything I shot just did not look good at all. I wasn’t getting the right picture styles, I wasn’t getting the right looks or getting the the right feel. I just made a ton of mistakes.
The Perfect Cocktail of Lenses
PVC: What lenses were you using at this time?
SH: I was using the Canon EF, and I was also using the Canon L. But because we were doing a lot of action, I was using a lot of the wider lenses. And the wider lenses on the Canons did not resolve very well. So the images looked very soft. I didn’t have any kind of detail on the skin tones. It just became like one kind of mush. That’s why we jumped to Zeiss. Once I came up with the cocktail of putting the Panavison Primo Primes on the 5D Mark II it took the camera from a Yugo to Porsche. It also gave me about two more stops of latitude. I said, OK this is really getting close to film.
PVC: When you first started utilizing the Panavision lenses were there any adapters at that time to mount them on the 5D Mark II?
SH: I had two of these mounts made when I did Crazy Beautiful. It was a Canon Primo adapter so I could take stills on the set, and then color correct them and send them to the lab. And I wanted it to be the same yellow that the Leica glass has. Because a Primo is Leica. And, I wanted it to have that same yellow quality. So, that’s where I cracked the egg. We were about to go on this amphibious assault in the middle of the Pacific and I was like “I think I remember making these mounts on Crazy Beautiful.” And I called Panavision Hollywood and they said “Yeah, I think we got a couple of those kickin around.” We ended up re-engineering it again and again until we got this amazing mount. What’s so powerful about the Panavision mount is you don’t have to rip the camera apart. You just put the mount in. So that started to cement Panavision as the capture medium for my lenses on that camera.
PVC: And it’s as good as the Panavision?
SH: It looks very close. Their long lenses just blow every other long lens away. Leica has this focus module system, it’s absolutely intelligent as hell. Imagine being able to haul around a 280, a 350, a 400, a 560 and an 800 in one case.
SH: Then when I started to do tests, it was like wow! This is it! This is digital film. And that’s why prior to this point I’ve always shot film. Nothing I felt ever looked as close. The 5D Mark II gives you a Vista Vision depth of field that none of us have ever seen. You’re playing with Vista Vision depth of field that you can get a 1:4 on a 50 mm lens, and you can have a 30 seconds of an inch of depth of field. When you add the compression, that’s what makes it work the best. Everyone’s clamoring on getting all these cameras to deliver raw imagery. I love the compression. I embrace it because it takes the edge off of HD, and that’s why I really don’t consider the Canon 5D an HD camera. It’s a digital film camera. With HD cameras, you need to bring in all new make-up artists, all new make-up, use all this diffusion effects filters, but the 5D Mark II just does it inherently. With the 5D, the depth of field is very filmic. With the cinema style lenses, you can have that depth of field fall off beautifully.
The Last Three Minutes
PVC: At what point and time did you feel you solved all the problems and began to master shooting with the HDSLR?
SH: Everything clicked with The Last 3 Minutes. That is when I felt like I had really figured it out and was firing on all twelve cylinders. Laser Pacific did a film out and color corrected the footage. This $2500 still camera has the power to hold up on a large screen..
PVC: Now switching to camera bodies have you tried using the 7D, and if so how did you feel about it?
SH:The 7D is has more contrast than the 5D because of the smaller sensor size. The blacks and highlights are not as filmic looking as the 5D.
When shooting the 5D is my “A” and “B” camera, film is my “C” camera and the 7D is my “D” camera. I still use film to solve the inherent issues of moire with the HDSLRs. The mixture that works best for me is shooting with the 5D and 35mm film.
PVC: Initially the 5D it only did 30fps. Did that cause problems in editorial?
SH: It was something that we had to work around because we were shooting “Act of Valor” at the time with this technology. At Bandito Brothers Production Company we found a plug-in called “Twixtor” that converted 30p files to 24p and made the footage look more like film.
CS5 Verses Final Cut
PVC: There’s so many people still doing all these workarounds with other softwares trying to make HDSLR footage work with Final Cut Pro. With CS5 and the DSLR preset, all you have to do is import and cut, no more third party software and no more work arounds. Still so many people insist on using Final Cut Pro. How did you get turned on to Premiere CS5, and why do you use it?
SH: Apple hasn’t been in the editing system game; they haven’t been in it for awhile…Adobe has. CS5 importing natively in that compressor, it just blows ProRes away. My color correction bay is not for a 24 inch screen. It’s for the big screen. I use Pablo, DaVinchi, all these high end color correctors to be able to use secondaries to iso colors and really showcase this technology. That’s where CS5 gives you far more latitude to maximize the 8bit compressed color that comes out of those CF cards.
The Future of HDSLR
PVC: Sony released the NEX-VG10, which is a video camera with interchangeable lenses, Panasonic will have something similar. Do you think these cameras will replace the HDSLR?
SH: Canon was taken off guard with the HDSLR explosion. The size of the 5D sensor and the way that it captures images sets it apart from the other HD cameras.
PVC: So you don’t think shooting with the HDSLR is a fad?
SH: Oh no, this camera is here to stay! It will soon revolutionize the film industry. Anyone who thinks it is a fad doesn’t know the power of this platform. I’m using the 5D on a daily bases for shooting both commercials and features. By using a hybrid of 5D and film, I have been able to expand my creative vision.
A Global Revolution
PVC: We’re hearing the phrase, “HDSLR Revolution” being thrown around. Do you think that’s accurate?
SH: It is a revolution, and it’s not just a revolution within Hollywood. This is a global revolution. On my blog I’m answering questions from India, South Africa, the Netherlands, Germany, South America, Mexico! My wife Lydia came up with the idea for Hurlbut Visuals, and our motto is educate and inspire one filmmaker at a time. The days of holding knowledge close to your chest, and keeping everything a secret is gone. I received more from just giving freely of my knowledge and experience and learn so much from the many conversations on the blog. This technology is going change the way we make movies. It’s going to save us money, which then saves us fuel, and it saves food, and it saves water…I mean it just ripples through everything. I have two small children, and I want them to be able to experience a planet that I’ve had the chance to experience. The waste in the entertainment industry is a big foot print that we continually put out there. I think that what the 5D will do is to start putting the power back in the filmmaker’s hands. A 4 million dollar movie, shot on HDSLR is like an eight million dollar movie or even a ten million dollar movie. The savings! You can go after A-list people surrounding the camera, you can go for A-list people in front of the camera and do it on a price point that is insane! I’m trying to change the way we think, about your image capture. Can you do it with less, and can you save the environment..? I know I’m sure using a lot less fuel, a lot less water, a lot less power, a lot less light.
HDSLR Boot Camp
PVC: You’re doing this HDSLR bootcamp. Is that an extension of what you and Lydia have been doing with the blog, and how did it come about?
SH: We had so many people on the blog and at speaking engagements, ask “Are you going to run a master class?” Many of these people are first-time film makers just getting into motion, or they were in a market where they never really had a voice. Now they’ve started a production company that uses HDSLRs, and the are making commercials and music videos. Then, we developed the Hurlbut Visual Movie Maker kits and people in Hollywood were eager to rent them but didn’t know how to use them. They thought an HDSLR was just like any other camera. The bootcamp originated to share the knowledge with 1st ACs, 2nd ACs, loaders, DITs, operators, DPs, directors, producers, and still photographers. This boot camp is going to be the most intensive hands on course ever! The Elite Team and I will share what we have learned in the field over the past 18 months.
On The Big Screen
PVC: Will students get to see a finished product?
SH: On the second day, we go out with four groups. Two will go to a studio location, two will go to a street location. Then they swap after lunch. An editor will take all that footage, and it put it into Adobe Premiere CS5 editing system. We’ll spit it out, edit it down and then project on a 25ft screen to decrease the fear of seeing a project on a huge screen. Everyone feels confident on the small screen. This bootcamp is all based on delivering it to the big screen. We’re also going to be color correcting it, so you can see the limitations of this 8bit compressed color space and how to not show its weaknesses, how to deliver the pros of this camera and not the cons. The Elite Team and I will share shortcuts, innovative ideas and ways to capture the best from both worlds of still photography and motion picture photography to create digital film.
For more information about the HDSLR Bootcamp go to their website at http://www.hdslrbootcamp.com/. To find out more about Shane, you can go to his blog at http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/