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Upstream Color - Hacked Gh2 Success - Case Study
  • The cinema release of this movie deserves its own thread: it's no longer merely a Sundance entry or a good point earned as an SLR camera's entry to feature films, but finally we have a film getting real reviews by film reviewers. Hardly any critic uses the word "indy" or refers to the "look" of the hacked GH2. They go on the journey! Like Shane Carruth's film or not, they're talking about it in film terms: the story, the actors...

    This, folks, is a coming-of-age of our il' baby, the hacked GH2!

    One way to put it is like this: we now have a benchmark; an aesthetic which we know works, at least with a particular kind of movie genre. Now, some of us might like to take a closer look at every aspect of how Upstream Color was lit, shot and post-produced - and slavishly replicate this in every way with another script. Sounds stupid and un-creative, but that's exactly how film completion insurers and financiers like it!


    Some reviews:

    The Guardian

    The Sydney Morning Herald

    And more to come - keep an eye on IMDB

  • 29 Replies sorted by
  • Saw it at the NZ film festival - was disappointed, it looked nice however it just a glorified student film. Some nice visuals, some nice ideas, but a pretentious mess.

  • Has anyone seen any "The Making Of" videos about Upstream Color?

    I'll try and consolidate some other PV-posted info here...

    @kazuo wrote here:

    The film Upstream Color, ..., was reportedly shot with the Nokton 25mm. Check it out and see if the lens works for you. Watch in particular how the Nokton behaves in the wider shots.

    @JDN wrote HERE:

    just watched Upstream Color and it was a solid reminder of two things

    1) Even the gh2 is more than enough camera for any project and

    2) Shallow DOF (not 5d shallow, but shallow) remains such a key ingredient in making something appear like a film and the m43 sensor size is really great for that, and was put to excellent use in Upstream Color (especially in an indie context where m43 gives up a bit more safety on focus pulls than s35, without losing the bokeh-y backgrounds you want); would have been much harder to do on s16, although certainly not impossible.

    @jleo wrote HERE (speaking of CBC News review):

    Not bad coverage for a one man band with two hacked GH2's!

    SO far we seem to know they used two hacked cameras and maybe a Nokton 25 lens.

    NoFilmSchool say:

    we do know that they used at least a Rokinon 85mm lens, and supposedly Voigtlanders were used for much of the shoot.

    IMDB's "Technical Details" for Upstream Color include are just one technical detail, "Panasonic GH2"- but we really want to hear much more. As we have read, the producers have been tight-lipped about revealing much about their technical details, (and I can understand why). Observers are quite ready to discuss about the film's innovative Distribution but that's off-topic here.

    I cannot download the movie but have ordered the DVD and will by watching it at least twice: once for the heart, and thereafter for the brain - to try and see what they're doing.

    Any more info would be welcome :-)

  • It showcases both the virtues and perils of doing "everything" yourself. I'd say he was the wrong choice for the male lead, and there's a certain incoherence in the writing, but it offers ambitious content, which can't be said of most "indie" movies, where the only ambition on display is the writer/director's desire to be rich and famous. And its production value was/is something of a landmark for the budget (a reported $50K).

    It also showcases both the virtues and failings of the GH2. Where the shots are exposed within the GH2's limited DR, it looks grand, a real professional sheen. When that range is exceeded, not so good. But you have to admire the guy. This is not the usual bland, visually unaccomplished low-budget buddy talk-fest.

  • It was mentioned in a Criterion DVD Forum that Carruth doesn't want any EXTRAS on the bluray or DVD release. One reason that producers often keep budget and technical details about a movie confidential is: it can affect how much they can get in a distribution deal. Even though this movie was self distributed. Directors, like magicans, may not want to reveal their methods. Keeping it a mystery. David Lynch had no extras BTS on Mulholland Drive.

    RE DIY moviemaking...There's a movie about Orson Welles: One Man Band. Exiled from Hollywood, scraping up money to buy film, he travelled the world with a flatbed editing table in a suitcase ( his version of a Macbook Pro), shooting feature films piecemeal over many years, often dubbing his own voice for other actors. He even snuck into Hollywood studios hidden in a trunk of a car, with film students, because he couldn't afford to rent the studio. When studio guards came by, he would hide in the trunk until they passed! This is the same filmmaker who once had access to the finest cinematographers, set designers, etc before he was persona non grata in Hollywood!

  • Just two comments: the stated reason for not discussing production details was that Carruth was fed-up with the treatment given Primer -- all the emphasis on how he did it, and no the film itself.

    And Upstream Color was by no means a DIY production-- it had multiple producers and a sizeable crew.

  • all the emphasis on how he did it, and no the film itself.

    yeah, I read that too, but "Entertainment Tonight culture" unfortunately, is all about Behind the Scenes, who's in it, etc and not about the movie. Some like the publicity machine, some don't. But movie marketing is unlike marketing for any other "product", they have to lure the audience out of the comfort of their homes during a crucial opening weekend of 3 days or its all over! Festival films may have longer to build up a buzz. Some films even come out a year or two after festival circuit if at all.

    At Boxofficemojo, under Genre, it's listed as "mindbender" !

  • My wife and I rented Upstream Color on Amazon a few months back. It was shot beautifully. The cinematography was well done. The story was interesting, but it got to a point where it was a little too out there for me. I understood where it was going, but once it was over, I felt like I checked it off my list and doubt I'd go back to it.

  • I mostly wanted to see it because I was curious about the GH2's performance in a theatre on a larger-than-computer screen, and I had hope that it would have a good story. I was disappointed on the story and how slow it moved. It seemed to fit quite a few indie stereotypes.

    I was pretty impressed by the sound though and how much work and effort went into the post-audio too (both from what I heard and read later).

    As far as the tech side, a buddy of mine who was in the crew could only tell me the name "driftwood" as far as the hack. He didn't say which specific one.

  • @kingmixer How would you say the image held up on the big screen?

  • @matt_gh2

    Most of it comes off as a fully professional, full-resolution production, with the exception of lighting extremes. Of course, if you're actively looking for GH2 defects, you'll see them.

  • a fully professional, full-resolution production, with the exception of lighting extremes

    That's what I personally see with any movie shot on digital. Most DPs know when to back off and what scenes to re-shoot or delete.

    For me, the only thing which often makes me overlook greenish night-scenes or blown-out highlights within a digi movie is a cleverly mixed genre where there's enough semi-documentary content mixed with the narrative. This allows me to believe and then to dream. (e.g. in the Social Network) -with its based-on-a-true-story background.

    I still haven't seen Upstream Color and I'm keen to see how Carruth's team approached the mutually tricky problem of digital's latitude and suspension of disbelief required by the narrative (movie) genre.

  • I still haven't seen Upstream Color

    @goanna maybe it's time ... then you can give your personal opinion/view/feeling/feedback.
    Hope you don't interpret this the wrong way but starting a post where success is claimed from something you still haven't laid your eyes on... I personally take more "serious" a grounded subjective opinion; even if I don't share same view point; than neverending speculative BS that this days fills every corner of virtual exchange relations :-)

  • @jrd Thanks. Good to hear it looks good in theater.

  • It looked great in the theater. I saw it and if you weren't looking at from a what-camera standpoint it could have been shot on any professional level camera, film or digital. The look of the film was one of it's high points.

    The soundtrack was great, though I found the voice track a bit low (my bad hearing probably)

    The story was interesting, and in some ways it was very compelling. Other times it was slow. Sometimes I just want to be told what something means directly and not have to fill in the blanks like a some puzzle. The lead actress was good, but I didn't feel much "Connection" between her and the lead actor/director. It seemed a bit cold, which may have been what he was after. I would have preferred more of a connection (chemistry maybe?) between the two and I would have cared more.

  • @matt_gh2

    I was pleasantly surprised how it held up on the big screen. After seeing how quickly the image degrades between old player size on vimeo and their newer, bigger-size player, I couldn't imagine it holding it's on a theatre screen.

    Yet it did very well mostly. Hard to explain, but in some shots you could kind of tell the image capabilities were really being pushed – like it didn't have much more latitude before it'd fall completely apart. If I wasn't critically analyzing it, probably wouldn't have noticed, but yes there were times I could tell it didn't have that normal theatre image "sheen" to it (could be grading/post though).

  • @matt_gh2 On the big screen I noticed some Canon-esque lack of resolution in the wide shots, which I thought was interesting. It looked a hell of a lot better than all of the Canon EOS shot films I've seen on a cinema screen, as you might expect - GH2 resolution is enough to look rich and detailed on a TV or monitor, and Canon's don't even reach that standard, so when they're blown up that big it's quite a mess. Here, it was only a very minor quibble and I think most viewers wouldn't notice. Close-ups and medium shots looked great. I saw moire in one shot and aliasing in a handful. Again, a big improvement over every 5D/7D indie I've seen projected.

    The texture of the images look really nice. Colours are great.

    @jrd "I'd say he was the wrong choice for the male lead"

    I suspect he cast himself just to save money, rather than paying another person to hang around for most of the shoot. The role seems intentionally written so as not to require much flexing of his acting muscles, and all the heavy emoting is placed on the shoulders of the female lead. I thought he did ok and got the job done, and I've seen worse acting in much bigger indies. Pretty smart use of resources.

    Overall, the film is actually pretty good and a technical marvel. There's a huge scope to the vision on display for a film made with such limited means. I can't say I was always loving the film as I watched it, and I was pretty lost at times, but a lot of images and ideas in there have stayed with me. There are some utterly gorgeous shots, and the score and sound design are very striking. Looking forward to what this guy does next, and I might even watch this one again for some more clarity.

  • @kingmixer and @cde Thanks for info. I had a feeling the GH2 images would basically hold up on big screen. Very cool

  • @maxr

    Time to see the movie? Couldn't agree more! FWIW, I'm poor, busy and my internet here in the desert is $$excruciating [and not about to get any faster or cheaper after Aus election!]. So I'll wait for my Blu-Ray to arrive from the USA and drive my Hilux over juddering corrugations to the Post Office. Maybe my in-town daughter can organise a download in the meantime.

    Nevertheless, Upstream Color is being received well. They've done something right and I'm genuinely interested in others' candid impressions of (a) technical quality; (b) whether they were so swept up in the story they didn't even notice technical considerations - and (c) any leaks as to how they got the look!!

  • @johnnymossville

    The soundtrack was great, though I found the voice track a bit low

    AVS Forum (for Home Theatre buffs) notes:

    UPSTREAM COLOR - Blu-Ray looks and sound great, but has serious audio sync issues

    The 5.1 mix for the film goes out of sync just after the 28 minutes mark and apparently drifts in and out the rest of the way.

    I may see if I can cancel my Blu-Ray order and get a corrected version.

  • @goanna Don't worry about being "swept up in the story" to where you don't notice technical stuff. It's definitely slow/artsy enough to give you plenty of time to ponder.

  • @kingmixer artsy (oohh) that can give rise to artsy as in "All my friends are praising it so I'd best keep my feelings to myself." (Emperor's New Clothes syndrome) :-(

  • I saw this on a big screen and Carruth was there to do a Q&A afterwards. Personally, I was too swept up in the story to notice any technical problems. I thought it looked great overall, even with some weird lighting. I agree with whoever said he shouldn't have taken the lead. I think this guy could be a legend once he learns to give up some control. He talked about how he feels uncomfortable allowing anyone to do anything for him. He is directly in control of everything from editing to cover art (He did say he had an editing 'consultant' and would have been lost without him.)

    To me, the most impressive thing about the film is the soundtrack. It's brilliant without being overbearing. Someone asked him if he had a background in music and he simply replied with 'no.' They then asked how he made such a good soundtrack on his own, to which he said 'I taught myself' and moved onto the next question.

    The story itself is a mindfuck. You get the sense that there's something bigger going on, but it's difficult to put your finger on it. I was convinced that the entire thing was a metaphorical diatribe against mainstream media. That was based on the choice of Walden as the book the lead obsesses over, and the apparent themes of control by a central party that are prevalent through the whole movie. But in the Q&A Carruth stated that the book was an accidental choice and was used more for the descriptions of nature than its overarching philosophy.

    I've read most of the interviews he's done and the one below is by far the most interesting (Nothing GH2).

    Getting drunk with Shane Carruth

  • @goanna for reading ONLY when you've watched, because of spoilers ;-) , there's another thread in the forum focused in UC >> GH2 at Sundance! Hope you manage to pull the stunt - seems Carruth himself's the one taking things in FedEx boxes and carries them by hand to the post office - of watching it :P , I'd love to hear your thoughts about it

    @dumile right after UC public release, you could listen to whole soundtrack in Carruth's own soundcloud account. Not anymore. Soundcloud link

    You're right, great interview!!! Thank U

    It's the kind of movie people want to know more about, and it's also the kind of movie that depends on the audience knowing nothing

    And so, as often happens with dense, inscrutable works of art made by nerdy, cerebral white men, a cult formed. - ja ja ja

    "I think if I was part of the filmmaking community, I would have bought into the idea that 'Oh, yeah, we're all trying, but you've gotta pitch; you've gotta raise money; you've gotta hire a DP; you've gotta do all this stuff.' I think the sheer fact that I was so naive and didn't know any of that stuff is what made me decide to just go do it."

    He gave up on the project. He gave up on the meetings. He thought about quitting, going back to engineering or starting a family. - ja ja ja so funny

    He says he hasn't really dated anyone since Primer

    The film makes the most sense when it's stopped making sense entirely

    What happens, I ask, if Upstream Color does what it seems poised to do, which is become an incredibly well-reviewed, reasonably financially successful independent film, and Carruth gets all the same Hollywood calls that he got after Primer?

    "I don't take those calls anymore."

    You sure about that?

    "Um, it's already started, and it's already stopped, so yeah, I'm sure. I mean, that's the thing, is like, it's not malicious; it's not like I'm angry. It's just that I know something they don't know, which is that there really is no conversation to be had."

  • the aesthetic of this film has been discussed by some of the professional reviewers and every time it's mentioned they say the look of this film is fantastic, slick, modern, just beautiful.