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Gonwest Productions shoots Breaking Point, Discovery Channel documentary with Panasonic AJ-HDX900 DVCPro HD CamcordersThe Koppel Group/Discovery Production Airs In October
Gonwest Video Productions (San Francisco, CA), a leading supplier of turnkey crews to all the major broadcast networks, has equipped itself with Panasonic’s AJ-HDX900 multi-format DVCPRO HD camcorder for all its HD production work. Since taking delivery of the HDX900 last fall, Gonwest has used it to shoot an upcoming Discovery Channel documentary on overcrowding in the California prison system anchored by Ted Koppel.
Gonwest was founded in 1987 by Emmy-Award winning Director of Photography Bob Goldsborough. The company has made its niche as a provider of network-quality camera crews to ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and major cable network outlets. DP Goldsborough, a longtime user of Pansonic’s VariCam and DVX100 series cameras, said, “The main selling point of the HDX900 was its ability to shoot 1080i as well as 720p—that capability has opened the door to a whole new category of clientele.”
“Breaking Point,” a two-hour special that will air on the Discovery Channel and Discovery HD Theater on October 7, 9 p.m./ET, is a production of The Koppel Group/Discovery, with Ted Koppel as managing editor and anchor, Tom Bettag Executive Producer, and James Blue, Peter Demchuk, Jay LaMonica and Elissa Rubin Producers.
The prison documentary was shot with two HDX900s (the second rented in the San Francisco Bay Area) early this spring at the Solano State prison in Vacaville, CA. Goldsborough served as Director of Photography, working with cameraman Duane Poquis.
“On the one hand, the producers were going for a cinematic look, so we shot 720/24p,” Goldsborough recounted. “On the other hand, they wanted a certain informality, which meant we worked almost exclusively with available lighting. Hence, we were able to take advantage of the HDX900’s extraordinary light handling abilities.”
“We encountered extreme mixtures of light—sodium vapors, daylight, institutional fluorescents with different color tubes, and with no lighting on the interviews, we achieved the raw feel we were looking for,” Goldsborough continued. “The HDX900 is so sensitive even in very low light and the color rendition on the project is just beautiful.”
The two-week shoot comprised one week of preliminary work shooting housing and inmates, and a second week spent shooting Koppel as he conducted major interviews and on-camera tours of prison conditions.
“As the subject matter indicates, we worked in extremely tight quarters in dorms that housed many, many inmates,” Goldsborough noted. “While Solano is a medium security prison, sometimes we would get a tip to move to the H (‘Hell’) dorm, where the more violent inmates were assigned—we did a lot of work there.”
The HDX900s were outfitted with Fujinon 13 x 4.5 and 18 x 7.6 HD lenses. Goldsborough had Panasonic 17” (BT-L1700W) and 8.4” (BT-LH900A) LCD production monitors on-set.
“We equipped the LH900A with an Anton Bauer battery on the back, and the monitor draws so little power we were able to run it all day long, right alongside the camera for the producer,” Goldsborough said, “We used the 17” monitor on the main inmate interviews, so we could color correct on the spot and get into the gammas on the cameras to achieve the dark, dramatic look we were after.”
In post, HDX900 material was injected into an Avid Media Composer Adrenaline at DVCPRO50 resolution using an AJ-HD1700 DVCPRO HD VTR. “We started off with a standard-def conform, employing an 8TB Avid Unity ISIS media network that allows the SD media to be accessed in four edit suites simultaneously,” said Guy Federico, senior editor with The Koppel Group/Discovery. “As this is an 11-part, 120-minute show, having multiple producers and editors able to create sequences across the platform is a crucial advantage.”
“We’re doing our on-line conform in HD, again using Adrenaline and ISIS,” Federico continued. “We’re very happy with the HDX900 images, and we’re seeing a seamless upconversion to 1080i, which is our broadcast standard deliverable to Discovery.”
Working as cameraman, Goldsborough recently shot segments of a History Channel special, “1968 With Tom Brokaw,” for DP Rob Fortunato, also shooting with an HDX900. The documentary will show the veteran newsman interviewing personalities from the era and also offering his own reflections on the year. The hour-long History Channel will air the special in the fall, timed to the November release of a new Brokaw book, "Boom! Personal Reflections on the Sixties and Today (Random House)," which examines the entire decade.
Recurring Gonwest assignments shot with the HDX900 include HD segments for PBS’ “News Hour” (shot in 1080i) and “Weekend Window” show-ender pieces for the weekend edition of ABC’s “Good Morning, America” (shot in 720p).
For more information about Gonwest Video Productions, visit www.gonwest.com.
About the AJ-HDX900
An indispensable, cost-effective tool for global content creators, the AJ-HDX900 DVCPRO HD supports 1080 59.94i/50i/29.97p/25p/23.98p/23.98pA and 720 59.94p/50p/29.97p/25p/23.98p recording. The
AJ-HDX900 features a native 16:9, 2/3” HD, 1-million pixel 3-CCD system that assures stunning images and produces a high sensitivity of F10 (at 2000 lux) and outstanding low-light shooting down to 0.032 lux (at+62 dB gain). It is equipped with 14-bit A/D DSP circuits that provide optimum picture quality, color reproduction and luminance gradation. The AJ-HDX900 offers superior 4:2:2 color sampling and independent frame compression. The well-balanced camcorder offers impressive built-in, image-enhancing features including three Cine-like gamma modes to replicate the look and feel of film, and is compatible with a wide range 2/3” quality lenses and accessories.
About Panasonic Broadcast
Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. is a leading supplier of broadcast and professional video products and systems. Panasonic Broadcast is a unit company of Panasonic Corporation of North America. The company is the North American headquarters of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (NYSE: MC) of Japan, and the hub of its U.S. marketing, sales, service and R&D operations. For more information on Panasonic Broadcast products, visit www.panasonic.com/broadcast.
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