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Miami Vice

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When it comes to utilizing the latest digital cameras and technology, director Michael Mann has been a bold proponent and pioneer. On Miami Vice, shot almost entirely in the digital mode, he reteamed with Academy Award-winning DP and ASC member Dion Beebe. Beebe was DP on Collateral, the director’s previous film, which was critically acclaimed for its digital cinematography. Mann, Beebe, and Miami Vice coproducer Bryan Carroll recently participated in a panel discussion following a Below the Line screening of the film. Here Below the Line’s Jack Egan conveys excerpts from their discussion.The Digital Learning CurveMichael Mann: “On Collateral, Dion had the courage to jump in midstream into what was to him an entirely foreign digital medium. Instead of f/stops, we were talking about exposure indices, and signal-to-noise ratios and white levels. Though I used a bit of digital video in Ali, we were all pretty much on a learning curve on Collateral. By the time we decided to go digital on Miami Vice the challenge became to really utilize the extra flexibility, which is exponentially greater than anything to do with film. You get far higher contrast—we were particularly excited about its use in daylight—and you get a greater level of saturation. All that said, you have to consider that digital as a medium is still very nascent; we’re just at the beginning.”Digital’s Aesthetic AppealMann: “For us it’s the visualization possibilities. It’s about getting places to talk, and how expressive you can make a place be, or a sky or clouds—in digital you can pull the gray out of clouds and they become Wagnerian and ominous. On the other hand there are occasional frustrations. At some point halfway through the shoot you’re ready to kick all of the gear off the truck because it breaks a lot. That’s when you get homesick for something with perforations in it.”Instant Color Correction and Other BenefitsDion Beebe: “A lot of tests were done using pre-visualization to determine the look we were going for in the preproduction stage. That then gave us a lot of options in terms of colorizing on the set, and also multiple options when it came to postproduction. The thing about all these options is that it’s more essential than ever to set and define the look you are after at the very beginning. Then you have a very clear path on how you can color and change things later in the process.”Adjusting Workflow for a Digital ShootBryan Carroll: “To get the production process to work smoothly in digital, I try to make sure some aspects are set in stone. Once we decide what we’re going to be doing we put it into a flow system that’s very much like film: how we assemble things, how we label our tapes, how they move from the camera to the truck to the digital lab, and how it works its way through post. We try to create as much of a bulletproof approach system as possible.“We begin with certain rules. An important one is we start at the end and work our way backwards—that’s just in case we run into a surprise. We also do extensive testing at the very beginning. We’re not just testing the cameras and equipment. We’re testing the workflow and how that’s going to proceed all the way through a digital intermediate, if there is one, down to the final print.”

Written by Jack Egan

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