DVXuser.com DP Interview Series: Nancy Schreiber
by Jarred Land

Most of the film world, and almost every DVXuser.com member now knows who Nancy Schreiber is. Armed with the DVX100, she shot the feature "November" which recently won the Cinematography award at this years Sundance.

Nancy was born and raised in Detroit City, and began her career after moving to New York shortly after attending the University of Michigan. Her early begginging was being a Gaffer for a full decade (Nancy urges aspiring DPs to get a solid foundation before becoming dps, whether as acs or electricians, then operating and gaffing). Soon she evolved to cinematographer and DP, shooting More than 50 productions in the last 15 years alone, including Features such as "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)", "Nevada (1997)", "Your Friends and Neighbors" and one of our favorite reference titles "Visions of Light (1992)" .

Jarred:  First of all, Congratulations on winning the Cinematography Award at this years Sundance!

Nancy:   Thanks. Quite a shock, since it was on mini-dv and we were up against films shot on film.


Jarred:  During your career as a Cinematographer, was November the first time you shoot a feature on the SD Digital Format?

Nancy:   Until Fall Of 2002, I Had Always Shot Movies In Celluloid. Then, I Photographed A "The Failers" In Hi Def, For Director Tim Hunter, Whose Work I Had Admired In “Rivers Edge”. Then In The Winter Of 2003, I Photographed Another HD Film Entitled “Red Roses And Petrol”, For Director Tamar Simon Hoffs. I Had Known Her Daughter, Susanna Hoffs, Years Ago When I Shot The Bangles Video “Walk Like An Egyptian”. Then Finally, Last May, I Shot November in the Mini-Dv Format, My First Time.

Jarred:  At what point in Pre-Production was it decided to shoot with the DVX100?

Nancy:  Pretty much the minute I signed on, it was decided to shoot with the DVX100. Both director Greg Harrison and I thought the camera was much more sophisticated than similarly priced cameras. Being able to shoot in 24p sealed the decision.

Jarred:  Rumor has it that the film NOVEMBER was shot using default settings (Scene File 6) 24pa.
Did you use Cine-gamma?

Nancy:  I used the cinelike file and did alter both master ped and detail settings…..this was done after extensive testing, including a film out test. Today, with the 100a, I might have gone with factory settings since ped and detail are controllable later. However, if one wants to control color as I did, I would definitely do that in camera, not in post. It’s too artificial to try to change colors later.

Jarred:  How extensive of POST correction was done to the images?

Nancy:  We found that we needed to add contrast across the board. The blacks are a bit milky with those cameras. This is an easy fix. Again, I’m glad we had a controlled palette during production. In post, Greg decided to move a couple of scenes around which screwed with our "planned" color choreography,’ so we had to ‘fix it in post, and I can really see how forced it feels.

Jarred:  What in your opinion benefits the DVX100 the most in terms of lighting? Is there a certain type of light that you see really makes the DVX100 shine? (I.e. Kino's, Natural, HMI's?)

Nancy:  Although I‘ve only shot features in celluloid, I have been shooting video for years. I think it’s important to keep up with all the technology and learn whatever comes my way. As far back as ten years ago, I shot visions of light in early hi def, when cameras had tubes not chips. Basically, lighting for all video is similar. There is less latitude in video……less contrast ratio; hard light generally looks harsh in any video format.
Less is more, in terms of exposure, if you’re going for that filmic quality. Shooting almost wide open, on the long end of the lens with very little depth of field helps the illusion that it is film and not a news story, where everything is in focus. It directs your audience to focus on parts of the frame,

I used all kinds of lights with the DVX100….kinos, HMISs and small tungsten units. We basically had to plug into the wall, and never had a generator except for a couple of locations which didn’t have any power.
For those two days, we got a ‘"putt putt" genny.
when I say that less is more, I still ‘gripped ‘all the lights just like I would do on any film, using nets and flags, diffusion and gels. It’s just that the units
Were smaller and my crew was small, one gaffer (rich paisley) one key grip (Erik Messerschmidt) a swing most of the time (Jeff Chin) and an intern named Hema from USC film school. My camera crew was actually large, Jamie Maxtone-Graham operating A camera and Marie Chao operating B camera. Kelly Richards was our first ac and we bumped our intern Tatiana Krakar up to second A.C. I tried not to operate much since in video, what you see is what you get in the monitor, not the cameras.

Jarred:  What is the single important (settings, exposure, WB, etc.) technical element in using the DVX100 and is the most important you consider?

Nancy:   I liked to control my white balance.

Jarred:  How often did you WB (every time the light source changed?) or did you use the presets throughout?

Nancy:   We white balanced often.
As you might have heard, there is a blue section, a gold section and a white light section, plus a recurring location was green. These colors were achieved through WB and various gels. I judged what was appropriate by using a well set up monitor. We were small and didn’t have a vector scope or any diagnostic equipment, just bars and tone like everyone else, and as you may know, we had to go out of 24p and into 30 to even find bars, fortunately, this situation has been rectified with the 100a.

Jarred:  Winning the Award at Sundance speaks volumes about your talent as a DP but speaks massively about the DVX100. Would you use the DVX100 again for a feature outside of INDIGENTS DV Projects?

Nancy:  It’s hard to see one’s work with not a lot of resolution when it’s projected on a 50 foot screen, as was the case at Sundance. If I were asked to shoot a Mini-DV film that called for a specific ‘look’ and I could stretch as a DP or push the medium to it’s fullest, and if the director was as cool as Greg Harrison , then I’d consider it again.

Jarred:  What are the Pros of using the DVX100? The Cons?

Nancy:  The pros of using the DVX100 are that it’s small. We were able to do many many setups each day…….we shot the film in 15 days. There was no back focus issues which are common in hi def. The cameras are cheap so we could have two the whole time, including in prep.

The large screen was nice and I could focus easier than on some other similar cameras.

Also I like the colors the Panasonic is capable of generating, very soft and pastel, even sensual, and very textural. Plus I feel the camera handles burnout in interesting ways.

The cons? Sharpness, resolution. But come on, it’s a $3,000 camera, so I forgive it. Greg and I always told ourselves to “embrace the technology, embrace its idiosyncrasies."

More cons? Like all video including hi def, the wide shots are softest. I try to do my wide shots on as long a lens as the location will allow. When I needed to shoot wide shots, I added detail in the settings.

Other cons….no native 16x9.
Also, some people shooting docs don’t like where some of the controls are but I had no problems,

Jarred:  BBC UK has reported that you used 25 cameras for November. How many cameras did you actually use?

Nancy:  That is hysterical……..I love the press.
We used two cameras when it didn’t compromise the lighting. We used a third when we had a blood squib and didn’t have time or money to load the squib again.

Jarred:  When can we see the film?

Nancy:  The deal for the film is almost complete, so I hear, so there will be a theatrical release.
Greg and I are just beginning ‘film out tests from a small portion of the film. We will go to film once the deal is in place.
When I did my hi def films, we printed on VISION PREMIERE stock, again getting back those blacks that are lacking. That’s what we’re testing now in hopes that the extra cost for the premiere stock will be ‘allowed’ by the distributor...

You can view a partial list of Nancy's credits here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0775262/

November was produced by Indigent http://www.indigent.net/

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