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Why You Should NOT Shoot 4K if You’re an Indie Filmmaker

NAB might be behind us but the frenzy for the latest camera never seems to stop. Technical performances always make eyes shine, and with the equipment’s price going down, there is a real temptation for indie filmmaker to listen to the 4k mermaid’s song. Listening to the Post-Production Panel from Sundance 2014 posted by Candy Factory Productions, I was interested to discover that all the panelists were adamant: DO NOT SHOOT 4K IF YOU’RE AN INDIE FILMMAKER.

The panel consisted of Mike Jackman (Co-Chairman NYPA, EVP Post Production FilmNation Entertainment), Guenter Noesner (ARRI), Jennifer Lane, (NYC based post production supervisor) & Paul Rachman (Filmmaker/Slamdance Organizer) and here are three reasons why they think 4K doesn’t make any sense for an indie filmmaker at the moment:

#1 – Nobody Can Tell the Difference

Yes, you read that well. Even if you shoot 4K, nobody will be able to see it’s 4K. Why? Two reasons: whether you watch a film shot in 4K in a theater or at home, there is a very specific distance where you would need to be to appreciate its full effect. Bummer. And if you watch on your computer or your phone… well, you can guess the answer to that.

The other reason that I found very interesting, and pointed out by Guenter Noesner, is that the human eye does not actually perceive 4K as better looking: ‘An aspect that we feel is never really discussed is What do we perceive as better looking? This technology, 4k, is coming from the industry from a technology point of view, it’s really not what we, humans, kind of perceive as the better choice.

#2 – It Will Stretch Your Budget And Take More Time

One major mistake often made by indie filmmakers is that post-production is left aside or miscalculated during budgeting. And post-production is a make or break moment. We often think of post-production as the moment where we do the editing, the color correction, sound design, score, but it’s also the moment where files are rendered, exported, and copies of your film will be made, digitally or on film, so it can be sell to territories (if you’re lucky enough to reach that point). There is no selling your film to distributors if you can’t provide the necessary files in the right format. And that’s when a lot of indie filmmakers learn it the hard way.

One of 4K’s main issue for an indie filmmaker is the size of the files: HEAVY. “2k is a phenomenal format and, as an independent filmmaker, I wouldn’t even consider 4k. It is a massive amount of storage, massive amount of drives, everything will take longer to do, it’s just a more difficult process.” says post-production supervisor Jennifer Lane.

#3 – The Delivery Side Can’t Hold Its Part of the Contract (Yet)

Another point I thought was interesting is that the panelists made it clear that as of today, 4K was more of a marketing coup from the industry, because 3D didn’t work out, than a real step forward for the audience. Both Amazon and Netflix rely on the 4K argument but here is what Guenter Noesner says: “The improvement has to been made on the pipeline where you get this data. Streaming companies can only deliver between between 6 to 60 Megabytes per second while a 4k delivery is 6,000 Megabytes per second.” (…) “Wouldn’t it be better to get an HD picture where you’d get more of that HD better, than to get a 4k picture where you’re getting less of it because we’re compressing it?” Makes sense to me!

Last but not least, here are some extra info worth knowing:

Regarding 4K, if anything, this sounds like a great news to me. Why stretch your budget to shoot 4K when 2K will do? I know a lot of filmmakers feel they need to shoot 4K on the RED for their film to be taken seriously, but as all the panelists said: the story is what matters first.  I recommend watching the full panel, it’s a short one and there is much more to learn from it: