Panasonic's AG-HVX200 Hand-Held HD Camcorder Affords Olympic Documentarians Priceless Access To The Games' Unguarded Moments
NewsCappy Productions Teams VariCam™ with HVX200 for HD Retrospective to Air on Showtime in Early 2007Last Updated: March 28, 2006 5:09 pm GMT
(SECAUCUS, NJ -- March 28, 2006) For more than 20 years, seven-time Emmy Award winner Bud Greenspan and his independent production company, Cappy Productions (New York, NY) have had the ultra-challenging assignment of producing the official documentary retrospective for the Olympic Games.
With this privileged berth, however, comes the Olympic-sized challenge of producing a full-length piece that relies less on sports' highlights than on close-ups of the unpredictable and unscripted behavior of the competitors. Or as Director of Photography Bob Scott describes it, "Behind-the-scenes access is critical to making a movie about something the whole world has already seen once."
Last month in Torino, Italy, the production team took advantage of Panasonic's AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2 hand-held camcorder to capture HD footage that was unprecedented in its immediacy and intimacy, whether found at the top of a mountain or backstage at women’s figure skating. The HVX200 was used in tandem with three AJ-HDC27 VariCam® HD Cinema cameras, with four camera crews shooting under DP Scott, one of country's most accomplished sports cinematographers.
Currently in post-production, "Bud Greenspan Presents the 2006 Torino Games" will air on the Showtime Network early in 2007, and will be broadly distributed internationally. The documentary will run between 90 – 120 minutes.
The AG-HVX200 offers production-quality, 100Mbps HD video with independent intra-frame encoding, 4:2:2 color sampling, and less compression, making HD content easier and faster to edit and more able to stand up to image compositing versus long GOP MPEG-2 systems.
Scott, himself a VariCam owner, said, "In Torino, we were on the hunt for shots that many months from now will make viewers sit up and say, 'Hey, where were the networks when that happened?' And because the form factor of the HVX200 is so small and unintimidating, we got the shots that no one else had."
Notably, a Cappy cameraman equipped with the five-pound HVX200 was waved into the prep area backstage at the women's figure skating finals, where he was one of only two shooters, the second being the world feed photographer, tethered by a cable to a big camera. There, the Cappy photographer kept the HVX200 trained on Shizuka Arakawa, on her way to becoming the first Japanese Olympic gold medalist in figure skating. The HVX200 captured Arakawa's reactions as she watched her favored rivals Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya both fall on the ice—and as she received a congratulatory call from the prime minister of Japan.
Equally as dramatic, Scott recounted, was an episode at the start house for one of the Alpine events. "We had one of our cameramen literally hanging off of the building, with a guy holding him around the waist. Our photographer was able to shove the HVX200 around the corner of the start house, and more or less suspended in space, shoot wide angle at 60-fps and get some stunning footage that I can pretty much guarantee will make the final cut!"
The DP noted, "It was a grueling 18 days, and the HVX200 stood up to being thrown in and out of vans and backpacks, big disparities in temperature (e.g., freezing temperatures followed by blasts of heat), and early morning shoots in white-out conditions. We even had the HVX200 on our local cameramen as they skied down some of the hardest slopes, finding spots to film the action."
He continued, "We received the HVX200 only 24 hours before the opening ceremony. The factory settings matched very well to VariCam, with the cine-gamma modes I prefer built-in. We've been shooting the Olympics with VariCam since Salt Lake City (2002), and know that caliber of HD camera is friendly to high-contrast conditions—think bright sun on super-bright snow. I was eager to see how the HVX200 would compare, and it certainly retains much of that dynamic range, and did very well in our many contrast-y situations. Color rendition is dead on, and the HVX200 has great optics, matching up with our $30K broadcast lens pretty darn well."
Cappy senior producer Sydney Thayer noted, "Regardless of whether there will be an SD broadcast, we shoot in HD to get the best quality image and produce legacy coverage of the Games (all Cappy's outtakes are archived at the I.O.C.). We are huge fans of the VariCam, but the fact that we had the tiny HVX200 this year made us considerably less obtrusive."
He explained, "I've been with Cappy since 1984, and that year there were two camera crews at the Games—the ABC feed and us. Over time, the world feed has exploded and more and more companies have been buying rights, to the extent that this year there were 20+ major broadcast organizations in Torino. Much stricter rules have been implemented, and the nature of access to small companies such as ours has been severely limited. But the HVX200 was a great assist in getting us into tight spots, with handlers typically saying, 'You can come in if that's all you're bringing.' It's a classic camera for the Greenspan verite approach of documenting the entire trajectory of an athlete's story."
In terms of post-production, Cappy producer/editor Michael Schanzer said, "We had six 4GB P2 cards for the camera, and at the end of a day's shooting we'd go back to our office and off-load the cards to an AJ-HD1200A DVCPRO HD VTR. We realize that this is a somewhat ‘old-fashioned' methodology to use with the tape-less HVX200, but as this is a long-form piece, we weren't required to do on-site editing—and we'd had no hands-on time with the camera before Torino. I anticipate that the next time we use the camera our workflow will be more IT-centric."
Schanzer said Cappy is currently logging and organizing the 250 hours of footage, conceiving story lines and planning more than a dozen follow-up interviews to be shot all around the world, ideally with the HVX200. An off-line edit will be done on Avid Express, and the on-line HD edit done at a NBC-owned facility in Torrington, CT. Cappy will master in HD, accommodating worldwide downconversions as needed.
The ultra-versatile HVX200 records in 1080i and 720p in production-proven 100 Mbps DVCPRO HD quality, with the ability to capture images in 21 video formats. The DVCPRO HD format offers users cost-effective, intra-frame compression, where each frame stands on its own for editing, and its full 4:2:2 color sampling allows the image to hold up under color correction. The camera records video on a P2 card as IT-friendly MXF files in 1080/60i, 30p and 24p; in 720/60p, 30p and 24p; in 50Mbps DVCPRO50 and in 25Mbps DVCPRO or DV. The HVX200 can capture fast or slow action in 720p at various frame rates--the first time this function is available in a hand-held camera. The shooting frame rate in 720p native mode can be set for any of 11 steps between 12fps and 60fps including 24fps and 30fps. For more information on the AG-HVX200, visit http://www.panasonic.com/hvx200
The AJ-HDC27 VariCam replicates many of the key features of film-based image acquisition, including 24-frame progressive scan images, time lapse recording, and a wide range of variable frame rates (4-fps to 60-fps in single-frame increments) for "overcranked" and "undercranked" off-speed in-camera effects. The AJ-HDC27 VariCam also features CineGamma™ software that permits Panasonic's HD Cinema camera systems to more closely match the latitude of film stocks.
About Bud Greenspan
Bud Greenspan, one of the foremost writer/producer/directors of sports films, who has impacted decades of Olympic coverage, will receive this year's Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Sports Emmy Awards, to be presented on May 1 in New York City. In addition to his seven previous Emmy Awards, Greenspan has been recognized for his body of work with the George Foster Peabody Award and the Directors Guild of America Award. For his outstanding service in chronicling the Olympic Games, he was awarded the prestigious Olympic Order by The International Olympic Committee in 1985. In 2004, Mr. Greenspan was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame as a "Special Contributor."
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, access the company’s web site at www.panasonic.com/broadcast