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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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Syfy’s Warehouse 13 uses the Panavision Genesis camera and borrowed elements of its digital acquisition approach from other shows on the network--especially Battlestar Galactica.

Syfy’s Warehouse 13 uses the Panavision Genesis camera and borrowed elements of its digital acquisition approach from other shows on the network—especially Battlestar Galactica.

What producers think

For shows born using digital cameras, what is your basic pipeline and workflow approach, and how did you go about choosing that approach for your show?

Greg Tilson, associate producer on Warehouse 13: A large part of the decision to shoot digitally was the success we had shooting digitally for Battlestar Galactica [which aired on Syfy when it was called the Sci Fi Channel, with Tilson serving as postproduction supervisor]. We recently finished a Battlestar movie of the week, and in that, we incorporated footage from the original Battlestar Galactica miniseries, which was shot on film. You can see how seamlessly the miniseries footage and the series footage and new footage, shot digitally, were combined, and how we ended up with a filmic look. We wanted Warehouse 13 to have a filmic look, and that gave us confidence we could do it with digital cameras.

We shoot in Toronto, recording onboard the camera, and then, our master SR tapes go to Technicolor Toronto, they submaster it, sync sound, and create DVCAM dailies for us. Executives look at one set, and our editors cut on [Apple] Final Cut Pro and assemble the show in standard definition. They provide a bin to our [online editor], and the show is then reassembled in HD. We have a backup SR submaster also made, and if something goes missing, or we find a digital hit on a dailies master, we can go back to original or the backup SR tape.

It’s very similar to how we are now shooting [the Battlestar Galactica prequel show] Caprica, except there, we are cutting and assembling in high-def all the way through. [For Warehouse 13], since we don’t have SR decks inhouse, we also turned to [an independent contractor named] Pete Fausone, who essentially serves as our online editor—he does it for several shows, actually. He set up our Final Cut Pro system in our [editorial] suite, and then we cut in standard definition here. We deliver the bin to Pete, and he made a deal with a facility [FotoKem, in this case] to use their equipment to do the assembly [the show is also mastered at FotoKem]. So that is another new trend: dealing with independent contractors for online and other types of services.

Devlin: There is a comfort level to [having everything under one roof for Leverage] and a level of efficiency, but also of security. These days, so much material leaks out to the Internet. In our case, we house it all internally, and that gives us a sense of comfort. If any stuff leaks out, we can only blame ourselves.

We shoot with two or three Red cameras, recording directly to FireWire drives. Our DIT makes three redundant copies of everything. One copy is kept on set and comes back to our offices and goes into our main SAN. And then, every single department in post pulls off that same hard drive—no more trying to move around material from one place to another or handing it off to someone to go back and find the original and scan it and bring it somewhere else. In editorial, if a shot is an effects shot, I can right click on it, and it is in the render queue for the effects people. Same with sound editors—I can pull the same scene up for them. And we are working in full resolution from soup to nuts. Editors [working in the ProRes 422 HQ format on Final Cut Pro] can cut at 4K, and everyone else can see and work the same way.

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