Filmmaker Captures Subterranean ‘Sandhog’ World For History™ Television Series And Upcoming Two-Hour Special

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The Greatest Tunnel Ever Built Premieres Saturday, November 15 at 10 PM ET on History™

Last Updated: November 11, 2008 12:00 am GMT
(Secaucus, New Jersey--November 11, 2008) Manhattan-based filmmaker Eddie Rosenstein, a founder of Eyepop Productions, is the creator, director and co-director of photography of the upcoming two-hour History™ special , The Greatest Tunnel Ever Built, profiling New York City’s legendary urban tunnel workers (known as “Sandhogs”).

Shot in its entirety with Panasonic’s solid-state AG-HVX200 P2 HD camcorders, The Greatest Tunnel Ever Built, which premieres Saturday, November 15 at 10 pm ET, inspired the History television series, Sandhogs, likewise shot with HVX200s.

While the documentary special was shot in early 2008, followed by a four-month-long, round-the-clock series shoot, History has already broadcast several hour-long episodes of Sandhogs.

In the time-honored, ever-engrossing journalistic tradition of living the life of your subjects, Rosenstein, a self-described white-collar filmmaker, became a working sandhog, to the extent of becoming a member of the Laborers’ International Union and earning an explosives license.

“I became fascinated with the sandhogs soon after I arrived in New York City in the 1980s,” Rosenstein said. “For more than 150 years, they have worked in obscurity building water and sewage tunnels, subway systems and bridge footings, all of which are the most crucial and underappreciated elements of the city’s infrastructure; underappreciated because tunnels are, by definition, out of sight.”

Currently, the Sandhogs are building the city’s third water tunnel, scheduled to go online in 2013, to help alleviate New York City’s serious long-term water problem. Initiated 40 years ago, Water Tunnel #3 represents the largest public works project in the Western Hemisphere and will ultimately pump 1.2 billion gallons of water a day into Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

“I knew it was a giant story, but how to tell it?” Rosenstein said. “Beyond the logistical hurdles, the sandhogs are fiercely loyal to and protective of one another. It’s a closed community. So, even if I could navigate the city bureaucracy and get permission to shoot underground, I still needed the confidence of the guys.”

To earn that trust, Rosenstein donned a hard hat and went to work. That was in 2006. He labored for months in Water Tunnel #3, at the Croton Filtration Plant and in Water Tunnel #3’s 600-foot shafts. He eventually became a full time crew member working for boss Morgan Curran, a legend among the Sandhogs and ultimately one of the main subjects of the special and series.

“Traditionally, the Sandhogs are Irish and West Indian, and many have assumed the work of their fathers and grandfathers,” Rosenstein said. “I was one of the only Jewish sandhogs ever, and the guys called me the ‘Hebrew hog.’ Finally, after months of work, as the men prepped a big blast hundreds of feet under Lincoln Center, Morgan said to me, ‘You want to bring a camera with you tomorrow?’”

“I put a DVX100A mini-DV camera into my lunch bag and shot the demo tape that sold the special to History,” he continued. “I used micro crews to shoot the special, just DP John Hazard or myself on camera plus associate producer/soundman Peter Ginsburg. I didn’t want to take more people, because it’s just so dangerous.”

“We were working miles in to a 24-mile tunnel and 800 feet underground, as far down as the Chrysler Building is tall,” Rosenstein recounted. “The DVX100A was the right size camera to start with, but we needed to shoot the film in high-definition. Conditions were ridiculously wet, dusty and perilous, and we planned to shoot explosions, so the solid-state HVX200 was an ideal choice: indeed, the special and series would have been impossible without the P2 HD handhelds.”

Rosenstein said that his gang of sandhogs quickly became enthusiastic about “making a movie.” “When we got permission from the city to shoot a dynamite blast, we had to work together to set up the shot,” he said. “We put the HVX200 on a tripod about 140 feet from the face, and surrounded it with a bunker fashioned out of rocks. The Sandhogs illuminated the shot with worklights. We filmed at 60-fps, and the video was mind-blowing. The guys had never really seen a blast before, even though they’d been setting them off their entire careers. And, until this chip camera, there was no way to shoot an explosion this intense without the camera seizing up at the moment of the concussion.”

Excited about the special, History commissioned the 11-part Sandhogs series, and Los Angeles-based Pilgrim Films (producers of Discovery’s American Chopper and Dirty Jobs) signed on as co-producers. Production was increased to meet the demand, with two full crews, each equipped with two HVX200s, working 12-hour shifts. The cameras were rented from Video Equipment Rentals of New York.

“The sandhogs’ subterranean workscape is absolutely beautiful, with its earthen color palette and great geometry,” Rosenstein said. “Lighting essentially consisted of the different temperatures of sandhog worklights, yet the images we achieved are incredibly powerful, with great depth of field.”

Both The Greatest Tunnel Ever Built and the Sandhogs series were shot at 720/24pN, with extensive off-speed and time-lapse shooting. At the time of the special shoot last winter, Rosenstein worked with 8GB and 16GB P2 cards, and would offload material underground using an AJ-PCS060G P2 Store. By the time of the series shoot, the crews were each equipped with multiple 32GB cards, and footage would be offloaded at the end of a day’s shoot.

Eyepop Productions edited the special in Final Cut Pro; the color correct was done in Final Cut Studio 2’s Color program by colorist Ben Flaherty at Edgeworx (New York, NY). Pilgrim Films handled the series edit, which was done on an Avid Unity system. The special and series were delivered to History on D5 HD.

“I love shooting with the HVX200,” said Rosenstein, who plans to maintain his membership in Local 147. “It confers instant creative freedom: I can take it where I need to go and deliver images that I can be proud of.”

About the Filmmaker
Most of Eddie Rosenstein’s documentary filmmaking has told stories of people trying to make a go at life, often from the margins of society. His directing and producing credits include: A Tickle in the Heart, a feature length doc about Klezmer musicians, which was theatrically released worldwide in 1996; The Gospel According to Mr. Allen, about an embattled rehabilitation center, which won a dozen national awards in 2000 (A&E); Called to Action, a tale of those who helped the 9/11 rescue effort, nominated for an Emmy in 2001 (AMC); Reality People, the pilot documentary for The AMC Project (AMC); and the theatrically released, Waging A Living (PBS’s POV), a portrait of lowwage workers trying to become self sufficient. Rosenstein also recently completed School Play, a documentary feature depicting fifth graders stumbling into adolescence, via a school production of “The Wizard of Oz”. He founded Eyepop Productions in 1995. For more information, visit www.eyepopproductions.com.

About the AG-HVX200A

Panasonic recently introduced its new AG-HVX200A, an enhanced version of the HVX200. The 1/3” 3-CCD handheld P2 HD/DV camcorder now features improved progressive 3-CCD imagers, a DSP that increases sensitivity while lowering noise and smear, and a new 13X zoom lens. The ultra-versatile HVX200A records in 1080i and 720p in production-proven 100 Mbps DVCPRO HD quality, with the ability to capture images in 21 record modes. 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 HVX200A can capture fast or slow action in 720p at various frame rates: 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 HVX200A, visit www.panasonic.com/P2HD.

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 principal North American subsidiary of Panasonic Corporation (NYSE Symbol: PC) the hub of Panasonic’s U.S. branding, marketing, sales, service and R&D operations. For more information on Panasonic Broadcast products, visit www.panasonic.com/broadcast.

About History™
History™ and History HD™ are the leading destinations for revealing, award-winning, original non-fiction series and event-driven specials that connect history with viewers in an informative, immersive and entertaining manner across multiple platforms. Programming covers a diverse variety of historical genres ranging from military history to contemporary history, technology to natural history, as well as science, archaeology and pop culture. Among the networks program offerings are hit series such as Ax Men, Battle 360, The Universe, Cities of The Underworld and Ice Road Truckers, as well as acclaimed specials including King, Life After People, 1968 With Tom Brokaw, Lost Book of Nostradamus, Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed and Sherman’s March. History has earned four Peabody Awards, four Primetime Emmy® Awards, 12 News & Documentary Emmy® Awards and received the prestigious Governor's Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for the network's Save Our History® campaign dedicated to historic preservation and history education. Take A Veteran to School Day is the network’s latest initiative connecting America’s schools and communities with veterans from all wars. History’s website, located at www.History.com, is the definitive historical online source that delivers entertaining and informative content featuring broadband video, interactive timelines, maps, games podcasts and more.

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