Last Updated: November 19, 2007 6:39 pm GMT
(SECAUCUS, New Jersey--November 19, 2007) "Break It Down: Bridge", a National Geographic documentary detailing the herculean task of demolishing San Francisco’s Carquinez, Bridge, was shot with Panasonic’s AJ-HDC27 VariCam® HD Cinema camera and AG-HVX200 P2 HD camcorder.

The special, which premiered on the National Geographic Channel earlier this month, will make its debut on National Geographic Worldwide, reaching 160 international markets, in the second quarter of 2008. Bridge, a production of National Geographic Television and Inverse Square Films, was produced, written and directed by Robert Ikenberry and Sam Burbank, with cinematography by John Chater, Petr Stepanek, Marsha Kahm, Tom Chandler, Burbank and Ikenberry.

The Carquinez Bridge, once the world’s longest, came down in the spring of 2006. After almost 80 years of service, this innovative and unique structure was painstakingly deconstructed in front of daily commuters on one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s busiest highway systems. Dedicated to capturing the previously untold story of this historic bridge, Ikenberry, a first-time filmmaker, and Burbank, an experienced science/technology documentary veteran, collaborated to chronicle a mega-demolition of incredible scope.

“Deconstructing this immense bridge was as much an engineering nightmare as building it was,” said Ikenberry, himself a practicing construction project manager. “The documentary focuses on the teamwork and prodigious level of coordination needed to safely lower the 700-ton suspended spans, a massive lacework of steel weighing almost a million and a half pounds.”

The demolition team couldn’t just blow the Carquinez up, as most bridges are demolished. Heavily trafficked bridges sat on either side of the span, and it soared above a protected marine ecosystem. After much research, the engineers elected to remove the bridge in essentially the exact reverse order of its construction. That meant turning the colossal suspended spans into something never before seen on television -- the world’s widest ships, which sailed -- sideways -- across the Bay to a recycling center, all in under 48 hours.

“We were fortunate to have cinematographers who were adventuresome and capable of extremely intense shooting,” Ikenberry said. “The relatively small format of the cameras (especially the HVX200) and the fact that the bare cameras were very self-contained allowed us to put shooters on elevated platforms, to climb ladders to the tops of the bridge towers, jump onto barges and ships, and be very mobile.”

“We had very small and nimble filming crews, usually just two or three of us, who captured sound with on-board shotguns and wireless lavs and did a lot of climbing ladders and stairs!” he continued.

Director of Photography John Chater, whose distinguished career encompasses 17 years shooting feature documentaries for Horizon and NOVA for the BBC as well as several National Geographic specials, was ultimately the primary cameraperson on Bridge. Chater owns his own VariCams (which he used on National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth, which aired on PBS in 2005), and recommended Panasonic HD cameras to Burbank and Ikenberry. The production team rented the VariCams from Chater and purchased its own HVX200.

“Major event photography was shot with the VariCam, with the HVX200 as our ‘B’ camera,” Ikenberry recounted. “Primary photography was completed in April and May of 2006, with many follow-up interviews. Everything was shot at 720p24. While the majority of the show as it aired is VariCam footage, I defy anyone to watch and pick which shots are which: the HVX200 and VariCam cut beautifully together.”

Co-producer Burbank said that Bridge was shot almost entirely with available light. “We worked in very low light, including night shoots,” he noted. “We were very pleased with the cameras’ performance in adverse lighting, and the color rendition was really good. The VariCam and HVX200 matched very closely in terms of white balance.”

“To the best of our knowledge, Bridge represents several departures for National Geographic, including being among the first shows delivered entirely electronically on hard drives and edited exclusively on Final Cut Pro,” said Burbank. “I spent several months cutting a rough edit (including time spent in Italy traveling with portable hard drives in my backpack), followed by a month at National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., where a special Apple edit suite was brought in to do the final cut.” Burbank shares the Bridge editing credit with Daniel Sheire, who like Burbank is a regular contributor to National Geographic.

Ikenberry said that HVX200 operators worked with up to three 8GB P2 cards. “The workflow was frankly far superior to tape,” he said. “On location, we would download to a notebook PC to clock and clear the cards, and store material on line-powered portable hard drives. We’d later back-up on DVDs. We loved not having to digitize footage prior to editing.”

“We could not have made this show without the HVX200,” Ikenberry added. “Shooting tapeless and cutting in HD on Final Cut Pro were the enabling technologies that made this project succeed.”

For more information about Break It Down: Bridge, visit Video clips from the show are also available on National Geographic’s website.

About the VariCam

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 the AG-HVX200
The ultra-versatile AG-HVX200 records in 1080i and 720p in production-proven 100 Mbps DVCPRO HD quality, with the ability to capture images in 21 record modes. 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.

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


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