HP has been closely aligned with the movie industry, supplying workstations and technology. The most highly publicized relationship has been with DreamWorks Studios. HP developed the $2400 DreamColor monitor in conjunction with the studio because the artists and animators needed bright displays with a wide color gamut and advanced color calibration capabilities.
Also, HP developed its futuristic Halo system in conjunction with DreamWorks. The Halo is a high-resolution videoconferencing system widely used in the film industry to enable people involved in content creation to see the results of the day’s shooting, or to have meetings no matter where all the parties are located. And, of course, HP is happy to provide workstations for productions. There is clearly some advertising and marketing trade-off: Consider the nearly ubiquitous association of the Kung Fu Panda with HP computers.
HP’s work in the movie industry has not been confined to movies with a lot of name recognition and high-production values. A more recent collaboration for HP is its work with Bandito Brothers, a production company formed to create movies that combine the realism and impact of documentaries with high-energy action. These are boy movies, and Bandito Brothers’ idea is to create these films on screamingly tight budgets, so it’s all upside.
Jacob Rosenberg, CTO and a director at Bandito Brothers, talked about the young company at HP’s introduction of the Z1. In addition, Nvidia and HP teamed up to sponsor a Hollywood screening of the company’s first feature film, Act of Valor, which celebrates the exploits of Navy SEALs and features real SEALs as actors in the starring roles.
Rosenberg says the partners involved in Bandito Brothers, including Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy, met during the production of Dust to Glory (2005). Significantly, both Dust to Glory and now Act of Valor were digital productions that leveraged low-cost cameras and relied exclusively on workstations for the postproduction work. Dust to Glory, a motorcycle documentary built around the Baja 1000 motorcycle race, came and went without too much of a splash, but Act of Valor opened big and made its money back—and then some—during opening weekend. The movie cost approximately $18 million to make. It brought in $24.5 million during the first weekend.
“We’re an absolute bootstrap company,” Rosenberg says, and the company got a leg up from the Department of Defense.
In 2008, the DOD wanted to increase its Special Ops forces to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Navy’s Special Operations branch solicited proposals for a film to boost SEAL recruitment. Bandito Brothers’ Waugh and McCoy applied for the job. They had already directed a short documentary about Naval Special Warfare Boat Teams. They got the job, and began work on the film that would become Act of Valor.
According to Rosenberg, the crew turned to HP after “stumbling across DreamColor.”
In February 2011, Waugh and McCoy finished the film and began offering it to distributors. In May, the SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden. The low-budget action movie suddenly became a hot commodity. A bidding war ensued, and Relativity Media won the distribution rights. Relativity put plenty of marketing muscle behind the effort.
Act of Valor isn’t exactly a critical darling. It is doing well at the box office because it is promoted as a real-life action movie starring real heroes using live ammunition. No one is expecting Oscar-worth performances, but the acting is passable. The movie was shot in 48 days over the span of a year, and it was filmed in 12 states and five countries—often in harsh and technology-deficient locales.
The story is without complexities. It starts with the fictionalized extraction of Agent Morales (actress Roselyn Sanchez), who has been captured and tortured, and then moves on to neutralize an imminent threat to the US via border-crossing tunnels in Mexico.
For the shoot of Act of Valor, Bandito Brothers set up a trailer containing HP EliteBook Mobile Workstations that backed up captured footage to hard drives as soon as it came off the camera. The crew used Blackmagic Design USB 3.0 Pocket UltraScopes. While on location, Bandito Brothers also used HP DreamColor displays to immediately review the work. Bandito Brothers captured roughly 200 hours of raw 5D footage (4TB of data) and 20 to 30 hours of film footage that was rendered, edited, and processed on HP Z800 Workstations equipped with Nvidia Quadro FX 5800 and Tesla GPU compute AIBs.
Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut works frequently with directors McCoy and Waugh. He is a fan of the Canon DLSRs in production work because they can be part of the action. For Act of Valor, Hurlbut used Canon D5 Mark II digital SLR cameras. The advantage of the Canon cameras was they produced sharp, clear images, and they’re small. They can be strapped into tight spaces and onto motorcycles. They don’t cost a huge amount of money, so the team can put the camera at risk in order to get a shot.
The Canons were used for about 70 percent of the shooting, says Rosenberg, with some supplemental help coming from traditional 35 mm cameras. The team created consistent color profiles, specifically Rec 709, for the cameras.
Hurlbut used as many as 15 cameras simultaneously for certain shots. The team developed a new helmet mount that gave a better field of view and more realistic views when one of the SEALs was wearing it. In addition, the Bandito camera men took some amazing close ups of the Seals in action—real action—jumping out of planes, speeding through traffic on motorcycles, escaping from the bad guys in a pickup truck, and inside a nuclear submarine.
On the software side, Rosenberg says the team used Adobe Premiere and Corel AfterShot to edit. They also used Cinefilm Dark Energy for conversation shots to create consistent film grain. Dark Energy, as well as Premiere and AfterShot, take advantage of GPU compute for hardware acceleration.
With Adobe CS5.5 Premiere Pro running on Nvidia Quadro GPUs, Bandito Brothers imported RAW footage directly into Premiere Pro and could see instantly what they had. Knowing whether they “got the shot” dramatically sped up production. Premiere Pro supports editing of RAW footage taken from the Canon 5D, giving them much more flexibility in the way they worked.
These are techniques that are going to change moviemaking and change Hollywood. The work of Bandito Brothers is a great example of that. They’re guys who love action movies and motorcycles. Co-founder McCoy is a stuntman. Hurlbut and Rosenberg are technologists who take advantage of new tools to get an expensive look on a budget. All are striving for immediacy and to give the audience the feeling that they are there in the action. In the case of Act of Valor, the feel is often that of a first-person shooter.
For all the emphasis put on high-budget 3D movies, animation, and big-star vehicles, it’s easy to forget what is increasingly becoming possible on small budgets. This is filmmaking that can be accomplished without big sets and lots of expensive post work. It can be shot on location, and often filmmakers on the run with compact cameras get in and obtain their shots without closing off streets and asking permission. There will be good movies and bad movies that get made this way, but above all, there will be lots of movies. There will be much more international content created, and small movies. Many of them will be personal and labors of love.
Bandito Brothers camera team preps to film Navy SEAL in Relativity's Media's upcoming release, "Act of Valor." Image credit: IATM LLC. Copyright 2012 Relativity Media, LLC.