Deep focus?

Discussions on Lighting
Jani
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Joined: Mon May 26, 2008 8:03 pm

Deep focus?

Postby Jani » Mon May 26, 2008 8:16 pm

Mr Deakins, why do you think the use of deep focus decreased with colour photography? The trend seem to be shallower and shallower DoF. Of course, color stock is slower, but we have all Douglas Slocombes work and even sitcoms @5.6 (e.g. Scrubs).
Is it a practical choice, since it demands uncomfortable amounts of light?
Or is it a stylistic choice? Is deep focus more beautiful and "right" for BW-films than color features?

What do you think? What is your opinion on deep focus cinematography?

Cheers,
Jani

Roger
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Roger » Tue May 27, 2008 7:58 pm

Colour stock is actually faster than standard B/W stocks. It was Cinematographers like Jame Wong Howe and Greg Toland who struggled with large amounts of light and hot sets to achieve the deep focus of films like 'Citizen Kane'. One, though not the only, reason I shot colour stock for "The Man Who Wasn't There' was to get a greater depth of field without increased grain or resorting to large lighting set ups which the budget couldn't afford.
On '1984' I shot much of the film at F5.6. Even on colour stock this required a great deal of light and was an additional expense for the production, but that was the look I wanted. Today most Cinematographers are looking for naturalism and I think that a shallow depth of field gives the image a little softer and maybe a more natural look. It is certainly cheaper and quicker to shoot at a wider stop as well as cooler on the set, factors which need to be taken into consideration by most if not all Cinematographers. It is, maybe, something of a fashion. But remember, also, that lenses are so much faster and sharper these days. Even I remember being told whilst at Film School that the 'sweet spot' of a lens was between 4.0 and 5.6 (and that wasn't that long ago!). This may still be true but it's pretty much irrelevant as lenses today are so sharp even when wide open.

Jani
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Joined: Mon May 26, 2008 8:03 pm

Re: Deep focus?

Postby Jani » Tue May 27, 2008 9:43 pm

Forgive me, I have misunderstood. Film historians, e.g. David Bordwell (a deep focus fan) claim that the slower color stocks (together with widescreen) made deep focus shots decrease i the 50s. That probably applied only to the stocks of that era. But I wonder why deep focus did not get a bigger renaissance on big budget movies after the stocks got faster. However, I understand that deep focus can be a little more distracting in colour if the background starts to compete with the actors on the eyes attention (e.g. newly released Speed Racer).

Personally I am a sucker for deep focus-shots, but that may be more for the sheer "show-off"-factor rather that the purpuse of the story. what do you, as a cinematographer, think when you see a movie with a lot of deep focus work?

PS: I wanna thank you for a wonderful forum, Mr Deakins. It is great that you take time to answer questions.

Cheers,
Jani

eng-shen
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby eng-shen » Tue May 27, 2008 11:22 pm

Honestly,
I don't quite understand about how slower color stocks and widescreen can lead to the decline of deep focus shots. From my knowledge, if wide lens, say an anamorphic lens (don't know if tht's wht you mean by widescreen) was used, wouldnt' that tend to increase the depth of field even more? And these days, most of the color stocks are much faster than the olden days stock.
I wonder if you have seen 'once upon a time in the west', which has lots of deep focus scene. But then again, the broad daylight in the desert may have made things a little easier, perhaps. I think in Sergio's western, the landscape is just as important as his characters, and maybe that's why deep focus conveys so effectively in his movies.
Neshgnenat

Jani
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Jani » Wed May 28, 2008 7:19 am

By widescreen I mean the format in general, since the aspect ratio inspired directors to stage in width rather than depth (no need for deep focus if the action is all in one plane). I have always believed that anamorphic lenses has less DoF (please correct me if I am wrong). Sergio Leones westerns were shot on Techniscope, which is not a anamorphic format, and e.g. David Bordwell says that is the reason why he managed to have all those beautiful deep focus shots. (http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=195) Phil Meheux says one of the reasons he choose Super 35 for Casino Royale was to imitate the depth of field of another Techniscope production, The Ipcress File. (http://www.ascmag.com/magazine_dynamic/December2006/CasinoRoyale/page1.php)

Cheers,
Jani

Roger
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Roger » Wed May 28, 2008 8:38 am

Techniscope or standard Super 35 has inherently a greater depth of field when compared to true anamorphic widescreen.
Whilst it is true that early colour stocks were slow that could also be said of early B/W stocks. Don't forget that lenses (there was less choice of focal length and a 50mm was standard) were also slower and lights were less efficient. Lens preference has a great deal to do with the apparent depth of field. Many contemporary directors use longer lenses, a 100 or 135mm, as standard as they like the shallow focus effect that these lenses will give. For a Coen Brother's picture a 32mm or a 27mm is a standard focal length and the difference in the 'look' is obvious.
Whilst deep focus was a style it was also, in many ways, a necessity. If you are shooting with a lens that will only open up to a 4.0, or is only acceptably sharp between a stop of 4.0/5.6 and 8.0, you will naturally be shooting images with a greater depth of focus. Another point to consider is that a B/W image with a good contrast range will appear to be sharper than a colour image of less contrast. Greg Toland's work in 'Citizen Kane' is often considered a prime example of deep focus Cinematography but if you look closely you will see that many of the supposedly 'deep focus' shots have been made using wide lenses, split diopters or are in fact composites. 'A Touch of Evil' is another example of beautiful deep focus B/W Cinematography, shot by the great Russell Metty, but how much of the apparent depth is created by the use of wide lenses and the contrast of the image as opposed to the use of an enormous amount of light. I'm sure there was a large amount of light on the set as Russell Metty did not have the luxury of a 500 ASA stock or a 2.0 lens. It follows that his use of hard, direct light sources may well have been as much for practical reasons as aesthetic ones.

Jani
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Jani » Thu May 29, 2008 3:24 pm

It is a pleasure to read your answers! I have learned a lot from this thread.

Maybe the pragmatical side of it is the biggest factor why deep focus has diminished? Must be hard for filmmakers to defend a deep focus look to producers when it make the production more expensive, time-consuming and uncomfortable. Did you have to fight for your decision to shoot at F5.6 on 1984?

But not only deep focus, but even deep staging have decreased in contemporary cinema, to my eyes. The trend in staging seem to be flat, and have characters stand/sit on one spot in the same plane. The films of the Coen brothers and you are a delight with their staging in depth.

Ryan S.
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Ryan S. » Fri May 30, 2008 7:10 am

A great example of deep focus photography that comes to my mind is Paper Moon by the late great Laszlo Kovacs. Nearly everything in the film seems to be in focus, even the night scenes. Most of all though, it's a wonderful story. Thought I'd throw that out there.

Roger
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Roger » Fri May 30, 2008 2:50 pm

I agree that the average film today is less interestingly staged than it might be but then the story telling is pretty banal as well! Take 'Panic in the Streets' for instance, or any other film by Elia Kazan, and compare the use of the camera in that film to anything equivalent today. It is not just flat composition and banal staging but it is as though we have regressed in terms of how one can use the camera and the juxtaposition of images to bring life to a story.
I did have to fight for the lighting sometimes on '1984' and a lot of other things. It was one of my first films as a cinematographer and the line producer didn't think I was experienced enough or at all capable of shooting it.

Jani
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Jani » Sat May 31, 2008 10:51 am

Ryan S. wrote:A great example of deep focus photography that comes to my mind is Paper Moon by the late great Laszlo Kovacs. Nearly everything in the film seems to be in focus, even the night scenes. Most of all though, it's a wonderful story. Thought I'd throw that out there.


Paper Moon is very good deep focus movie. What is even more interesting is that Kovacs used red filter (which filters out light), because Orson Welles told him and Bogdanovich so. So I guess it was a hot set.

On the RedUser forum David Mullen ASC wrote about Red Beard by Kurusawa, and points out that it is shot in anamorphic, with long lenses up 500 mm, and still have a deep focus look. Apparently Kurasawa had light leves up to F22 to get the look he wanted! Incredible that the actors and crew could stand the heat!

Jani
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Jani » Sat May 31, 2008 12:23 pm

Roger, I must admit that I havn't seen Panic in the Park, but I shall put it on my "to see"-list. Since Kazan was a stage director first, I question pops in to my head: do you notice a difference in theatre directors and "just" film directors you have worked with in terms of staging?

May I ask how you got the 1984-gig? Did Michael Radford see your documentary work?

Roger
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Roger » Sun Jun 01, 2008 6:53 am

'Panic in the Streets' not Park. I think you will find that Laszlo used the red filter for the sky and the faces. I remember the film as being mostly exterior work but I have not seen it for some time.
You can use a 500mm and have everything in frame sharp if you have your action on the same plane. Much of Kurosawa's work tends to to be formal, not flat exactly but in the style of Japanese woodcuts. Even at a 22 I don't quite see this as a deep focus look though. I can't really see anything shot with a 500mm, anamorphic or not, being a deep focus look in the way I understand it. I must watch 'Red Beard' again!
I had known Mike Radford for some time before '1984'. We had done some documentary work together and also a previous feature, 'Another Time Another Place'.

Jani
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Jani » Sun Jun 01, 2008 9:50 am

Panic is the Streets, of course. :D There are some interior scenes in restaurants and hotels trough Paper Moon, with the backgrounds in clear focus. Ryan O'Neal complains about those scenes being very hot on the dvd extra. But I guess Kovacs dropped the Red filter for those scenes.

But isn't it the long lens that make Red Beard seem flat like a japanese painting, not the staging? Since it is not allowed to post screencaps, I link to one: http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDCompare2/redbeard/sub-cri-samp.jpg. To my untrained eye it seems that action are in different planes but it becomes flat by the optics used. But I agree with you that many shots in Red Beard only have action in one plane, so it might be an exaggeration to call it a deep focus movie.

Cheers,
Jani

Roger
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Re: Deep focus?

Postby Roger » Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:42 am

I don't think dropping the red filter would have made the DVD hot. Laszlo would have corrected for the filter and it's effect would have been quite selective, darkening then sky more than anything else.
That is a great composition you choose and I would agree with you that the compression caused by the use of a longer lens has tended to flatten the image. I would be interested to know just how long the lens was.


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