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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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CSI: NY switched from 35mm film to Sony’s F35 camera system, largely using a film-style approach and retaining 35mm film lenses. Cameras record to onboard SR decks, while imagery is transmitted wirelessly for on-set viewing.

CSI: NY switched from 35mm film to Sony’s F35 camera system, largely using a film-style approach and retaining 35mm film lenses. Cameras record to onboard SR decks, while imagery is transmitted wirelessly for on-set viewing.

Adams: [On CSI: NY], switching was up in the air. It was based on some tests CSI: Miami did for an episode last season, but up until about July 1 of this year, [the network] had not decided, and I thought there was a chance we would stay on 35mm. For whatever reason, the trigger was given to switch, and we had done lots of research by then. It became clear to me that the [Arriflex D-21] and the F35 were the most filmlike cameras available. A producer, [Parnell], and myself went down to [rental house] Clairmont Camera to make a decision, and we came to the conclusion that we could use the same 35mm film lenses if we chose the F35, and we could put the SR recording deck onboard, allowing us to treat it a lot like a film shoot. That made it manageable.

But what really helped a lot was incorporating new wireless [IDX CW-5HD] transmitters, which allow us to [view imagery] wirelessly all the time on set. We can record on board the camera and have the [digital imaging technician (DIT)] monitor the wireless signal and send it to us so that we can all watch it on beautiful HD monitors without a bunch of wires. Shooting in S-LOG format, we can really tell color and exposure range, and maybe push the limit a little more than on REC709, a linear digital recording format.

There was also an issue getting our camera operators used to the camera’s viewfinder and not being able to rely on them to see the image detail as well as they used to in the eyepiece. They had to relinquish a little bit of responsibility for focus and small things in the frame. We had to deal with that ourselves on the HD monitor, but we’re getting used to that.

Derek Underschultz, DP for Warehouse 13: We shot the pilot on [Sony’s] F23 system because the F35 wasn’t available yet at that time. But [for the series], we wanted the full 35mm-sized chip, and the Genesis was attractive because it’s basically the F35 with Panavision lensing and software. That choice lets us record to Sony HDCAM SR decks on tape, plus the network had a comfort level having done [Battlestar Galactica] that way. We created [look-up tables] for the pilot, and then for the series, we refined those at Technicolor since we were switching to F35, and reinstalled them in our [Panavision Genesis Display Processor] box so that when we are on set, we can punch up looks that are very accurate to view on our HD monitor.

Other than not having film processing and transfer stages, our post chain is typical, but for us, this is better than shooting film in the sense that we don’t have to wait for a transfer from film to color-timed HD tape, and then reassembly of the final show from that tape. When we want extreme looks, on film, we might not be able to visualize that extreme look on our dailies tapes, since we had to leave room for the final image to be manipulated in tape-to-tape color correction later. So the dailies tapes might have ended up limiting what we did in the final color correction. Here, the transfer of the [original] SR tape is only for dailies color correction and editorial purposes, and therefore, we can experiment and get extreme with a variety of looks that later make it into the final episode.

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