Rabih Al Haber, a filmmaker based in Saudi Arabia, speaks about the business of TVCs and what drew him to invest in a RED EPIC-W with HELIUM 8K sensor
Rabih Al Haber appeared to be in a very enviable position at the start of his career. With a degree in architecture and a fantastic job on the one side, and the family construction business to look after on the other, should he prefer that, Al Haber was spoilt for choice. But like most aspiring filmmakers who desire to pursue a creative journey, Al Haber found his choices both limiting and uninspiring. So he ditched them in the pursuit of personal happiness and found it in a world of imagination, colour and vivid imagery, which took him on a journey revolving around producing films, documentaries and TVCs. And a big part of that story for the last half a decade has been with the RED.
“I studied architecture and had a career path chalked out for me,” says Al Haber.
But as part of his college degree, he interned as an assistant sound technician at the studio of a new TV station in Lebanon. It was a life-changing moment.
“I knew then that that was my calling. I loved to be in the studio and enjoyed my time there, but had to return to Jeddah soon after for the sake of my family business. I joined my father’s construction company, but left it six months later. I could not see myself doing that for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to work on something I didn’t enjoy, even if it meant starting all over again,” he says.
He seriously sought work in TV and video, and began working at Arab Radio and Television.
“ART was covering the Saudi League football, and a job offer with them was a big deal for me. It was an assistant’s job for a salary of $500. That job gave me an insight into the world of TV and broadcast, and I learnt the ropes slowly. I was moving cables initially. Then I moved into other areas, but it was learning on the job for me. Then I studied sound engineering and secured a diploma in that, and went to Egypt to work in Cinema City.”
He primarily trained in camera work and films through a number of workshops. His first TV show as a full-fledged director was with Rotana.
14 years later, Al Haber runs a successful production house in Saudi Arabia with several big consumer brands among his clientele. While TVCs and corporate films are his bread and butter, he pursues documentary filmmaking on the side, for what he calls his passion projects.
“I love making films but also run it as a business. For me, quality is primary, and exploring new styles and techniques have helped me grow as a filmmaker. With the right tools, you can realise your vision.”
One tool that has helped him execute some of his ideas successfully is the RED camera. More importantly, the RED EPIC W with the HELIUM 8K sensor has helped him push the envelope in terms of executing his creative vision.
“RED cameras have played a key role in recreating the images that I have envisioned in my head. I think this is what draws me to filmmaking – the power to create bright and beautiful snapshots.”
When he started his own production house, Ad Dimension, it was his dream to own a RED camera because it served as the perfect tool for what he had in mind, he says.
Al Haber began his filmmaking career with the Canon D300, a gift from his wife Amal. When he and his partner Hassanain Zaki built a studio, however, they started to secure each piece of inventory, item by item, as the company began to grow. Today, they own 14 cameras including RED, Sony, Canon and Blackmagic Cinema 4K models.
Five years ago, Al Haber made his first investment in the RED SCARLET – which he considers a milestone. Owning a RED camera was not just aspirational for him, but also for the rest of his peers in the Kingdom. He first experienced the power of the SCARLET when he borrowed it for an assignment from Lebanon and then liked it so much that he bought one for himself. More recently, he invested in the RED EPIC-W with HELIUM 8K S35 sensor – he is presently the only person who owns this camera in the Kingdom.
“Owning a RED in Jeddah is indeed a big deal. When the HELIUM 8K sensor was released, I wanted one for our company. There was a lot of buzz in the market about the HELIUM 8K release soon after IBC last year.
“People often ask me why I prefer the RED over, say, the Alexa. Well, it’s a bit like asking someone if they love the Lamborghini or a Ferrari; it’s a very personal choice. I am a RED user and will always be one. RED complements my style of filmmaking. I like to have crisp and sharp images with vivid colour, and RED delivers that for me beautifully,” he says.
Al Haber is in awe of “RED’s colour science, its dynamic range and its R3D format. It’s a great camera. There is a certain aesthetic quality about the RED that fascinates me. The black box look holds immense power, and it’s capable of delivering such fantastic results.”
When the HELIUM 8K sensor was first announced, Al Haber was in the race for one and emailed RED directly, but was told it hadn’t been launched yet.
“Advanced Media in Dubai was the only company in the region that had the camera, so I approached them. I convinced them to sell me the camera. When I posted the news that I had the latest RED camera on social media, no one believed me. Ours is the only production house in Saudi Arabia that owns this camera,” Al Haber proudly declares.
With the RED EPIC-W with HELIUM 8K sensor, Al Haber has shot six TVCs for big campaigns as well as films for the Saudi Arabian government.
The 8K sensor has 17 times the resolution of 1080p video, giving directors more framing options when shooting Full HD or 4K. More importantly, the sensor affords greater colour handling. The EPIC-W captures 8K full-frame motion at up to 30fps. It is also capable of producing 35.4-megapixel stills and offers super 35 lens coverage.
Al Haber says he always shoots in 8K, even though the display is not 8K – “but there is a huge difference in detail”.
8K resolution delivers more possibilities for cinematographers for reframing, visual effects, motion stabilisation and supersampling footage. It gives the ability to do more with your footage in production, without having to reshoot.
This also makes it compatible with standard cinema lenses. The lens matters as much as the sensor, he says, adding that his own choice of lens is the Zeiss Prime.
On the 8K, there is negligible crop factor with the HELIUM. However, shooting in lower resolution like 4K or 6K entails a bigger crop factor.
Comparing the HELIUM and the SCARLET, Al Haber says: “If people don’t know, they won’t see the difference. A colour grader will know the difference.”
The HELIUM sensor is bigger, and has impressive slow motion capabilities: 240fps at 2K full format, 120fps at 4K full format, and 60fps full format (for WEAPON 8K S35).
“I was using the Phantom Flex when shooting with my other cameras, including the SCARLET, but with the HELIUM, I do not require an additional slo-mo camera.”
Al Haber says the Helium 8K has a number of impressive qualities including enviable sensor size, weight, dynamic range and high-speed frame rates.
“It is a very rugged and user-friendly camera,” he says, adding that the clips are graded in RED-CINE-X PRO and you can use the file without losing any quality.
The EPIC-W is capable of recording REDCODE RAW and proxy 4K Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHR/HD formats simultaneously.
8K footage means eight times more data, and handling it is not easy. Al Haber’s production house also handles post-production of the films he produces.
“Data management is quite a task with 8K, but we have a customised MAC to take care of that and the overall post workflow. The MAC has a 64GB RAM and a more sophisticated graphics card and processor. The number of hard discs used to store the footage is much more, but editing our films in-house means we have more flexibility and ease of operation.”
While editing doesn’t interest him – “because it involves sitting inside a room for hours on end” – Al Haber does get involved when the colour grading is done, to ensure he gets the tonal quality he wants out of his projects. He explains that while the journey of a TVC begins with the storyboard, every stage is important and it’s crucial to get it right at the editing and grading desk.
“I have to be convinced by the storyboard. The pre-preparation meeting is the most important for me to have an idea of what the client wants. Then we build the storyboard and decide on the frames. I shoot in 8K now and scale it down to HD.
“Someone once told me that a TVC should give the message in three seconds, and I have made that a ground rule for all of my projects. I often ask for feedback from lay people, because the message is being directed at them.”
Al Haber’s films have a distinctive style and quality. He says people associate his films with colours and camera moves.
“I don’t make ads for social media and YouTube. My ads are made for the big screen and they are to be enjoyed on the big screen. I won’t buy an expensive camera to produce content for a small mobile screen. While I don’t have formal training, I believe that experience is the greatest teacher.”
Al Haber regularly attends RED workshops in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and makes a point of being present at most of the Advanced Media camera workshops in Dubai to ensure that he is abreast of the latest information and new tips on how to stay ahead of the game. He is also an avid diver and licensed underwater filmmaker, and is presently working on a film about the ocean.