Secrets Of The Dead: Gangland Graveyard, Premiering November 16th On PBS, Is First National Tv Show Shot With


Emmy Award-Winning Cinematographer Larry Engel Serves as DP, Writer, Director

Last Updated: October 21, 2005 4:22 pm GMT
(SECAUCUS, NJ - October 2005) When the documentary “Gangland Graveyard” for Thirteen/WNET New York’s Secrets of the Dead series premieres on Wednesday, November 16th, it will mark the first airing of a national television show that was shot in the tapeless Panasonic DVCPRO P2 series solid-state memory format.

“Gangland Graveyard,” is Six Feet Under meets the Sopranos in a true crime investigation. Award-winning writer, producer/director Larry Engel’s production details the rise and shocking fall of the “Last Don” Joe Massino.  Featuring interviews with Joe Pistone, a.k.a. Donnie Brasco, and FBI Special Agents, “Gangland” chillingly recounts how a severed foot, two checks, and old fashioned detective work solve a twenty-year-old murder mystery.

“Gangland” was produced by Optomen Productions, Inc. (Beth Hoppe, executive producer) for Thirteen/WNET New York (Jared Lipworth, executive producer) in association with the UK’s Channel 4 (David Glover, commissioning editor) and is available through Channel 4 International.

“Gangland’s” Larry Engel is an Emmy award-winning producer, writer, director, and cinematographer with 30 years of documentary filmmaking experience.  He has shot documentaries and independent films with Panasonic’s VariCam HD Cinema™ camera, and documentaries with the company’s AG-DVX100A 24p mini-DV camcorder.  “I absolutely love Panasonic’s line of 24p cameras -- mini-DV through HD -- for the filmic ‘look of history’ it immediately gives me,” the filmmaker said.

It was through Engel’s longtime association with the New York-based prominent film, HD and digital camera equipment supplier, Abel Cine Tech, Inc., that Engel came to use Panasonic’s AJ-SPX800 2/3” DVCPRO50/DVCPRO P2 camcorder. “What really sold me on the SPX800,” explained the filmmaker, “besides the fact that it’s tapeless, is the media proxy feature.  This meant I could immediately have a low-res image with burnt-in time code that the executive producer could screen.”

Optomen Production’s CEO/President Beth Hoppe agreed.  “Working on an international co-production with New York’s WNET/Thirteen and the UK’s Channel 4 was made much easier with the proxies. If I wanted to show David Glover in the UK a great piece of Joe Pistone, all I had to do was email it to him. And this was just minutes after it was shot.”

"Since its inception, Thirteen's Secrets of the Dead has been ahead of the curve in seeking out the latest technological  advances -- both within the programs themselves and in the production process," said executive producer Jared Lipworth. "Whether it’s using revolutionary cameras to smooth the transition from camera to edit room or a profile of innovative forensic accounting methods used to uncover financial links between mobsters, it’s all about using new techniques to re-examine the past."

On the SPX800, a PC card slot is provided to accept a range of options, including an MPEG-4 Proxy Video Encoder. Proxy video -- available in three quality choices -- may be recorded to P2 cards and SD Memory cards; this proxy data recording and wireless LAN functions facilitate the transfer of low-resolution proxy AV streams with wireless ease for subsequent viewing on a producer/editor’s PC or PDA.

Engel said, “What was truly amazing is that the production team from Optomen, along with broadcasters Thirteen/WNET, and UK’s Channel 4 were all willing to try this new technology,  even though we had only a 10-week production cycle.”

Engel relied upon Abel Cine Tech’s Director of Technical Development, Jesse Rosen, to assist in a proof-of-concept evaluation of the P2 technology and the organization of a workflow that was most suitable for the way production wanted to work.

”After this evaluation period,” Engel noted, “everyone was sold on the proxy video feature, and it turned out to be our biggest advantage. We didn’t have to clone tapes. There were no screeners, no log and capture, and every day we had footage in low-res form on a server that everyone could view. As it turned out, we didn’t shoot our re-enactments until half-way through production -- a little scary -- but what I shot was immediately available and used by my editor the next day.”

Engel noted that he shot in DVCPRO50 24p, with Fuji (superwide) and Canon (normal) lenses, and that the image rendition was “gorgeous.” 

He said, “The P2 system works very well for documentaries, especially in terms of production and post, and assuming that you have enough cards and storage so you don’t have to be constantly downloading. I liked having a big camera with the built-in color 3.5” LCD monitor where I could easily review video clip thumbnails. I certainly didn’t miss videotape.”

The filmmaker said that “Gangland Graveyard” was edited on Final Cut Pro 5 and finishing was done at Swete, in Manhattan. “Finishing was greatly simplified with P2, as there was no need to auto-conform,” Engle noted. “Essentially, finishing entailed making sure the look was okay in terms of color correction, transitions, etc.”

He concluded, “Gangland Graveyard” represents a lot of executives with a lot at stake agreeing to go with a new technology. We’re all striving to find a workable tape-less system—that’s where we’re headed. With the right machine, we can see it happening right now, as we learn how the workflow changes, and realize new costs and new benefits.”

EP Beth Hoppe concurred, “It is important for companies like Optomen to explore the cutting edge of technology. We would absolutely use this system again.”

Optomen Productions is the U.S. subsidiary of the acclaimed London production company Optomen Television.  Helmed by multiple award-winning President/CEO Beth Hoppe, the company specializes in high quality non-fiction television programs.  Optomen Productions has produced for HBO, A&E (Role Reversal), The Discovery Channel, TLC, Lifetime, PBS, and the Food Network (Tyler’s Ultimate).

Filmmaker Larry Engel has been honored with a host of nominations and awards including a Daytime Emmy® for Best Cinematography, an AAAS- Westinghouse Science Journalism Award for excellence in science writing for television, and the Mountain Spirit award from Mountainfilm in Telluride. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America East, the Directors Guild of America, UFVA, AIVF and the Explorers Club.

SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Gangland Graveyard premieres Wednesday, November 16 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). Visit the SECRETS OF THE DEAD web site at for more information.

Now in its fifth season, the award-winning SECRETS OF THE DEAD strand has devoted episodes to such topics as Nazi scientists, gangland graveyards, the Salem witch trials, Stonehenge, the Jamestown colony, the Titanic, the black plague, the Great Fire of Rome, and the ill-fated South Pole expedition of Robert F. Scott. 

Thirteen/WNET New York is one of the key program providers for public television, bringing such acclaimed series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Charlie Rose, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Wide Angle, Secrets of the Dead, and Cyberchase – as well as the work of Bill Moyers – to audiences nationwide.  As the flagship public broadcaster in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area, Thirteen reaches millions of viewers each week, airing the best of American public television along with its own local productions such as The Ethnic Heritage Specials, The Thirteen Walking Tours, New York Voices, and Reel New York.  With educational and community outreach projects that extend the impact of its television productions, Thirteen takes television “out of the box.”  And as broadcast and digital media converge, Thirteen is blazing trails in the creation of Web sites, enhanced television, CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs, educational software, and other cutting-edge media products.  More information about Thirteen can be found at

The SPX800 combines a high-performance 2/3” 3-CCD camera with 24fps and 30fps progressive and 60 fields interlace recording in 25Mbps DVCPRO and 50Mbps DVCPRO50 format on a P2 card. The camera features five PC card-sized P2 card slots, providing up to 80 minutes record capacity at DVCPRO and 40 minutes in DVCPRO50 with 4GB P2 cards. A unique advantage of the DVCPRO P2 series is that recording time increases as the capacity of available P2 cards increases.

Panasonic’s DVCPRO P2 series products -- adopted by more than 70 U.S. TV stations -- are fully compatible with DVCPRO, the industry’s standard for digital newsgathering and production, and provide a seamless migration path to DVCPRO HD.  DVCPRO P2 offers nonlinear acquisition and instant access to material, high-speed file transfer, laptop field editing without requirement for proxy videos, and compatibility with off-the-shelf data storage drives for low-cost archiving, while eliminating traditional digitizing and ingesting operations. The core DVCPRO P2 products --  AJ-SPX800 camcorder, new AJ-SPC700 camcorder, AJ-SPD850 recorder, and AJ-PCD10 drive -- eliminate transports and mechanisms, resulting in a significant maintenance cost-savings because of the absence of any moving parts that can break down or wear out from repetitive use. Moreover, DVCPRO P2 products are resistant to environmental extremes including shock, vibration, and humidity. The P2 card is re-usable, allowing a user to substantially reduce media budgets. For more information, visit

About Panasonic Broadcast       
Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. is a leading supplier of broadcast, professional video and presentation 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, access the company’s web site at



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