Camera kits

A Chinese journey for HD feature

A Chinese journey for HD feature

Tigerlily Films' latest feature, 'She, A Chinese', swapped the streets of London for western China this September, as the production moved to Chongqing, following the journey of its main character. Whilst aiming to achieve the best possible visual quality for a feature film, the amount of equipment cinematographer Zillah Bowes was able to hire was "very compact." This was mainly due to budget reasons, but also the film was mainly handheld and often improvised, so she needed to set up quickly.

Bowes went to VMI and hired a Panasonic HPX500, two cine-style zoom lenses – the Canon J11 and J21 – a clip-on matte box, filters and tripod. "VMI was the only company with a camera available for our shoot dates as well as the lenses I wanted to use. They were very helpful in allowing me to come in and test the camera several times, and giving us technical support before the shoot," Bowes explains.

As the production was filming in China as well as the UK, it was imperative that the camera recorded reliably on to solid state with as few technical problems as possible. The crew also wanted to download, back up and transport rushes quickly without taking up too much storage. "We needed the best HD quality we could afford, but couldn't afford high-end cameras," Bowes explains. "I chose the HPX500 because I preferred the look of the camera and it fitted all our criteria."

'She, A Chinese' follows Mei, a bored village girl, who leaves her country life for the big city in China and then comes to London."We wanted to make the film as naturalistic as possible, capturing the energy of China, and Mei's restlessness. So I often used the camera in the same way as I do in a documentary, moving around the space," says Bowes, who, where possible, used a narrow depth of field and longer focal lengths for a more cinematic feel.

Shooting outdoors in the heat of China was tough, but the HPX500 proved very reliable, says Bowes. "I was most worried about lens back-focus problems because we were shooting so much on the shoulder. I frequently pushed the camera to the limits of its dynamic range and had to be very careful not too lose information in the blacks and the highlights. This was a challenge sometimes, especially in low-light."

However, Bowes found the HPX500 "technically very straightforward. The menus were very clear and there were many useful functions. If I could change it, I'd make it a little more ergonomic, like a film camera, for handheld work. However, I liked the softness of the look it gave. It really added to the texture of the film."

'She, A Chinese' is directed by award-winning Chinese writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo and produced by Tigerlily Films. It is a Warp X film in association with Film 4 and the UK Film Council and will be distributed next year by Optimum Releasing.

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