FilmTech, 3-D, and a new generation of filmmakers - 5 questions with Stefan Weinberger

The technological progress occurring in film production today is largely being driven by younger, tech-savvy filmmakers, who comfortably use smart devices in every part of their lives. The film industry is also disproportionately young - over 50% of industry employees are 35 or under. This age distribution means emerging digital production tools, like ours at Lua, don't have to overcome steep software learning curves with most film employees.

We sat down to chat with Stefan Weinberger, a good friend and outstanding cinematographer, who is currently finishing up his studies in the cinematography program at AFI (American Film Institute), to chat about technology and film. He gave us the scoop on how new production technology figures into his curriculum, what software he's been using on set and his thoughts on 3D film.

What is your program at AFI? /What is the school like as a whole?
Basically AFI (American Film Institute) is a two-year graduate MFA program in film. It operates on a conservatory model, meaning your education is discipline specific. I’m in the Cinematography program, but we also have Directors, Producers, Screenwriters, Editors, and Production Designers. Each discipline has its own curriculum, but everyone teams up and works together on a number of different projects each year. You make three short films in your first year, and then one larger “thesis” film in your second year.

Can you talk about the value of filmmaking school as opposed to learning on your own?
The most valuable aspect of going to AFI versus learning on my own would be the quality of feedback I receive on my work. You can watch movies, make movies, do research or analysis on your own, but its hard to really grow without receiving quality criticism. The experience of having a veteran ASC Cinematographer watch your work and point out 25 different things you could have done better is an invaluable, albeit sometimes painful experience, but that’s what has been most important so far.

Would you say AFI is pretty up to date as far as film technology goes? To what extent do they educate you in new technologies for film?
A lot of that responsibility falls on you yourself to stay up to date on everything, because at the rate things are going it would be impossible to incorporate every bit of new technology into the AFI curriculum. That being said, we’re exposed to a lot of great information about what’s new/forthcoming.
One of our teachers, Bob Primes ASC, conducted what’s probably the most comprehensive evaluation of new Single-Chip video cameras and shared his findings with us every step of the way, so that was super helpful. For that kind of research you usually have to go to something like the NAB Expo, but we got to be exposed to it all at school. Also, because of the close connection between the ASC and the AFI faculty we get to hear a lot about what’s on the horizon, both through our own teachers and guest speakers that come in.

What type of technology do you see students using on set that isn’t necessarily part of the standard process yet? What type of technology do students seem averse to?
There’s definitely an adeptness with new technology that comes with being part of the younger generation of filmmakers. There doesn’t seem to be any technology that students are averse to, it just depends on the ways in which people like to work. I definitely rely heavily on iPhone apps like PCAM, Helios, Toland, etc., to help with my prep work and to make calculations on set.

As a cinematographer how do you feel about 3D technology in film today? Do you plan on/look forward to using 3D in your films?
I would love nothing more than to be completely blown away by a 3D film, but unfortunately it hasn’t happened for me yet. I’m never 100% satisfied with things like convergence and exposure in the 3D films I’ve seen, but I’m hoping someday someone will totally nail it. I’m not actively seeking any 3D projects, but I’m definitely conscious of it as a potentially effective tool, so if the right script came along I’d be more than happy to shoot it 3D.