ARRI, Sydney, 14 August 2014: The New Zealand Film and Television School recently made the decision to move from film to digital and thus upgrade the cameras it uses on its courses.
There was a major assessment of digital cameras carried out and when all had been evaluated it was the ARRI ALEXA that was the school’s camera of choice.
New Zealand Film and Television School Executive Director, Sashi Meanger explained, “The New Zealand Film and Television School has a long history of teaching and shooting 16mm film process and disciplines, a unique course founded by some of our most renowned filmmakers and one that is delivered and taught directly by industry practitioners. Right up to 2013, our students were still shooting on film, but the advent of the closure of Park Road Post Processing Lab meant that we had no option but to move into the digital format. Fortunately, our Head Tutor and filmmaker Sima Urale had first-hand experience with high-end cameras on television commercials. Although a lover of the film format, she decided to try out the Red on one commercial, and the ARRI ALEXA on another. Sima’s extensive experience with filming drama and commercials on 16mm and 35mm film and the comparisons to the latest high-end cameras was a major deciding factor.
Our Technician Mark Jackson was also thorough in his research in reassuring us that we were making the right choice, and as a school we have strong ties to the industry, drawing on cinematographers and camera specialists for advice and expertise. We also drew on producers and editors, and their experience to gauge costs and other factors that might directly affect post-production and general running of our course and schedule by Programme Manager Kevin Armstrong and Administrator Johan Bekker.”
Mark Jackson added, “After comparative research and testing of different digital platforms, the exposure tolerance and organic look of the footage from the ALEXA made it obvious that this was the platform we needed to use to offer the best for our students. With the help of our industry partners and ARRI Australia, we settled on the ALEXA A-EV package with Zeiss CP.2 primes.”
Head Tutor Sima Urale was cautious around digital cameras and took a while before she felt she could fully endorse and work with them adding, “Like many filmmakers, I hadn’t been convinced by any of the high-end cameras until I shot with the ARRI ALEXA in 2012. When you have shot major projects on film for over two decades, it’s very hard to let go of film – it’s beautiful and alive with grain that gives it texture, so anything digital that I looked at seemed very hard-edged in comparison. With the ALEXA being the only camera to convince me to date, it was an obvious choice, but most importantly that the school continue to uphold a high standard with the shift from film to digital. Not many international film schools own a high-end camera like this, so our students are extremely fortunate that they get to train as well as shoot on a camera that mostly commercials and only films with a budget can afford. Our students had been filming on the ARRIFLEX camera for years, so it was a natural progression to go with the ARRI ALEXA.”
The New Zealand Film and Television School takes its courses and the equipment they use very seriously. Thus the ALEXA and ARRI itself were both very seriously scrutinised during the assessment process.
Sashi Meanger continued, “The ARRI name is synonymous with the film industry, so when the ARRI ALEXA came highly recommended by Sima Urale and other experts in the field, and the fact that many Hollywood films today are also filming on the ALEXA confirmed for me just how exciting and of good quality this camera had to be.”
Sima Urale added, “With the ARRI ALEXA and having watched some of our recent graduation films go through it, I don’t miss the film format at all now, and in fact, other filmmakers at the screenings don’t even mention the change from film. I’m saying this truthfully and not to promote some product, but in saying that I think the ARRI family definitely have got something right, and I suspect that being the traditional manufacturers of film cameras anyway, they knew exactly what filmmakers wanted to retain from the film format. I strongly believe that it’s important for our students to also experience the closest feel to film, and to learn the appreciation for beautifully crafted films.”
Mark Jackson added, “The first thing we noticed was the ease of use compared with other digital platforms. The workflow, using Apple ProRes 4444 on SxS cards, is very quick and the footage is easy to use on any post production software. This workflow gives us a 2k result and, once our graduation films are cut, we can deliver an online 2k DCP. There are a lot of cameras to choose from in this class, but the set up time of the ARRI ALEXA is so much faster than any of the others. This is a major consideration for us as our curriculum is intense so the ALEXA lets us concentrate on procedure rather than convoluted menus and workflows. All of our students, during our film intensive exercise, have a chance to be ‘DOP’ so, with 24 students in each intake, set up time is very important. With the ALEXA, the focus is on shooting rather than the technology.”
For Sima Urale the look the ALEXA gives her and the students was critical adding, “It doesn’t seem to matter what digital film I am watching, I can tell the difference if it’s anything other than the ALEXA, even if they had the biggest and most expensive lens on – it still can’t fool me into thinking it was shot on film. From on set and watching through the monitor, then going through post with the grader, I was very impressed with the look of the ARRI ALEXA, particularly after filming another shoot where I wasn’t so impressed with a camera which was apparently the latest and hottest thing on the market. It simply did not compare to the ALEXA, and I remember being very angry with my producer for forcing me to try it when I had the choice of 35mm film! Of course, he was relieved when he heard no complaints with me and the ALEXA. It’s basically the closest to 35mm that I have come across. The film industry is a competitive one and so are film schools. We knew that by purchasing the ALEXA, we would definitely have an edge, even above many international film schools. However, having a great product is one thing, but even better is a film course that matches it, and I felt that having anything less than the ALEXA wouldn’t have served our purpose as a top quality film course, nor fulfil the expectations we have of our students to be competent and confident with a high-end camera. With the ALEXA, they will have the edge above other film school students because they can walk straight onto a commercial or feature length shoot and feel confident with any top class camera.”
The New Zealand Film and Television School course is an intensive one year programme with an average of 24 students per intake. The school has two courses overlapping with an intake starting in February and another in July. It is in the second semester that the students get to fully utilise and train on the ALEXA as well as produce major projects, and with two courses overlapping it means that the ALEXA is in use all year round.
Sima Urale explained, “The students have major assignment projects that involve the ALEXA which takes up all of the second Semester – Film Intensive and their End of Year films. These projects are highly technically challenging, but I always remind students that in the end, it’s all about the technical supporting the creative vision, storytelling elements, performance, and capturing a mood or feel.”
For The New Zealand Film and Television School selecting the right equipment partner was key to moving forward into the digital world. Commenting on their choice Mark Jackson said, “The edge the ALEXA gives us is the security that we can use this camera well into this decade and with ARRI Australia we have support and service beyond what other camera manufacturers can promise. In the current technological environment, with things changing so fast, ARRI has a proven history of excellent product and continued support for their cameras. Stefan Sedlmeier and ARRI Australia have helped to make this purchase possible and have been supportive throughout the whole process. Their advice and their customer support are second to none and the whole process has been a joy to be involved in.”
Sashi Meanger concluded, “Feedback from students after using the ALEXA is extremely positive, so thank you ARRI Australia for your advice and technical support. It’s a purchase that we are extremely proud of and one that our students feel very privileged to have experienced.”