#1: From the doc "Cinematographer Style"

 

   


ROBERT PRIMES   ASC

 

Born: 10 January 1940, San Francisco, Calif., USA, as Robert Joseph Primes.

Education: Reed College, Portland, Oregon [Mathematics]; San Francisco Conservatory of Music [Classical Piano].

Career: After leaving Reed College, he traveled around Europe, taking thousands of still pictures. After about three months, he returned home and enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He left after about a year and a half, and got a job in a San Francisco camera store. He took extension classes in filmmaking, and soon focused on cinematography. 'I proclaimed myself a filmmaker in the hippie days of San Francisco. I bought a Bolex, then an Éclair, and learned while I earned.' From 1964-75 wrote, produced, directed, ph and edited doc's, shorts and commercials. Came to Hollywood in 1975 to direct and ph commercials and music videos. 'It wasn't until I came to Hollywood that I realized how little I knew. The reel from my hippie-filmmaker days got me a job as a director/cameraman at a big TV commercial house. It only lasted six months, but it brought me to L.A. Later, I was hired to shoot the TV show 'thirtysomething', probably because I'd never set foot on a TV set. The show won the 'Emmy' for Best Drama, and I was launched [at least for a while].'

Member of the ASC since April 1990.

Was teacher at the University of California [Los Angeles], North Carolina School of the Arts, University of Texas and the International Film Workshops [Rockport, Maine]. Was a member of the SMPTE committee on High Definition TV formatting.

Married [1964-present] to pianist Theodora Carras.

Appeared in the doc's 'The Story Behind Baadasssss!: The Birth of Black Cinema' [2004; 22m], 'Cinematographer Style' [2005, Jon Fauer; ph: J. Fauer, Jeff Laszlo, Brian Heller & David Morgan] & Zacuto/Kessler's 3-part doc web series 'Revenge of the Great Camera Shootout 2012' [dir: Steve Weiss].

Awards: ASC Award nom [1992] for 'Reasonable Doubts'; 'Emmy' Award [1995] & Cable Ace Award nom [199?] for 'My Antonia'; 'Emmy' Award nom [1996] for 'Harrison: Cry of the City'; 'Emmy' Award [1999] & ASC Award nom [2000] for 'Felicity' [ep 'Todd Mulcahy, Part II', dir by Jeffrey Abrams]; 'Pixie' Award nom [2000] for 'Quantum Project'; ASC Award [2002] for 'MDs' [ep 'Wing and a Prayer']; 'Emmy' Award nom [2006] for 'Sleeper Cell' [pilot]; SOC 'President's Award' [2008].


DSLR's: A Time Exposure

By Robert Primes, ASC [2010, CreativeCOW.net]

 

THE INCITING INCIDENT

At some point in the evolution of today's DSLR [Digital Single-Lens Reflex Cameras], digital replaced film, and low light level photography became astonishingly clear. We saw our world in a whole new way. And then a seemingly innocent event occurred that for some would be the beginning of a whole new style, and for others, would be another nail in the coffin of quality cinematography.

Rather than schlep a real movie camera or camcorder around with your still outfit, wouldn't it be convenient if you could just lock the mirror up and shoot motion synced to audio? Canon added the feature to their marvelous 5D Mark II still camera, almost as an afterthought. Their normally astute marketers calculated that no more than 3 or 4% of users would ever use the feature - perhaps a few wedding photographers and single-person reporting teams.

 

With Canon EOS 5D

 

BLINDSIDED

They were off by a mile. The $2,800 camera started selling 5,000 per week. And 35 to 40% of buyers were shooting movies! Had Canon known they would sell 100,000 or so of these high-end cameras they could have built the camera a whole lot better for us cinema types. As originally delivered, the aperture, gain, exposure, frame rate and shutter speed of the 5D Mark II could not be adjusted by the user. There was no 24 frames per second mode, only 30, and if you panned past a window, the camera would dutifully underexpose your subject, confident that you'd rather try to see what's out that window than see the facial details of that boring person in the foreground.

These deficiencies have been more or less successfully remedied with software updates for the 5D and with 3 newer Canons, the 7D, 1D Mark IV and the Rebel T1i, all of which have HD movie capability.

 

NIKON AND PANASONIC

Naturally, other major players weren't sleeping through all this. As of a few months ago, Nikon's only manually-controllable HD DSLR was their amazing D3s, which though not as high resolution as the Canons [720x1280 instead of 1080x1920 pixels], was the undisputed sensitivity king, with ISOs all the way up to an astonishing 100,000! Panasonic's Lumix GH-1 delivered less speed and exposure latitude than the competition, but offered a reasonable 1080p image at a bargain price.

 

FATAL FLAWS

Focusing - easily one of the most challenging of the cinematography skills - is made dimensionally more difficult by using cameras and often lenses not designed for following focus in movie scenes with subject and/or camera movement. The large imagers are a mixed blessing. Yes, you get more selective focus but that also requires a gifted technician to avoid distracting focus buzzes.

The critically sharp optical finder is disabled for movie work. All that remains during shooting is a reduced resolution video output. Aftermarket focusing devices are necessary and some cinematographers find themselves required to design less challenging shots or shooting with more light at smaller apertures.
Because the movie mode originated as merely an extra feature, very little effort was put into maximizing quality. The cameras were tiny compared to purpose built motion picture cameras with similar size sensors. Hence the amount of processing power, rate of data flow, heat build-up, storage etc. was severely limited and the makers certainly had no interest in compromising their world class still photography capabilities. The result was a greatly compressed image using the h.264 codec. Compared to the pristine raw modes most of these cameras offered, the motion picture images suffered from noticeably less exposure latitude, greater noise, fixed pattern noise, less usable sensitivity [ISO] and of course, much less resolution.

 

REDEEMING VIRTUES

But as imperfect as these images might have been when compared to the quality of raw files from the same sensors, changing the image 24 times each second can hide a lot of sin. And of course there were some really significant virtues.

First and foremost, these cameras are really cheap. If you consider that all the development costs of the hugely successful Panavision Genesis camera were initially amortized over just 100 cameras, and that the RED ONE, arguably the motion picture marketing coup of our time, is rumored to have sold around 7,000 cameras, then the significance of selling 100,000 professional quality cameras in around a year becomes clear. This, in turn allows fantastic research and development costs to be amortized over so many cameras that they can be sold at a fraction of the cost of purpose-built professional movie gear.

Second, the cameras are small and inconspicuous. As one example, the wedding scene in 'Up in the Air' [2009; ph by Eric Steelberg] was shot with DSLRs. Camera operators wearing tuxedos passed for guests shooting still pictures and could be seen working right in the middle of scenes without distracting viewers.

Third, they offer 35mm class selective focus. Sometimes better! This selective focus is achieved by having a limited depth of field which in turn is achieved by having a large diameter lens opening. For a given lighting condition, the lens diameter is directly proportional to the size of the image sensor. Therefore, it is much easier to achieve effective selective focus with a large sensor. DSLRs generally provide a large sensor in a relatively small camera, and there you have it: selective focus from a cheap, tiny camera. Brilliant!

Finally, despite their imperfect compression, modern high end DSLRs still have extraordinary sensitivity to low light levels. ISOs of 3200 and more are commonplace. This is astounding and allows cinematography in previously unthinkable venues. [For the complete article click HERE.]


 

 FILMS

1966

[The Plot to Kill JFK:] Rush to Judgment [Emile de Antonio] b&w; doc/98m

1969

Gimme Shelter [Albert & David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin] c; mus doc/90m; co-camera (with 21 others); ph: The Maysles Brothers; filmed at Madison Square Garden, New York City (27-28 November) + Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Sheffield, Alabama (recording session, 2-4 December) + Altamont Speedway Free Festival, Tracy/Livermore, Calif. (6 December); restored version released in 2000

1970

Maxie/The Butchers/Murderer's Keep [Paulmichel Mielche] c

1970

Jumprope [Robert Primes] c; cinepoetry short/7m; shot at 360 fps

1974

Never Give Up [Ann Hershey] c; doc/28m; cph: George Hood & Shera Thompson

1974

The Grateful Dead/The Grateful Dead Movie [Leon Gast (loc dir) & Jerry Garcia (editorial dir)] 16mm-35bu/c; anim (by Gary Gutierrez) + concert film/133m; cph: Jonathan Else, Albert Maysles, David Myers, Thomas D. Hurwitz, a.o.; filmed 16-20 October (San Francisco); released 1977; restored 2004

1976

Sandstone [Jonathan Dana & Bunny Peters Dana] c; doc/85m; cph: Patrick Darrin

1977

She Came to the Valley/Texas in Flames [Albert Band] p/c; 2uc; ph: Daniel Pearl

1978

Stunt Rock/Crash/Sorcery [Brian Trenchard-Smith] 16mm (stunt footage)+35mm-to-tao35/c; Sorcery concert ph (as Bob Carras); stunt ph (16mm): B. Trenchard-Smith; 2uc Australia: Russell Boyd, John Seale, a.o.; addph: Reynaldo Villalobos & Paul Ryan; uwph: Allan Gornick Jr.

1978

Eduardo the Healer [Richard Cowan] 16mm/c; doc/55m

1978

The Secret Life of Plants [Walon Green] p/c; doc/98m; cph: Ghislain Cloquet, Daniel Pearl, Mike Hoover, David Myers, a.o.; natural history ph: Ken Middleham

1979

Cuba Crossing/Assignment: Kill Castro/The Mercenaries [Chuck Workman] c; uwph: Jack McKenney; as Robert Carras

1980

Getting Wasted [Paul Frizler] c; addph (as Bob Carras); ph: Daniel Pearl

1980

Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype [Charles B. Griffith] c; addph: Hal Trussell; as Robert Carras

1981

Lovely But Deadly [David Sheldon] c; as Robert Roth

1982

Rumble Fish [Francis Coppola] b&w; efx ph; ph: Stephen Burum

1982

They Call Me Bruce?/A Fistful of Chopsticks [Elliott Hong] c; 2uc: Robert Harmon; as Robert Roth

1983

Crimewave/Broken Hearts and Noses/The XYZ Murders [Sam Raimi] c; addph: Eugene Shulgleit; 2uc: Tom Campau

1984

Du-beat-e-o/We're All Crazy Now [Alan Sacks] b&w-c

1984

16 Days of Glory [Bud Greenspan] p/c; doc (Olympic Games, Los Angeles)/145m; cph: Robert E. Collins, Gil Hubbs & Michael Margulies

1985

A Great Wall/The Great Wall Is a Great Wall/Beijing Story [Peter Wang] c; cph: Peter Stein; 2uc: Xie Huaji

1987

The Best Show in Town [Chuck Workman] ?; doc (the history of Paramount Pictures)/?m; cph: Paul Ryan

1987

Hearts of Stone [Steve Anderson] c; short/30m; also shown as part of Showtime-tv series '30-Minute Movie' (1991)

1988

Homesick [Johanna Demetrakas] c; short/25m; addph: Joseph Calloway; also shown as part of PBS-tv series 'American Playhouse Triple Play'

1989

Total Recall [Paul Verhoeven] c; efx ph; ph: Jost Vacano

1989

Bird on a Wire [John Badham] s35/c; 2uc: Peter McLennan; aph: Frank Holgate & Steve Smith

1989

Till There Was You [John Seale] c; Los Angeles ph; ph: Geoffrey Simpson

1990

The Hard Way [John Badham] p/c; fired halfway through filming and replaced by D. McAlpine; cph: Don McAlpine; 2uc: Ron Fortunato; addph 2u: Roy H. Wagner; ph cons: Alicia Webber

1992

Aspen Extreme [Patrick Hasburgh] c; cph: Steven Fierberg; 2uc: Jan Kiesser & Edgar Boyles

1993

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult [Peter Segal] c; addph; ph: Robert Stevens

 

[Right] with dir Brett Ratner - "Money Talks"

 

1996

Money Talks [Brett Ratner] s35/c; cph: Russell Carpenter; 2uc: Russ Lyster & Tony Cutrono

1996

[Def Jam's] How to Be a Player [Lionel Martin] c; addph; ph: Ross Berryman

1997

A Murder of Crows [Rowdy Herrington] c/V

1998

Theo Plays Chopin [Robert Primes] HD/c; mus short/8m

2001

Forgotten Valor [Lane Nishikawa] dv/c; short/40m

2003

How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass/Gettin' the Man's Foot Outta Your Baadasssss!/BAADASSSSS! [Mario Van Peebles] HD-to-35mm/c; 2uc: Dan Kneece; + small part

2004

A Thousand Beautiful Things [Ryan Lonergan] c; short/17m

2005

Bachelor Party Vegas/Vegas Baby! [Eric Bernt] c/V

2007

Ca$h [Steve (Stephen Milburn) Anderson] HD (Sony F23)-to-35mm/c; cph: John R. Leonetti; addph: Keith Gruchala

2010

Serengeti - Tanzania [-] HD (Sony PMW-350 + Weisscam HS-2 + Canon EOS 5D)/c; doc/?m; cph: Dan Kneece & Yousef Linjawi; for CreativeCOW.net

2012

Image Camera Assessment Series [Bruce Logan & Fred Goodich] c/DVD; cph: B. Logan & F. Goodich; a test with 5 of the latest digital cinematography cameras: ARRI ALEXA Studio, Canon C300, RED Epic, Sony PMW-F3 and Sony F65, as well as an ARRI 435 film camera; prod by the ASC & Producers Guild of America

 

 TELEVISION & INTERNET

1977

Rape: The Hidden Crime [Don Silverman] doc/50m

1978

Inside 'The Swarm' [Andrew Kuehn] 'behind-the-scenes' doc/22m; co-addph; ph: José Luis Mignone

1978

Rescue from Gilligan's Island [Leslie H. Martinson] tvm

1979

Gauguin the Savage [Fielder Cook] tvm; stand-by ph Hollywood; ph: Walter Lassally

1985

The Insiders [various] 13-part series, 1985-86; other ph: ?; for ABC-tv

1987

thirtysomething [20 ep dir by various] 85-part series, 1987-91; 1st season, 1987-88 (21 ep); ph pilot: Dan Lerner

1988

Mickey - 60th Birthday [Scot Garen] special/50m; anim + live action; for NBC-tv (ep 'The Magical World of Disney')

 

 

1989

Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration [John Landis; James Burrows ('Cheers' sketch) & John Cherry ('Ernest' sketch)] variety special/60m; for NBC-tv (ep 'The Magical World of Disney') (1990)

1991

Reasonable Doubts [pilot dir by Robert Singer] 44-part series, 1991-93; 1st season, 1991-92; other ph: Richard M. Rawlings Jr.

1992

Elvis: The Great Performances [Andrew Solt] mus doc/120m

1992

Quantum Leap [various] 97-part series, 1989-93; 5th season, 1992-93; other ph: Donald M. Morgan, a.o.

1993

Golden Gate [Randall Zisk] pilot; for NBC-tv

1993

Nurses on the Line [: The Crash of Flight 7] [Larry Shaw] tvm

1994

Get Smart [pilot dir by Nick Marck] 7-part series, 1995; other ph: John Fleckenstein

1994

My Antonia [Joseph Sargent] tvm

1994

[Moment of Truth:] Murder or Memory? [Christopher Leitch] tvm

1995

The Pastor's Wife [James Hayman] pilot; for CBS-tv

1995

She Fought Alone/Scared by Love [Christopher Leitch] tvm

1995

Charlie Grace [various] 9-part series; main title seq ph; ph: Shelly Johnson & Richard M. Rawlings Jr.

1995

Harrison: Cry of the City [James Frawley] tvm

1995

Malibu Shores [various] 9-part series, 1996; other ph: Bradley B. Six

1996

All Together Now [Ron Lagomarsino] pilot; for CBS-tv

1996

A Friend's Betrayal/Stolen Youth [Christopher Leitch] tvm

1997

Crowned and Dangerous [Christopher Leitch] tvm

1997

Blood on Her Hands [Steven Robman] tvm

1998

Felicity [14 ep dir by Matt Reeves, Brad Silberling, Todd Holland, Joan Tewkesbury, a.o.] 84-part series, 1998-2002; 1st season, 1998-99; other ph: Michael Bonvillain & Richard Fannin

1999

Sealed with a Kiss/First Comes Love [Ron Lagomarsino] tvm

1999

The Sandy Bottom Orchestra [Bradley Wigor] tvm

2000

Quantum Project [Eugenio Zanetti] HD (Panasonic AJ-PD900WA DVCPRO50 Progressive Camcorder)/c; internet movie/32m

2000

Young Americans [various] 8-part series

2001

The X Files [ep #180 'Alone' dir by Frank Spotnitz] 202-part series, 1993-2002; 8th season, 2000-01; 2uc; ph: Bill Roe

2002

Georgetown [Scott Winant] pilot; for CBS-tv

2002

MDs/Meds [ep #2 'A La Casa' dir by Michael M. Robin, #3 'Open Heart' dir by Rick Rosenthal, #4 'Heartland' dir by Daniel Lerner, #5 'Cruel and Unusual' dir by Vondie Curtis-Hall, #6 'R.I.P.' dir by Peter Horton, #7 'Wing and a Prayer' dir by Vincent Misiano & #8 'Reversal of Fortune' dir by Peter O'Fallon] 11-part (3 unaired) series/HD; ph pilot: Craig DiBona

2004

Sleeper Cell [pilot 'Al-Faitha' dir by Clark Johnson] 18-part series/HD, 2005-06; 1st season, 2005; other ph: Matthew Jensen; main title seq ph: Steve Lee

2004

¼life [Edward Zwick] pilot/60m; for ABC-tv

2005

Night Stalker [ep #2 'The Five People You Meet in Hell' dir by Rob Bowman, #3 'Three' dir by Daniel Sackheim, #6 'The Source' dir by Steve Shill & #9 'Timeless' dir by James Hayman] 10-part series/HD (Genesis), 2005 & 2006; other ph: Clark Mathis (pilot), Sandi Sissel & Rick Maguire; for ABC-tv (6 ep in 2005) & Sci-Fi Channel (4 ep in 2006)

2005

Las Vegas [ep #69 'Fidelity, Security, Delivery' dir by David Straiton] 106-part series, 2003-08; 3rd season, 2005-06; other ph: John Newby

2010

The Great Camera Shootout 2010 [Steve Weiss] 3-part (x 27-35m) doc web series (DSLR vs. 35mm Film evaluation)/b&w-c/; as doph; ph Picture Profiles: Philip Bloom; doc c.op: Will Cabral, Chris Voelz, Daniel Herman, a.o.; prod for Zacuto

 

 MISCELLANEOUS

1971

The Godfather [Francis Ford Coppola] c.asst pick-up ph; pick-up ph: Caleb Deschanel; ph: Gordon Willis

1983

Monster in the Closet [Bob Dahlin] co-c.op; ph: Ronald W. McLeish; released in 1987

1986

Stevie Nicks - Rock a Little/Stevie Nicks - Live at Red Rocks [Marty Callner; concert film] co-c.op; ph: Thomas Ackerman

2009

Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America [Alexis Ostrander; doc] co-c.op; ph: David J. Frederick & A. Ostrander

 

 FILMS, TELEVISION & INTERNET AS DIRECTOR

196?

Vietnam Dialogue [doc/b&w/16mm; + ed]

1970

Jumprope [dir; + ph] see Films

1992

Silk Stalkings [ep #43 'Voices'] 176-part tv-series, 1991-99; 2nd season; ph: Ernest Paul Roebuck

1998

Theo Plays Chopin [dir; + ph] see Films

2002

[Harold Pinter's] Night [?]

2011

The Great Camera Shootout 2011 [Steve Weiss] 3-part (x 31-34m) camera comparison web series; as SCCE (Single Chip Camera Evaluation) administrator + dir/exec prod (Production); c.op: Daniel Herman; prod for Zacuto & Kessler