D.W. Leitner has more than 50 directing, producing, and cinematography credits in feature-length documentary and dramatic films produced in the U.S. and abroad.

25: Requiems


All photos by D.W. Leitner

I write this as Halloween looms once again, lining neighborhood stoops with scary pumpkins and pint-sized goblins targeting a sugar rush. Halloween is our Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which Mexicans celebrate as an embrace of the role death plays in life, both as last stop and final transcendence.

Which got me to thinking: in a way, life is like a reel of film on a projector. There’s a beginning, middle, and end. Then the reel runs out and the projector’s empty gate flashes white. more…

Shoot Review: Sony PMW-500

Sony PMW-500

Operator side of new PMW-500.

A couple weeks ago at the first Vimeo Festival—a showcase of digital shorts based in the curvy, white-glass Frank Gehry headquarters of Vimeo’s parent company, IAC/InterActiveCorp, run by Barry Diller and trendily located near Manhattan’s Chelsea art galleries—I moderated a keynote discussion between two of the brightest stars in the HDSLR firmament, Vincent Laforet and Philip Bloom.

The discussion was entitled “DSLR Cinema: The new dawn of filmmaking?” and took place in the IAC Building’s narrow, futuristic lobby. Behind the dais were multiple images of the three of us on a 118 foot-long video wall reminiscent of Blade Runner, while seated before us were several hundred young filmmakers, clearly evangelical in their fervor for all things HDSLR. more…

24: To 3D or not to 3D, no longer the question


Large outdoor 3D display at Sony’s NAB booth in April.
All photos by D.W. Leitner

Last November I wrote a column, EX3 x 2 = DIY 3D, about two talented and resourceful New Jersey filmmakers who fashioned a homebrew 3D rig from two Sony PMW-EX3s in order to film a striking 6-minute paean to Newark in the mold of Paul Strand’s classic Manhatta (1921) for the Newark Museum.

What a difference a year makes.

Avatar hit theaters in December, becoming, in one month, the highest grossing film of all time.

April’s NAB waxed giddy with 3D fever. Nothing like a box office bonanza to plant dollar signs in the eyes of broadcast manufacturers, consumer electronics giants, Hollywood, anyone seeking the next big thing. more…

23: LEDs and the Lit Environment


Shadowstone’s Paul Distefano demonstrates ARRI’s compact LoCaster, with onboard selection of six color temperatures from 2800K to 6500K and continuous dimming.
All photos by D. W. Leitner

NAB’s show floor last April signaled new directions in LED lighting. I’ll get to them below, but first a few thoughts on the evolution of electric lighting itself.

We complain we live in a time of dizzying change, but the 1880s were equally disorienting. Edison had patented his carbonized filament and Eastman his flexible roll film within a few years of each other. Electric lights, practical photography, motion pictures had arrived all at once it seemed. Modern times at mach speed.

It’s happening again, as digital imaging eclipses photochemical and filaments white-hot from electrical resistance yield to cool, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and LEDs five times as energy efficient. more…

22: Mondo NAB ’10, Large Sensors


Upcoming Sony consumer camcorder with interchangeable E-mount lenses and 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor.
NAB photos by D. W. Leitner unless otherwise indicated

Announced just yesterday, May 11, half the world already knows about the NEX-5, Sony’s impossibly slim new HDSLR (in-depth review here) and upcoming AVCHD consumer camcorder based on the same sensor and lenses.
Such is the contagion of the Internet that nothing is bottled for long, as Apple recently experienced to its chagrin. Heated rumors of affordable (no bank loan) large-sensor HD camcorders from Canon, Panasonic, and Sony have been circulating for months. While much of this speculation has been dodgy, Panasonic and Sony did fan the flames at NAB with sneak-peaks at nonfunctional mock-ups of large-sensor camcorders.

At its traditional press conference on Sunday prior to the exhibition opening, Panasonic surprised journalists with the AG-AF100 (photo below). It will feature a 12.1 megapixel Micro Four Thirds CMOS sensor and lens mount, with capture to SD cards using AVCHD compression (24mbps max). Available by end of 2010, it’s expected to sell for about $6,000 without a lens. more…

21: Mondo NAB ’10, PL-mount Primes


Fast T1.4 Leica Summilux-C 21mm prime lens on a Canon EOS 7D modified for PL mount by BandPro Film & Digital.
All photos by D.W. Leitner

Shrinking in the rearview mirror like a signpost whizzing past at 80 mph, April’s NAB pointed to no less than four approaching upheavals in production technology. You had to have your polarized glasses on backwards at NAB not to see evidence of them everywhere. For those unable or unwilling to attend NAB, I’ll attempt a recap in my next columns.

These four areas of advancement involve not digital compression or recording but first principles of photography and sight itself: the light that falls on a subject, the lens that captures that light, the sensor that registers the image, the binocular experience of spatial depth.

Racing towards mainstream use, for example, LED production lighting is not only cool-running and energy-efficient but durable, lightweight, and compact. Much of it carry-on size in an era of airline luggage-charge gouging.

I’ll devote an entire column to LED lighting, at NAB and beyond, but for now suffice it to say, with the advent of innovative LED fresnels from industry leaders Litepanels and Gekko, LEDs are red hot (so to speak). Hot enough for Chinese manufacturers to festoon their NAB booths with shameless rip-offs of Litepanels 1×1 luminaires… but I’m getting ahead of myself. more…

20: Sundancing Part 4, HDSLR Rebellion in Park City

Illya Friedman of Hot Rod Cameras at Sundance, previewing prototype PL-mount adapter for Canon EOS 7D. Dual Grip Hand Held kit is in foreground.

Illya Friedman of Hot Rod Cameras at Sundance, previewing his prototype PL-mount adapter for Canon EOS 7D. Dual Grip Hand Held kit is in foreground.
Photo D.W. Leitner

Before the lights dimmed at each Sundance premiere this year, a ribbon of text resembling a CNN news ticker marched across the lower third of the empty screen: “This is the recharged fight against the establishment of the expected.� “This is cinematic rebellion.� “This is the renewed rebellion.�

Virtually identical ad-speak marked the launch of Red Digital Cinema’s Red One in 2006. Red honcho Ted Schilowitz’s business card even read “Leader of the Rebellion.â€? Which raised eyebrows in an industry skeptical of H. R. Giger design if not pointed abandonment of conventional camera technology.

Calling yourself a rebel is like calling yourself a maverick—an exercise in preening if not brand marketing. Insurrection is serious business. Breaking with convention risks breakdown of convention, revolution sows chaos; both inflict unforeseen consequences. Which brings me to HDSLRs.

With Sundance receding in the rearview mirror and the gravitational pull of NAB upon us, I want to share one last bit of business from Sundance concerning these small cameras with supersized sensors—a topic that will figure prominently in any discussion of new digital cameras at Las Vegas two weeks from now. more…

19: Sundancing Part 3, In the Kingdom of Shadows with the Redoubtable Mr. Murch


“What if Cinema had been invented 100 years earlier?� asks editor extraordinaire Walter Murch.
Photo D.W. Leitner

What if Cinema had been invented 100 years earlier, in 1789 not 1889?

Who would ask such a question?

If you’ve read his ontological discourse on editing, In the Blink of an Eye, or novelist Michael Ondaatje’s book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, you know the answer to the second question. (Ondaatje also wroteThe English Patient.)

Walter Murch is many things: poet-philosopher of the Moviola and lately Final Cut Pro, the guy who coined “sound designer,â€? recipient of two Oscars for sound mixing and one for editing for the likes of The Conversation, American Graffiti, Julia, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather (parts II and III), The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Ghost, The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold Mountain. more…

18: Sundancing Part 2, A Squeaker


Indie feature filmmakers set their calendars by Sundance.

Most of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, at least since the sixteen century, with the notable exception of indie filmmakers, who follow the Sundance calendar.

Sundance is so consequential to the career prospects of aspiring filmmakers that entire production schedules are calibrated to match the Sundance calendar. Would-be Sundance filmmakers, after all, must defy impossibly long odds. Out of 3,722 feature-length entries, Sundance in 2010 accepted 113, or 3 percent.

The Sundance calendar begins three weeks after the Gregorian and contains a season of submission, August to September, a season of announcement, early December, and for those lucky enough to be invited, a two-month tour through the outermost Inferno, leading up to the festival’s late-January opening night. more…

17: Sundancing Part 1, Reflections


Wait-list line in front of the Eccles Theatre.
Photo D.W. Leitner

Sundance remains the preeminent festival for independent filmmaking anywhere. I ought to know. I’ve attended virtually every one since 1987.

In past years I’ve written daily blogs from Sundance for Millimeter, but this year, with a dramatic feature in the New Frontier section (my sixth Sundance premiere as producer), reporting wasn’t in the cards. So I’ve decided to dedicate the next four columns to a look in the rear view mirror at Sundance 2010.

In these paragraphs I’ll note tech trends and shifts in the culture of indie filmmaking, last-minute techniques invoked to finish our own super low-budget film, differences between cinema and video as elaborated by legendary editor Walter Murch before a packed morning session at the Filmmakers’ Lounge, and a brunch on Main Street I had with Illya Friedman of Hot Rod Cameras, for a sneak-peek at his Canon EOS 5D Mark II mod for PL-mount lenses.

Sundance was once a laid-back gathering of the indie film tribe in a declining 19th Century silver mining town. Then came Miramax, Hollywood, a dot-com bubble, the 2002 Winter Olympics, major corporate sponsorship. As quaint Main Street was doubled in length, development exploded in the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. A local library, a high school, a hotel, a racquet club, even a synagogue were pressed into service as screening venues for the ballooning festival. more…


Leitner's Cinematography Corner is a new destination for reviews, blogs, notes, and opinions from longtime millimeter Contributing Editor David Leitner, who also happens to be an award-winning director, producer, and cinematographer of independent films showcased at film festivals like Sundance and Berlin. Leitner argues that since everything's now digital outside of cameras and projectors that shuttle celluloid, "digital" has lost its cachet. Leitner's Cinematography Corner will instead frame innovations in production gear as the latest advances in the long march of motion-picture technology, well over a century old. And never lose sight of the fact that technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.


September 2014
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