If you own an HDSLR, you know the name Philip Bloom. He may literally be the one person most closely associated with HDSLR filmmaking. Mr. Bloom was in Boston this past weekend, for one of his well attended workshops and meet ups, and there was no way I was going to miss it. It would be like an aspiring actor not buying a ticket for a Q&A with Robert De Niro.
What we take for granted today — that Canon HDSLRs create gorgeous, cinematic footage that can live side by side with footage shot on cameras ten times the price — was never a foregone conclusion. When Nikon and Canon released their first video-capable DSLRs in 2008, it was big news on tech gadget sites. But hardly anyone was prepared for the flood of attention the cameras would receive from filmmaking professionals. And so too began the controversy. On one side of the debate you had the converts, those who had quickly determined that HDSLRs could replace traditional video cameras for certain types of projects. On the other side were the skeptics, who detested all the cameras’ specs (and probably still do).
Philip Bloom was the most forceful voice for the converts. He was, and continues to be, the lead evangelist for the cause. He was smart enough to make sense of the cameras as they were first appearing on the scene; he was savvy enough to realize the potential of the technology to shake up the entire film production landscape; he was confident enough to stand up against naysayers; and he was patient enough to function not simply as early adopter but teacher as well.
In two short years since the introduction of the 5DmkII, we’ve gone from believing that the only way to get a “film look” on an affordable video camera was to attach an expensive 35mm adapter to the end of it, to shooting all of our video projects with still cameras. It happened so quickly, so suddenly, that it’s often helpful to remind ourselves just how far we’ve come. In Boston, the workshop was sponsored by the Boston Final Cut Pro User Group, an organization with a large membership of industry professionals, and held at Rule Boston Camera, a rental facility that services some of the biggest names in New England film and television production. Would this widespread acceptance of HDSLR technology have occurred so thoroughly and conclusively without Mr. Bloom’s efforts? It’s hard to say.
As DPs and producers, most of us have probably worried about whether a client would be turned off by the affordability and small size of an HDSLR, preferring instead to hire production companies who use enormous 2/3 inch chip video cameras that require tons of lighting. I know it was a concern of mine a year ago. My response then was, of course, to point them to Philip Bloom’s site. Today, as Mr. Bloom himself pointed out, we can reference the House season finale and the upcoming George Lucas produced Red Tails, set for a 2011 release, for which Philip contributed what he said could be up to 150 shots taken on the Canon 7D. In other words, what went from a theoretical debate — is a Canon still camera up to the task of shooting broadcast quality, cinematic footage? — has become, today, a settled issue.
Most people familiar with HDSLRs have their preferred way of working. Bloom doesn’t argue for a single workflow, but he does make a convincing case for much of what he does. After the Saturday workshop which I attended, there is no way I’m not going to use PluralEyes, Shotput Pro, or a Kessler Crane CineSlider, pictured below.
These were products I had heard of but never tried, and now I will. Up until now, I’ve used MPEG Streamclip to export my footage to ProRes. I’ll definitely be using the Canon EOS MOVIE Plugin-E1 for Final Cut Pro from now on, though unfortunately I’ve unknowingly damaged the directory structure of past footage. I finally learned how to set my camera properly for a 24 hour timelapse (you’ll have to take his workshop to find out!) and will be expanding my royalty free music searches to sites previously unknown to me. I’ll also be sticking with Tascam audio recorders for the foreseeable future (I currently own the DR-1, which I love, even though it doesn’t have XLR inputs), though I probably won’t run out and buy the model he recommends, the DR-100.
Two aspects of his process I’m not onboard with yet. I don’t want to shoot in the Super Flat picture style, and I don’t think I’ll be color grading with Magic Bullet Looks for the time being. On the other hand, his results speak for themselves, so I just may have to give both approaches a try.
The highlight of the workshop, in many ways, are the dozen or so short films that he has created over the past two years. If you’re a regular visitor to his site, you’ve already seen many of them, but you probably haven’t seen them projected on a large screen, in a room full of people who are great fans of his work. If not for the films themselves, Philip Bloom would be one of many well regarded camera gurus out there, but it’s how he uses the gear, what he creates with it, that has made his name. There are plenty of good DPs who are doing amazing work on HDSLRs , but I tend to gravitate toward Mr. Bloom’s documentary, minimalist aesthetic. Before I had my own company, when I was still producing for an ad agency, if I wanted to show a creative director or a client what HDSLRs were capable of, I simply sent them a link to Sofia’s People or Cherry Blossom Girl. Dublin’s People, in fact, was one of the first beautifully shot examples of 7D footage on the Web, and it gave me the courage to leave my job and invest in my own 7D.
There’s just something about the way Bloom’s footage looks that sets it apart. There’s a simplicity to what he shoots, an authenticity. His shots don’t call attention to themselves, and yet you can’t turn away from them. Something about putting a camera into the wild, getting right up to a person’s face — his best known films of this style are known as his “People” series — is one of the signature qualities of Philip Bloom’s work. And boy is there a lot of work. One participant at the workshop asked if he ever sleeps. He said he does, but the impression one gets from Philip is that he’s working all the time, on both paid assignments and labors of love alike.
As a husband and father, I couldn’t dream of doing all the traveling Philip Bloom does. I get annoyed if I have to get on a plane to Chicago. In the past few years, he has literally spanned the entire globe, shooting in the Middle East, India, Eastern Europe, and all across the States. He mentioned a few times that the equipment he buys must be portable, and made it clear that the type of gear he recommends varies depending on whether a person has a “home base,” which, I think it’s fair to say, Mr. Bloom does not.
Toward the end of the session, I asked him a variation on the “what’s next” question. Not what’s next for Canon, or Nikon, or RED, but what’s next for Phillip Bloom. It turns out he’s considering directing a narrative feature. When I asked whether he could see himself handing over the reins to another DP, he joked that there were plenty of good ones he could trust. He also went on to say that his ideal film crew for a narrative project would be comprised of about five people. Sounds perfect.
Update: If you want to attend another Boston Final Cut Pro User Group-sponsored workshop with Philip Bloom in the fall, please visit the BOSFCPUG website!