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Author Topic: My Show Goes Digital
Greg Anderson
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 766
From: Ogden Valley, Utah
Registered: Nov 1999


 - posted 06-02-2002 10:08 AM      Profile for Greg Anderson   Author's Homepage   Email Greg Anderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I don't know if this news is really "official" but a certain network TV show with which I've been associated will be switching to HD "digital" cinematography when they start shooting again in about 6 or 7 weeks. I'll try to report my findings on how the cameras perform and how their use affects what actually happens on the set.

In the history of this program, the formats have been like this:

From July 1994 to December 1996 they used 16mm film.

From January 1997 to May 1999 they used "Super 16" for a wider image area (but I don't think this footage was ever actually post-produced in HDTV).

From July 1999 to April 2002 they used Super 35 (with 3-perf pull down) for HDTV post-production (with the Standard 4:3 image taken from the middle of the HDTV frame).

And, from July 2002 to whenever they're going to shoot digitally. I don't think fans of the series have ever noticed any of these changes (because they care more about how a certain actress' hair changes more than they care about this kind of technical stuff).


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Scott Norwood
Film God

Posts: 7991
From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 06-02-2002 11:39 AM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
What was the reason for switching to HDTV production? It's interesting that they chose to do this after it has become pretty clear that HDTV is a non-starter among consumers and that it is rather unlikely that there will ever be a significant market for HDTV programming in the forseeable future.

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Greg Anderson
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 766
From: Ogden Valley, Utah
Registered: Nov 1999


 - posted 06-02-2002 12:09 PM      Profile for Greg Anderson   Author's Homepage   Email Greg Anderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The switch comes with a handful of other cost-cutting measures. (It's an old show with sagging ratings, after all.) I'm assuming that film, film processing, film transfer and similar costs are eliminated, along with (possibly) the job of the guy who used to actually load the film magazines on location. But what I wonder about is how many other headaches might be added to the production side of things. Will the savings in one end of production really be worth it if there are new problems introduced? I will finally get to see the effect and have an educated opinion.


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Jesse Skeen
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1498
From: Sacramento, CA
Registered: Aug 2000


 - posted 06-02-2002 03:18 PM      Profile for Jesse Skeen   Email Jesse Skeen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Checking out HDTV broadcasts at the stores I see the networks are still leaving their stupid logos onscreen. What's the point of having HDTV if you're going to ruin the picture like that? When I upgrade my system to HD I probably won't even bother getting a TV tuner.
BTW I've been EXTREMELY disapponted that the people who work on TV shows haven't thrown a fit over this. If I were just a lowly board operator I would walk off the job before putting on a constant logo!


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Dave Williams
Wet nipple scene

Posts: 1836
From: Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Registered: Jan 2000


 - posted 06-02-2002 05:13 PM      Profile for Dave Williams   Author's Homepage   Email Dave Williams   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I recently watched a sci fi channel series called "exposure". This series takes up and coming film makers and gives them each 30 grand to produce a 15 minute short feature. Each of them uses the HD Sony cams that lucas used for SW2. The quality was extremely impressive, plus they had the added capability to edit on site without having to wait for dailies, and not having to wait to see if they needed a reshoot for whatever reason. Plus, special effects are readily produced on the same system that is used to do all of the final edits to visual and sound. Each of the film makers had all of six days to complete thier features.

If they had used film in any medium, they would have added enourmous cost to the thirty grand they were allotted. With HD video shot at 24fps, they are able to shoot at the same ratio of about 60:1 as a major funded studio picture would be able to do. This does wonders for content quality as they do not have to worry about if thier film budget will be shot to hell trying to get the right shot.

When you are talking about tv features that will NEVER make it to a theater, HD video 24fps is the definate way to go. IF you are trying to make a feature film meant for the theaters, it only works if you are not going to have a large budget to play with as far as film goes.

IF you are GL, you can do whatever you want, because you are, in your own mind, a film god.

But we know the real story, GL is a hack, got lucky once or twice, and now just collects the money most of us are willing to give him.

Yes, I am a sucker for a light saber. I want one.

Dave

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Paul Mayer
Oh get out of it Melvin, before it pulls you under!

Posts: 3835
From: Albuquerque, NM
Registered: Feb 2000


 - posted 06-02-2002 06:14 PM      Profile for Paul Mayer   Author's Homepage   Email Paul Mayer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Greg, what kind of camera are they switching to? One of the EFP types? It'll be interesting to see what differences they run into, since they're used to shooting on film. Is this a single-camera shoot? If they were single-camera film going to HD I would guess there will be some slight changes to how the DP does his/her lighting setups but other than that probably not much else will change.

I've gotten to watch first-hand as two different productions switched to HD, but both of those were regular multi-camera SD shoots. Some of things that changed: Framing of shots, since they now must protect a 4:3 safe area within the 16:9 frame. Until most viewers have 16:9, that extra frame area will be used for just fall-off--they assume that viewers won't letterbox unless or until it's forced on them. This led to some slight re-blocking of the cameras, since one-shots in SD became kinda sorta two-shots in HD. Also, the guests (this was a talk show) and the makeup folks became a lot more picky about their work after seeing the new pictures.

The other production was a regular sports telecast. There, focus became an issue. The camera operators were often missing best focus due to their viewfinder monitors being too small. But down in the truck even slight focus errors were very visible on the HD production and match monitors. They ended up running extra video gain (sacrificed some noise performance) in order to get more depth of field and a little more forgiving focus environment. This was a while ago, so I don't know if viewfinder peaking circuits have been improved to help out with this or not. At the time there was discussion about putting focus overrides on the CCUs, thus allowing the VC touch up focus (as if a good VC doesn't have enough to do during a shoot! Oh I forgot, this was sports. Nevermind. ) In the end I don't think they did that.

In the year 2000 the SMPTE Hollywood Section got a tour of the new HD facilities for The Tonight Show. I don't remember seeing remote focus controls on the Sony HD CCUs I saw there. A funny sidenote: Jay Leno crashed our meeting that night, just as Tonight's TD was giving his presentation. Leno mentioned how doing the switchover to HD had been a long (11 months) and arduous process (not interrupting current production on the same stage) for everyone involved, and said some people had questioned whether the effort had been worth it. He then asked how many of us had HD sets at home. Out of the 350+ SMPTE members and guests that were there, not one hand went up! People were looking all around to see the expected show of hands, and seeing none, started to laugh. To which Leno retorted, "Thank you! I rest my case!" as he walked off in disgust (he was kidding ). It was a funny, kind of embarrassing moment, to see all those high-powered engineering types there with no one owning up to having an HD set yet, but as someone said later during the tour, "We're engineers. We can't afford those things!"

Cheers,

Paul
Gimpy Staff Projectionist, Senior Vidiot
Crown Neonopolis 14
Downtown Sin City, NV USA



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Greg Anderson
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 766
From: Ogden Valley, Utah
Registered: Nov 1999


 - posted 06-02-2002 09:33 PM      Profile for Greg Anderson   Author's Homepage   Email Greg Anderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The production used Arriflex film cameras in the past. It's interesting to me that the network got them started shooting in a 16:9 frame two-and-a-half seasons before the show was ever presented in 16:9. I guess they wanted to really make sure the cinematographers were used to it before the public ever saw it.

Anyway, I'm told that the digital cameras they'll use will be the same Sony model which George Lucas used but without all the Panavision enhancements. The series is a drama which usually shoots single-camera style. I've heard that the digital camera will be attached to a big cable (which, I suppose, will lead to the monitors where the director usually watches). The sound mixer will also need to be hooked into this system. With the Arriflex cameras, of course, the camera was "cordless" and the director watched on a regular TV receiving a low-power video transmission. The sound equipment was also independent of anyone else's gear.

So... this will require many adjustments on the set. As for post-production, many attractive options are introduced. In the past, the exposed film was shipped from Utah to Los Angeles every night. Its was then processed, transfered to video and beamed back to Salt Lake City... where the off-line editors began their work immediately. Now they have the option of making as many "perfect" dubs of the original tapes right here before shipping anything to Los Angeles. Or will they transmit the raw footage to L.A. and never actually send a tape? I don't know.

I'm guessing they won't want to increase the number of set-ups nor the number of takes they would normally do per set-up. Such things would only kill more time and exhaust the cast members (and crew). So I don't imagine they'll take advantage of cost savings to increase the shooting ratio. I guess I'll find out.

And I'll be really interested to find out if the Steadicam can be used with a thick cable coming out of it.

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Mark Ogden
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 882
From: Little Falls, N.J.
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 06-02-2002 09:34 PM      Profile for Mark Ogden   Email Mark Ogden   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Jeff:

From your location I assume you are talking about the Utah based Touched By an Angel. To answer Scott's question, I know this show got some torque from network a few years back, after CBS started a regular prime time HD feed, they wanted to include this show and the 16mm origination just didn't cut it in HD. I personaly viewed the Super 16 to HiDef transfer, and honestly, it looked pretty wretched stacked up against the other network prime time pruduction, the vast majority of which was 35mm based. I know that $$$ is a big issue on this show, so you this may be the way to go to keep things up and running.

It's true, the casual viewer won't notice a damn thing, which makes it the logical move, especially financially. Both 100 Centre Street and Pasadena made 24p work with great technical success, as well.

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Paul Mayer
Oh get out of it Melvin, before it pulls you under!

Posts: 3835
From: Albuquerque, NM
Registered: Feb 2000


 - posted 06-03-2002 01:07 AM      Profile for Paul Mayer   Author's Homepage   Email Paul Mayer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Does that show do all its post in Salt Lake? With the film lab out of the loop, that eliminates much of the need for daily sat links to/from LA if the post is done locally. If creative control is all local about the only sat link needed would be to send the final cut for checking before air, along with shipping the physical tape. If post is in LA I suppose all they'd have to sat link is each day's circled takes and/or the off-line cut. Last time I checked, ad hoc transponder time was running about $350 an hour.

That camera can be configured for standalone recording (ENG style) with a dockable D5HD transport on the back. Or it can be configured with a cable feed (usually just triax, not very thick or heavy) to a separate recording area, which sounds like what your production is going to do. Cable-wise it's not much different from feeding a video tap to a director's monitor. Also, some productions continue to do double-system sound with a separate sound cart, but send a feed from that cart to the HD recorder as an additional backup (D5HD supports four audio tracks). Timecode is probably still the same--no more crystal sync. Are they going to shoot 24P?

Triax cable (if that's what they'll be using) should present no problems for a Steadicam. Most operators simply tie the cable off to their battery belt, allowing enough slack to move the arm freely. An AC or camera utility can page the cable for the operator if need be.

I agree that the shooting ratio probably won't change. No need to if the director is confident and knows what he or she wants.


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Nick Catalano
Film Handler

Posts: 30
From: Whitefish Bay, WI, USA
Registered: May 2002


 - posted 06-03-2002 01:37 AM      Profile for Nick Catalano   Email Nick Catalano   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Most shows moved over to HDTV because it was cheaper than Filmstock and fast in the post... Why NBC switched "The Tonight Show" to HDTV as early as they did is anybody's guess...

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Mark Ogden
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 882
From: Little Falls, N.J.
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 06-03-2002 07:35 AM      Profile for Mark Ogden   Email Mark Ogden   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Y'all are talking about the Sony HDWF-900 'CineAlta', which has a built in VTR Sony HD Cam format, which records uncompressed audio (4 tracks at 48 khz./20 bits). There's no triax (triax is for the most part dead in current camera production), the camera outputs to a fiber-optic cable for monitoring and video control, if they are going to have a VC with a traditional set-up unit (which, if the DP knows his stuff, is not strictly required). The fiber cable is very thin and handles eaisly, but the connectors must be kept perfectly clean internally and the cable has a limit for bending loop-wise. Most lens makers apart from Panavision have put together sets of beautiful and sharp primes for this camera.

I don't know what your role is in production, but if you want to get a leg up on this camera there is a great pocket size operations manual available for it from the Sony Parts Depot on Kansas City, it's part #3-203-941-02.

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Greg Anderson
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 766
From: Ogden Valley, Utah
Registered: Nov 1999


 - posted 06-03-2002 08:10 AM      Profile for Greg Anderson   Author's Homepage   Email Greg Anderson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Strictly speaking, my job over there is non-technical. I'm simply interested in the techinical issues and keep myself informed about them. Plus, the camera guys are all friends of mine and have been very good to me. As far as post production goes, the editors live and work in Utah. All the music and sound effects work is done in Los Angeles... along with any final tweaking in the editing. (There can be countless variables in that process, I'm sure.)

So... I probably won't know what's really going on nor the nitty-gritty details until production begins again.

And, why did The Tonight Show switch to HDTV so early? I wonder. I remember when The Late Show with David Letterman was one of the first shows broadcast in stereo back in the mid-1980s. Seems like NBC likes to use gimmicks like this on late night programming. But... who's watching it that way? Personally, my 7 year-old big screen TV still works fine and I'm not about to dump it just for an HDTV monitor of approximately the same size. Who really has that kind of money (or wants to go into dept for such nonsense)? However, I'm tempted to get an HDTV receiver which would output a letterboxed picture to my NTSC monitor and give me Dolby Digital audio. It'd be somewhat less costly and give me some significant advantages right now... so it's tempting (but I'm guessing the price would be a lot lower if I waited a year).


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Joe Redifer
You need a beating today

Posts: 12859
From: Denver, Colorado
Registered: May 99


 - posted 06-03-2002 11:36 AM      Profile for Joe Redifer   Author's Homepage   Email Joe Redifer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Jay Leno is a big fan of HDTV and used his clout to convert the entire show to HDTV.

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Scott Norwood
Film God

Posts: 7991
From: Boston, MA. USA (1774.21 miles northeast of Dallas)
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 06-03-2002 12:13 PM      Profile for Scott Norwood   Author's Homepage   Email Scott Norwood   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Have the producers of the shows which have switched from film to HDTV given consideration to the archival issues with video? Throughout the '90s, this was one of the major reasons for shooting TV programs on film.

It's interesting to hear that super-16 didn't look very good on HDTV. I haven't seen much HDTV material myself, but the demos that I've seen have been fairly unimpressive. The resolution wasn't a huge improvement over good-quality NTSC and I found the digital compression artifacts and lack of shadow detail to be problematic. Was the super-16 footage that looked bad shot on 500T stock or something? Super-16 holds up very nicely on moderately large screens (look at the blowup of Monsoon Wedding, which is beautiful), so I'd be surprised if well-shot super-16 looked really bad on HDTV if the telecine work was decent.

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Jesse Skeen
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1498
From: Sacramento, CA
Registered: Aug 2000


 - posted 06-03-2002 01:38 PM      Profile for Jesse Skeen   Email Jesse Skeen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Well, since someone who works on a show is reading this, I'll ask again- why HASN'T there been a big uproar in the creative community over this onscreen logo nonsense? I would not even allow anything I shot to be shown on "America's Funniest Home Videos" if a network logo was plastered on it!
HDTV is a joke with this going on- it's just like if radio went to uncompressed digital and multichannel sound and inserted background noise into all the music.


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