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“Curve of Earth”


2009 Monaco International Film  Festival Winner Uses 2‐Perf 35mm Film Format With Panavision Cameras and Lenses For Strong Visual Appea and Affordable Budget


by Skip Ferderber     

 

Some motion pictures cry out for a film‐based wide screen look.  But then there’s  that ever‐present issue of being able to afford it.  What’s a filmmaker to do?  As it turned out, 2‐perf, a film‐based solution pioneered by “Spaghetti Western” director Sergio Leone over 50 years ago was the right answer for “Curve of Earth,” a current intimate independent film, to reach both its artistic and fiscal goals.  The film recently won four Angel Film Awards, including Best Feature Film, at the 2009 Monaco International Film Festival last December (2009).


The application of 2‐perf for use on a contemporary independent film was the brainchild of director of photography Ben Kufrin.  He saw the technology, known primarily for its use on lower‐budget films, as the perfect answer to delivering the artistic goals of “Curve of Earth’s” production team while saving 50 percent on the cost of film stock and processing.  When you add to that the ability to “stay on film” to get film quality on the big as well as the little screen it is understandable why this is an obvious alternative for filmmakers who thought video was their only option.


Panavision was able to offer their GII and Platinum cameras in the 2‐perf format which allowed Ben to shoot with any of Panavision’s huge inventory of spherical lenses. Now a high quality, wide screen film solution is a reality for any filmmaker with virtually any sized budget. What exactly is 2‐perf? In brief, it refers to a modified film camera’s ability to record two images within the space usually inhabited by a single four‐perf frame.  2‐perf 2.40:1 frame uses half the negative space of a 4‐perf frame, and since it is shot using spherical lenses filmmakers have a wider selection of focal lengths.


When Technicolor Italia introduced 2‐perf in 1963 (as Techniscope) its value was 
immediately understood by Leone, a director with low‐budget filmmaking in his blood.  Born into the movie business (his father was an Italian cinema pioneer, his mother a  silent film actress) Leone began making films at age 18, writing low‐budget “sword and sandal” screenplays that emulated the (vastly) higher‐priced Hollywood studio epics while working as an assistant director in Italy on films like “Quo Vadis” and “Ben‐Hur.” 
    By the mid‐1960s, Leone, now a director, had created game‐changing films such as “A Fistful of Dollars” and “A Few Dollars More.”  The cost‐saving Techniscope wide‐ screen format (now called 2‐perf), gave his films the epic, wide screen style that was to become his trademark, but took advantage of the format’s 50 percent savings in film stock and processing.


A half‐century later Flash‐forward some 50 years.  Writer‐director Lee Madsen had a vision for “Curve of Earth,” a drama that needed a wide screen to properly tell the story of a still 
photographer with deep roots in rock ‘n roll, whose specialty was shooting edgy, erotic pictures of attractive women.   He wanted scenes where several people would be interacting in the same frame, multiple characters talking at once: some extremely close in the foreground, others on the edges of the frame in deep background. 
    “Because the story circles a great deal around still photography,” said DP Ben Kufrin, “we were very aware of the compositional aspect of how we were going to 
frame each shot.”


Wide screen anamorphic was the right answer for the look of the production, but the budget for shooting with 4‐perf film made that choice unrealistic.  Based on Kufrin’s experience with other features, which he had shepherded through the digital intermediate (DI) process in both 4‐perf and 3‐perf, he briefly considered using Super 35 coupled with an analog anamorphic intermediate. As a student of film technology history, however, he had been reading about the seldom‐used 2‐perf and wondered if that could produce the wide screen image desired by director Madsen but with savings in film stock, processing and posting.


Kufrin approached Jim Roudebush at Panavision’s Woodland Hills facility, and was assured that a modified Panavision camera was available for shooting 2‐perf.  The next problem, however, was how to work with the image in post‐production.  As Kufrin explained, “The [2‐perf] format had long ago been shelved because it required an 
intermediate optical step.”


His answer came from today’s use of digital vs. optical intermediates for posting, effects, etc. DI technology offered significant post‐production benefits, he continued, but posting film digitally required scanning the negative with a film recorder: a time‐ consuming and expensive method. Enter HD telecines
   

Over the decade, post houses had output 2K files from the original film negatives to produce a DI.  But then, Kufrin recalled, “ Once 2K had been used for awhile, people realized that 2K was only a 100 lines more of horizontal resolution than high‐definition [HD].


    “So then the idea of using telecines to go directly to HD rather than film scanners, particularly for lower budget projects like ours presented us with a digital tape master that could be used for color timing and for film out.  It filled the requirement for any video deliverable, be it standard def or hi def, from just one source.”


    “Granted, 1080p and 2K are not film resolution; however, the acceptability of film‐acquired imagery that is transferred to HD is of such a high caliber if it’s done correctly that I think it [is quite acceptable]. When we did a film‐out test of two of the scenes from the final color‐corrected master, we were really impressed.  The quality was surprising.”

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