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Action Thriller "Throttle" Shot on Panasonic AJ-SDX900

(July 25, 2005)

Throttle, a ?claustrophobic, paranoid action thriller debuting on home video (Universal Home Entertainment) on August 2, was shot last year with Panasonics AJ-SDX900 24p/30p/60i camcorder. The 87-minute feature, slated to premiere on HD Net next March, is also lined up for broad international distribution through Curb Entertainment.

Director/producer/writer James Seale describes Throttle as ?a confined version of Steven Spielberg's Duel.  Throttle follows financial analyst Tom Weaver as he finds himself trapped after hours in the large, multi-tiered parking garage of his corporate offices, hunted and pursued by a driver of an unstoppable juggernaut -- a souped-up 6000 lb. truck.  As he struggles to stay alive, he must figure out the identity of the killer behind the wheel of the truck and unravel the mystery of why someone wants to kill him. 

The film was shot over three weeks in January of 2004 in Denver; the cast includes Grayson McCouch ("Armageddon", "As the World Turns"), Adrian Paul ("Highlander") and Amy Locane ("Melrose Place").  Rich Lerner, a veteran Panasonic 24p filmmaker, served as Director of Photography.

According to Seale, "Throttle was a very ambitious film with lots of stunts and special effects. The budget for the film was low even by indie film standards, so we knew at the start that we would need a camera that allowed us to shoot fast and that looked terrific without having to rent a huge lighting package.  We had discussed shooting on 35mm and Super16, but were concerned with the time factor in lighting for these formats. 

He continued, ?DP Rich Lerner and I shot a test in the actual location with the SDX900, and were truly amazed.  By using just the available overhead lights in the garage and blocking the actors accordingly, we were able to get tremendous results. We had originally planned to do a film-out to 35mm (vs. our ultimate upconversion to HD) and tested several cameras, including Sony's Cine Alta.  However, after seeing the SDX footage transferred to 35mm, it became evident the Panasonic camera looked better for our purposes, both on tape and when converted to film and projected. 

?The main set for our film, the underground parking garage, was the perfect environment for the camera.  We used mainly available light, accenting with small fluoro units when needed.  The SDX900's ability to capture amazing images quickly and with little fuss allowed us the flexibility and speed to shoot many complicated action sequences in a relatively short amount of time. The camera exceeded our expectations every step of the way.

DP Lerner, who owns his own SDX900 and AG-DVX100A mini-DV 24 cameras, has also shot extensively with Panasonics AJ-HDC27 VariCam HD Cinema camera, notably the 2004 NOVA/PBS documentary, Hunt for the Supertwister. He has shot two other features with the SDX900, Descanos and Seclusion, as well as documentaries, corporate videos and music videos.

?Ive seen Throttle digitally projected several times, Lerner said, ?and everyone thinks it was shot on film. In terms of the visual experience, it absolutely feels like film. Its amazing what the SDX900 represents in terms of the cost-efficiencies of looking theatrical.

He added, ?Throttle wasnt an easy shoot?we were in that dank, underground parking garage, with smoke, in the cold.  But I treated the SDX900 as if it were an Aaton Super 16 film camera?which is to say, like a workhorse. The camera is very robust. I was running around shooting hand-held, in cars in high-speed chases, crashing into one another. I love the size and feel of the camera.

?Unlike ?regular video, the SDX900 really emulates the look of film. Throttle displays the cameras large dynamic range. Essentially, we worked with the existing overhead light, and as is typical of a subterranean garage, light would fall off around the edges and go dark. The camera did a fantastic job of holding the dynamic range. Color rendition was realistic and terrific. I mostly use the customized film setting I devised early on with Panasonics advice, and shoot pre-set, as with film. Video has the inherent ability to white balance, but I dont do a lot of white balancing, as I like the textures.

Lerner continued, ?The 15-second pre-record is a great feature, and means I can do film-style time-lapses. Sometimes on a VariCam shoot, Ill bring along the SDX900 specifically for time lapses. Altogether, the camera has a tremendous set of features for filmmaking.

The DP said he shot with a Canon 9mm-162mm lens, and used a micro-jib and Fisher dolly and track, among other accessories. He used up to three AG-DVX100As on the Throttle shoot, using them when filming stunts. The DVX100As were extensively utilized mounted on the truck and cars.

In terms of post, director Seale said, ?We cut and finished the film on a G5 using Final Cut.  All the graphics and effects shots (titles, blue screens, wire removals) were done on the G5 using Combustion by my co-editor/visual effects supervisor Peder Morgenthaler.  The film was sound designed by Post Force in Los Angeles and mixed at Roundabout Studios in Burbank.  We color-corrected at Pixel Blues, also in Burbank and created our HD version at G.W. Hannaway & Associates in Boulder.

He added, ?Without the SDX900, we would not have been able to make the film on the budget we had.  We averaged around 40-50 setups per day, which would not have been possible had we used a film format. Between the low cost of tape stock and the camera's speed on the set, it saved us tens of thousands of dollars and allowed us to shoot a fast-paced action movie of this scope in under 20 days.

Panasonics AJ-SDX900 offers filmmakers the ultimate in acquisition flexibility, expressed in the operator-controllable selection of EFP-quality 4:2:2 sampled DVCPRO50 or classic 4:1:1 sampled DVCPRO recording, with support for native 16:9 wide-screen. The AJ-SDX900 combines in one camera the ?look and ?feel of electronic film, high-performance 525-line field production, and low-cost NTSC compatible news. It is also the first 50Mbps 4:2:2 sampled standard definition camcorder to offer 24 frames-per-second progressive scan (480/24p) acquisition, in addition to 30 frames-per-second progressive (480/30p) and 60-fields-per-second interlace scan (480/60i) capture.

The AG-DVX100A is a unique Mini-DV 3-CCD camcorder with exclusive CineSwitch technology that supports 480i/60 (NTSC), cinema-style 480p/24fps and 480p/30fps image capture. Panasonic's AG-DVX100A is the standard for affordable 24p acquisition and a proven performer with hundreds of independent movies, TV programs, commercials, and documentaries to its credit. It offers unmatched audio performance, extensive auto and manual controls, and a CineGamma curve that truly emulates the rich look of film.

About Panasonic Broadcast                        

Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. is a leading supplier of broadcast, professional video and presentation 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 companys web site at

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Related Keywords:Throttle, Curb Entertainment, James Seale


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