Paper Heart, Shot With VariCams, Screens In 2009 Sundance Dramatic Competition
: Paper Heart, Shot With VariCams, Screens In 2009 Sundance Dramatic CompetitionOne Girl’s Search for Love Has Park City World Premiere Sat., Jan. 17Last Updated: January 14, 2009 12:07 am GMT
(Secaucus, New Jersey--January 14, 2009) Paper Heart, a playfully imagined journey of one young woman’s quest for love, is one of the 16 narrative features selected to screen in the Dramatic Competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Shot with Panasonic AJ-HDC27H VariCam® HD Cinema cameras, Paper Heart stars Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad), Charlyne Yi (Semi-Pro, Knocked Up) and Jake Johnson (Curb Your Enthusiasm). The movie was directed by Nicholas Jasenovec, who shares the screenwriting credit with Yi; Jay Hunter was the Director of Photography.
In Paper Heart, whose Park City world premiere is scheduled for Saturday, January 17, we meet performer Yi, who even though she doesn't believe in love, bravely embarks on a quest to discover its true nature--a journey that takes on surprising urgency when she meets unlikely fellow traveler, actor Michael Cera. Yi, a Los Angeles-based artist and comedian, has an interesting array of friends and acquaintances who, in hybrid documentary feature style, offer diverse views on modern romance, as well as various answers to the age-old question: does love really exist?
Paper Heart was shot with two VariCams on a 10-week shoot spread out from January through May 2008. The shoot encompassed international locations (Toronto and Paris), as well as a month-long road trip zigzagging across the U.S. from Los Angeles to New York City. DP Hunter said he chose VariCam because the director felt off-speed acquisition was integral to the production, as well as Hunter’s own familiarity with the camera, having used it on more than 20 projects (including one of the earliest VariCam-shot features, Frankie and Johnny Are Married).
“VariCam is my preferred 2/3-inch HD acquisition system,” Hunter said. “It’s true 720p, with a softer edge and colors that are not overly saturated compared to other competing camera formats. There’s no problem eliminating the funky, video-edge sharpness that I find inherent with most video formats, and if I dial in the right menu settings, I feel confident I can eliminate any tell-tale signs that we captured on video as opposed to film.” (That confidence was borne out by the fact that several Sundance programmers assumed that Paper Heart had been shot on 35mm film.)
The production rented the two cameras from Video Equipment Rental’s Los Angeles office (in conjunction with Los Angeles camera rental facility, “R Gear”). “I worked with VER’s go-to video specialist, Steve Lucas, to establish a look for the production,” Hunter recounted. “We adjusted the gamma curve for Paper Heart to a level that maximized the latitude, while lifting the blacks and mid-tones and holding the highlights.
”Essentially, what we did was reduce the knee point and knee slope in order to capture maximum detail in the highlights. The result was a milky, low-contrast, ‘blah’ look, but that was deliberate as I wanted to mimic a RAW setting that one finds in still cameras.”
“Not only did we optimize for color correction, but this extended latitude also allowed us to go into any environment, even those with minimal lighting capabilities, and still produce high-quality imagery,” he continued. “Several of our locations, especially on the road trip, were found spontaneously without any scouting, and ranged anywhere from a pitch-black bar to a Texas field in the noonday sun.”
“In a sense, we had to relearn how to expose the image, since even a slight amount of overexposure would cause the highlights to clip at an accelerated rate,” Hunter said. “Where I’d normally set the zebra bars at 64, here my setting was 46. I was radically underexposing, but the result was the richest detail and most extensive latitude I’ve ever seen on a 2/3-inch camera. It was intimidating at times because I was afraid that such underexposure would leave us with a very thin ‘negative,’ but instead (due to our custom gamma curve) underexposing by up to two stops would give us an incredibly dense ‘negative’ or image base.”
Hunter operated the A camera, with longtime collaborator Ben Gamble on the B camera. The production had two successive assistant camera operators, Clint Kasparian and John Orphan. Orphan also served as DP on some 2nd Unit photography.
“There was very, very little real lighting, but our minimal approach allowed us adapt well to unfriendly lighting situations as well as to minimize our physical presence in a location,” Hunter said. “The overall production style was freewheeling, to say the least, with lots of improvisation on the actors’ part. Some of the best scenes were totally unplanned. Ben and I worked mostly handheld, with a camera sliders, sticks and CamTramSystem dollies used here and there.”
The VariCams were equipped with Zeiss Digi Prime Lenses. “I try to avoid constant zooming in a documentary-style shoot, and we used no zooms whatsoever, with no ability to change focal length,” Hunter said. “The Zeiss primes gave us a wonderful depth of field, with pleasingly soft backgrounds, and no lens breathing when we were rack focusing. Our choice of lenses enhanced the cinematic approach we were taking with the VariCams. It was a bit frightening to approach documentary situations with fixed focal lengths (leading to many sleepless nights), but the risk ended up paying off ten-fold.”
Editor Ryan Brown worked with more than 300 hours of footage to do the initial cut on an Avid Media Composer. Post finishing was done at Laser Pacific (Hollywood, CA), where colorist Rose Calabrese supervised the final color correct. Paper Heart will be digitally projected at Sundance.
“Paper Heart wouldn’t exist without a camera like VariCam,” Hunter said. “Film would have required a larger crew, we would have only been able to afford a four-week vs. 10-week shoot, and we’d never have walked away with hundreds of hours of footage. VariCam technology was intrinsic to liberating the movie’s form and achieving a new, intimate type of storytelling.”
For more information on Paper Heart, visit http://festival.sundance.org/2009/film_events/films/paper_heart. The Sundance screening times follow:
- Sat. Jan 17 8:00 p.m. - PAPER17RN Racquet Club, Park City
- Mon. Jan 19 2:30 p.m. - PAPER19LA Library Center Theatre, Park City
- Wed. Jan 21 3:15 p.m. - PAPER21CA Eccles Theatre, Park City
- Fri. Jan 23 11:30 p.m. - PAPER23PL Prospector Square Theatre, Park City
- Sat. Jan 24 6:00 p.m. - PAPER24BE Broadway Centre Cinemas VI, SLC
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 (Film-Rec) that permits Panasonic’s HD Cinema camera systems to more closely match the latitude of film stocks.
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