Dismal , Suspense Thriller Set In Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp, Shot With PANASONIC AJ-HDC27 Varicam

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Last Updated: October 3, 2006 4:49 pm GMT
(SECAUCUS, NJ - October 2, 2006) The full-length feature Dismal, a thriller that plunks two suburbanites down in the middle of 100,000 acres of murky swampland, recently wrapped post-production for submission to the Sundance Film Festival, its first stop on the festival circuit. A production of 1944 Films, Dismal was shot with the Panasonic AJ-HDC27 VariCam® HD Cinema camera.

With an original story by director/producer Ray Brown, Dismal introduces a pair of executives, Bill and Matt, looking for some R&R and good fishing in the vast Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia. Squabbles between the two turn into something far worse, as their abrupt departure is thwarted by a criminal survivalist named Croaker. Terror lurks behind every tree and, says Brown, while "anyone can enter, not everyone leaves the Great Dismal Swamp alive."

Jean-Guy Bureau served as Director of Photography for the 18-day location shoot last July, with all principal photography acquired on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp. Temperatures exceeded 90 degrees each day, with the heat index routinely cresting 100 degrees. Dismal marks the feature film debut for Brown, a 20-year industry veteran, and experienced cameraman and jib/crane operator.

"I'd shot in HD before, and was convinced that HD acquisition was right for this project," Brown explained. "We had less than three weeks to shoot, we had to move briskly, and we couldn't carry in tons of camera equipment. HD would let us be stealthier, lighter and quicker, while at the same time achieving a quality picture. Our DP Jean-Guy argued for the VariCam, as he felt it would perform better in low, natural lights."

"I've shot several projects with the VariCam, and it's my preferred HD camera," said DP Bureau. "I find the image more pleasing, the menus simple to navigate, and its weight and balance are perfect for hand-held. Our original plan for Dismal was to shoot entirely hand-held, so weight was a real consideration."

"Ultimately, even though Dismal was a low-budget feature, we were able to do a ton of dollies and cranes, as well as hand-held and some aerial work," the DP continued. "We utilized hostess trays and hood mounts for car work. When we were on the ground, we were in mud, in and around water constantly. I was glad I didn't have to worry about dirt in the gate as with film. I had an 8 ½" on-board HD monitor -- we were moving through shots very fast, and I was able to watch the monitor and know immediately we had the shot that we wanted."

"We endured extreme weather conditions -- heat, excessive humidity and sudden thunderstorms -- and never had a problem with the camera," Bureau noted. "Although we were constantly dealing with hot streaks of sunlight coming through the trees, the VariCam impressed me with how it held detail in the highlights. We were working in an uncontrolled environment in the woods, with only a small lighting package, and almost always had to expose for the shade."

"In the shot where the two heroes are driving to the swamp, we had the VariCam on a hostess tray strapped to the car," said Bureau. "There was no room for me in the car – just the actors up front, and the director, sound and the script supervisor in the back. The VariCam's latitude was as great as Super16mm. As the buddies drove, there was sunlight hitting trees and fields, and it was amazing how much detail the camera held outside the window."

Bureau shot predominantly with a Canon HJ 21x7.5B HD zoom, and did some work with a Fuji prime 5mm lens when he needed to see as much of the swamp or interior of Croaker's cabin as possible.

"We did some tricky night interiors and exteriors," Bureau recounted. "We shot inside the villain's cabin, using only 60 watt bare bulbs with a dimmer system for lighting. All the light had to be motivated by a Coleman lantern in the middle of the room. At one point, we closed all the windows and it was so dark that I couldn't even see the image in the viewfinder. But the director, viewing a 15" HD LCD monitor for his video assist, was able to tell me that the shot looked beautiful."

"With one exterior, we were doing a nighttime dolly move through very thick trees, and I could barely see the silhouette of Croaker," he added. "But because we shooting HD and not film, I knew that we had the shot immediately. Again, I was very impressed with the camera's low light work and its ability to hold detail in scenes with great contrast. The camera also works beautifully with skin tones — 720p looks gorgeous on the skin, very pleasing on the eye. I don't like to work with diffusion filters, and there was no need to here. The two actresses looked beautiful and, for that matter, the guys looked great as well."

"I was skeptical about working with only one camera on this shoot, but it was a workhorse and we were never shut down," said director Brown. "The ability to sit at my monitor on the set and get an absolute rendering of the final picture was an invaluable tool. Essentially, I was seeing my movie right in front of me, and the image was stunning."

"The portability factor, the ability to quickly go handheld, was terrific," Brown added. "We were able to rig the camera out with the on-board monitor, matte boxes, everything we needed for full production values. Why would I ever suggest any other camera to an independent filmmaker? I certainly will use it again, hopefully on the sequel to Dismal!"

Both the off-line and on-line edit were done on Avid systems. The on-line and color timing were completed at Metro Productions in Hampton, Virginia, which was also the source of the camera rental.

For more information about Dismal, visit http://www.dismalthemovie.com

Panasonic's 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 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 http://www.panasonic.com/broadcast

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