ARCHIVE - WEBZINE ISSUE 121 - Originally published October 2010
Story 121 Larger Than Life header image

I had the pleasure of meeting David Marks at the 2009 Garden State Film Festival after having viewed the awesome documentary "Wild Ocean 3D", which he co-produced. Shot on location off the coast of Southern Africa, this large format film chronicles the natural phenomenon of migrating fish and the effects and potential long-term destruction of the world's ocean's by global warming trends and over fishing. The visual imagery of the film was breathtaking. Once the film was over, I made it a point to arrange an interview with David for a Future iNCITE! article. While we were unable to meet each other in person, I strived to ask some interesting questions regarding his work in large format films and what the future may bring to this acquisition technology...

Future iNCITE!: In the age of increasing digital acquistion fidelity, what attracted you and continues to attract you to large format filmmaking?

David Marks: You can't beat the large format experience, both in its immersive effects and its picture quality. And, when you add 3D to the mix... it's amazing. I am sure if you ask most people, they'll say how amazed they were the first time they saw a large format (aka IMAX) film as a child or an adult and how amazing and inside the action they felt, "as if I were really there"... that's what you'll hear people say. And with 3D, you are just in the action that much more and the richness and depth you feel is incredible. And, as a filmmaker/producer working in that medium is rewarding because of the technical challenges you over-come, but also because of the subject matter and the varied and exotic locations you get to go to.

Also, in regards to 65mm (the original large format capture medium), the picture quality and resolution of film is still premiere and certainly at 65mm it's even higher resolution than 35mm film. If you look side-by-side or within a film that has both digital/video source material (that's been up-rezed and filmed out) and 65mm source material, the difference is quite noticeable, even to the average civilian filmgoer. The resolution and quality of 65mm film is just far superior and the audiences know the difference. The range of 65mm and the ability to hold detail is far greater. When you see the digital/video source material, the range is not as great and you see that "video" look, that video buzz in the highlights and sort of mud in the darks. Even with the higher resolution cameras that are out there now (RED/Silicon Image/Dalsa) and the image processing that some of the footage goes through to be up-rezed, you can still see the difference.

Now having said that, the modes of digital capture are much, much better and of resolution that is closing the gap between digital and film and also being accepted now, by audiences and things are going to change even more. Two years ago, four years, five years ago, the difference between digital source and film source was great, now its still noticeable, but with every year and every new hi-res camera, that difference becomes smaller and smaller and there are now cameras in the pipeline, with a much higher resolution. Right now cameras are at 4K, but there are cameras in the works where the resolution is at 6K, 8K and even 9K. Once those cameras come online... film, beware....

Fi!: How many large format films have you worked on to-date?

DM: I have worked on two completed large format films and we are currently making a third one. The first one was called "Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey" explores rhythm and percussion around the world. The second, filmed in 3D is called "Wild Ocean 3D" and is about a marine phenomenon that occurs off the coast of South Africa. It is currently playing worldwide and being very well received. The third one, another 3D film, that we are currently filming is tentatively called "The Last Reef." This film celebrates the beauty and bio-diversity of coral reefs while also showing how the reefs are greatly endangered by climate change and what the loss of the reefs would mean to mankind...

Fi!: If money were no object, what would be your ideal large format camera rig?

DM: A small, high resolution (that of 65mm) beam splitter 3D rig, that is light weight, portable, fits on a steadi-cam, fits on an aerial gyroscopic rig, [can be hand carried] and does high speed shooting at a high resolution... and that doesn't require any image processing. That's the dream camera, if money and technology was no object.

Fi!: What was your first large format production and what life-lessons did you take away from it to apply on the next shoot?

DM: My first production was the above mentioned Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey and frankly, for me, personally, it was an Odyssey! I was the lead guy and traveled around the world for four weeks with a STOMP performer, scouting all these percusssion groups, from Flamenco Artists in Spain, to Hindu drummers in India, from Percussionists in South Africa to Bell Ringers in the UK... it was quite a trip. My life lesson was if you are traveling with a Scotsman, you [better] make sure there is a bar nearby and open at 5pm everyday!

I [also] learned that when working in a new medium, you don't have to listen to what every veteran says you have to do. You can listen to what they have to say, but you can also blaze your own trail and break a few rules...

Fi!: On the film 'Wild Ocean 3D" that you debut at the 2009 Garden State Film Festival, you mentioned that much of the underwater footage was actually shot with a Sony HDcam camcorder, towed behind a boat (in the case of the dolphin sequence). What challenges did you encounter in getting this unique point-of-view footage?

DM: All the underwater footage wa shot on a 3D side-by-side rig using Sony F950 cameras, recording to a single HDCam SR deck. For a particular shot, where the directors wanted to "tow" the camera behind the boat, submerged, so that the dolphins would come right up to the camera as they swam underwater, for this shot, we had to have a custom made, bullet-shaped metal container built to fit the camera rig (which is inside of an underwater housing) in and facing away from the boat. Since the camera rig and underwater housing were very, very expensive, the vendor insisted that we first test the container with weights approximating the weight of the camera and housing. So we had to do that to make sure the container worked and didn't palpitate, flit around or break loose from the cables. Once we established that the container would work, it was pretty much smooth sailing and we put the camera and housing in the camera, ran the wires back to the boat and dropped the container behind the boat and towed it, through pods of dolphins. It really worked out well...

Fi!: As Hollywood pushes for 3D acquisition and post-production workflows in the coming years, do you feel the 65mm format will gain increased usage or will it eventually give way to camera systems like RED or Dalsa Origin?

DM: It will give way, it's starting to happen now, more so because of the demands of some shots; needing steadi-cam or needing to be on a cable cam or needing to go hand held or aerials. The IMAX/65mm 3D is very, very heavy and costly and only allows for three to eight minutes of film per roll and if you have a unique shot with tough logistics, the IMAX/65mm 3D camera just won't work.

Fi!: Although every documentary is different, how long does it take to get together a team for a large format film shoot? How is it different from a 35mm or HD shoot?

DM: Well, it's really not that much different. You still need the same crew types, AC's, grips, producers, scouts.... You can put a team together quickly... perhaps the camera crew is the trickiest, because it is a speciality, knowing how to work with the IMAX 2D and 3D cameras, so crewing up camera-wise can be difficult if it's busy out there.

Most crews and logistics are the same for a large format shoot as they are for other shoots. The differences are: the camera, the size and weight, the film and shoot time for a roll of film, 35mm 1000' roll gives you 10 minutes of shooting and a 1000' of 65mm only gives you 3 minutes. Other differences are the way dailies are made; the expense of the film and processing and some of the grip support needs to be better... Also, when you frame for large format, the sweet spot is 1/3 up the frame from the bottom as opposed to the center of the frame for other formats.

Otherwise, everything else is the same, the casting, location logistics, other crew, other equipment (although for interiors you do need more lights), etc....

Fi!: Have you had the opportunity or would you like to work on any large format 3D Ride films?

DM: No, I haven't worked on ride films... although, for Wild Ocean, we've been approached to repurpose some footage for a ride film and for the film we are shooting now, we are thinking of shooting additional footage for a ride film. However, if there was the right project, interesting and challenging, I would consider working on a ride film.

Fi!: What was the key moment or series of moments that inspired you to become a filmmaker?

DM: Wanting to be on Johnny Carson, watching Oscar night as a kid, loving to go to the movies; The Godfather, Martin Scorsese, Finian's Rainbow, Bonnie and Clyde, The Sting... The absolute thrill of being on a movie set for the first time, wanting to tell a story... the list goes on. Of course, one of the key moments was meeting Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, in 1994. They are the creators of STOMP and the directors of all the large format films I have worked on, as well as any projects in the future. Their faith, trust and friendship in me, as well as their approach to filmmaking, has been an inspiration. Yes, there were a series of moments!

Fi!: What words of encouragement would you give to aspiring film and new media makers who may not even have considered working in the world of large format films to follow that path?

DM: Never take no as an answer, never accept, "you can't do that" or "it's not done that way." I am not saying that you shouldn't always listen, I am saying you should not always take things people say to you at face value... analyze who's saying it, believe in yourself and your filmmaking skills even if they are new. Always get a second opinion, a third opinion. The Large Format world is a way to see and capture the world and present it to new audiences. Don't be daunted by the technology and the so-called pundits, experience it for yourselves...