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Format Wars

Sep 9, 2009 12:00 PM, By Michael Goldman

The end of film for TV production?


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For Fox’s Bones, which switched to digital acquisition this season, the production tethers the Steadicam rig to a backpack worn by an assistant. Inside the backpack is a Sony SR deck recording to HDCAM SR tape.

For Fox’s Bones, which switched to digital acquisition this season, the production tethers the Steadicam rig to a backpack worn by an assistant. Inside the backpack is a Sony SR deck recording to HDCAM SR tape.

What DPs think

millimeter: How did you decide what digital camera system to employ, what were your concerns about maintaining your show’s look when switching to digital acquisition, and what were some of your solutions?

Gordon Lonsdale, DP for Bones: Visually, the look of Bones is a lot of color with rich contrast, and then the look changes with the mood and dramatic theme of each episode. People watching at home, I doubt they will notice the difference this season with [the Sony F35]. A bigger challenge for me was I also was asked to lower my lighting budget, and that requirement largely dictated the choice of the F35. I needed a camera that was very light-sensitive, and this camera does that.

I asked the producers if they wanted the look to change, and they did not. So, with the production designer, gaffer, and key grip, we implemented putting more lighting into the design of the set itself. We replaced some motion-picture lights with practical lights on the set, and we went to less expensive lights for outside the windows. On location, I was able to cut our lighting package drastically, adding a lot of smaller lights I could plug into walls that did not require a generator. I kept a few big lights, but we decided we could get the same lighting from the whole package if we didn’t light as big an area. It was a challenge, but by examining how we lit the show, we were able to save money and still get nearly the same look.

To me, the properties of the F35 are close to film. If I let the camera have the most latitude possible for recording color imagery, shooting in [Cine Mode] and S-LOG, that gives me total control later on [in post]. I still have to light carefully on set, but in post, I can adjust color balance and the midranges to get more control over the image.

Larry Reibman, DP for Medium: We always knew there was a possibility they would want to switch to digital, and once we investigated it, our producers wanted to go for it. We all wanted to take up the challenge of making the show on HD and not letting the viewer know the difference. We looked at various camera systems and finally decided on the Genesis. For us, it was largely a hardware choice because we felt the image would be good with Genesis, F35, the Arri D-21, or the Red camera. Medium is shot 90 percent handheld—that’s the nature of the show. That puts wear and tear on the cameras and limits the use of cables. We wanted to continue to be free running around handheld—that was my initial concern. With Genesis, we can record to [HDCAM SR] tape on board the camera most of the time, unless we are in a real small space, and that let us work the way we were used to working.

Could we make it look like the Medium everyone was used to? Making the actors look the same as always was an early challenge. We made the choice when picking the camera and shutter speed and lenses and filters to develop it to look as much like film as possible. I tested various lenses, and instead of [Panavision] Primo lenses, which we had used previously, we decided to use a set of [Carl] Zeiss Prime lenses that are probably 15 years old. They are a little less crisp and make the image less digital-looking, kinder to the faces. So doing that, with proper filtration where necessary, basically addressed that concern. Focus is still sharper in the HD medium, and that created a big impact on our makeup department, more than any other department. But they worked it out.

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