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Discovering the Panasonic DVX 100A

DP Shari Belafonte discusses how she got to working with Panasonic's popular DVX 100A By Shari Belafonte

(Editor's Note: The talented Shari Belafonte will be writing about her digital video endeavors from time to time on Digital Media Net.)

While folks generally know me as a personality who has spent a great deal of time in front of the camera, it is behind the camera that I find myself most comfortable. I received my first still camera when I was but a youth, not quite four years of age. It was a Brownie. Around that same time, my grandmother took me to the 5 and 10 cent store, and for having finished all of my vegetables at dinner the night before, I got two of those little "flip" books that generated little movies in front of you eyes as you flipped the pages.  I took that Brownie and spent many days shooting mostly blurred, over or underexposed frames, attempting to create my own flip books, but drastically failing.  Still, there was a sense of kinematics that was taking place in every fiber of my being. 

By the time I was 11, I had what we called a "real" camera. A Pentax. For my 12th birthday, I got a Canon AE1. Hours upon hours in the dark room followed. I was hooked. Developing, printing, shooting.  It was then that I knew I wanted to stay behind the camera, and create longer "flip" books. And, while I am a firm believer that "one picture is worth a thousand words," and there is an art to creating stories in a single frame, it is multiple frames that have me charged.

My stepfather, who taught me many things and was extremely generous, had a wonderful 16mm movie camera, but it was his toy, and as I recall it was the only thing we kids werent allowed to touch. Besides, it was cumbersome, and we were usually the "subjects" of his endeavours.  As a teen, I had visited a few movie sets that my own father, Harry Belafonte was on or, sets that his best friend, Sidney Poitier had been on. After tagging along with him and Sidney to see "dailies," the fascination became more compounded. Beta, then VHS cameras came, but, I had no lust for those. The picture just didnt seem "romantic" enough.  If I was going to shoot movies, it had to be film, but back then the only real film cameras were about a gazillion dollars and were as big as I was. Not to mention, stock cost, post production costs, cost costs. I figured it was going to cost me about $3 million to do what I wanted to do, so, being the recipient of about $10 a week? I shelved it.
 I did go to Carnegie-Mellon University, under the impression that being in the theatre/production/design department, I would learn something about television and film production. So many had graduated before (and after) me who had gone on to become famous producers and film and TV technicians. But, alas, as a fluke, I made one little appearance in front of the cameras and, the rest as they say, is history. 

Flash forward 20+ years, two TV series, numerous "On Camera" moments later. Im asked by a friend of mine, Producer Keith Resnick, if I would shoot stills for his movie in Baker, California. "Yes!" is my reply, though I confessed that I just acquired a digital camera, a Canon (diehard Canon girl) EOS D30, and I couldnt guarantee how the pictures would turn out. 8778 frames in 17 days. Only about 10 percent needed to be tossed. In a very odd way, I was shooting those flip books I had longed to shoot when I was a kid.  But now I was hooked back into being behind the camera. I then hooked up with another producer, Jennifer Champagne , who hired me to shoot stills for numerous projects that she produced. I met DP Patricia Van Over, who a few movies into it gets double-booked and calls me to tell me "It's time, Belafonte, that you got back to your roots!" She hands me a short, Bettys Treats, and a camera, the Panasonic DVX 100A.  Youve got to understand that, back when I was in the lighting department at Carnegie, there were only three lights that you ever used to light a show; Lekos, Fresnells and Carbon Arc Spotlights. Being on the sets with Harry and Sidney, I remember big floods and little floods. Occasionally, Alex Phillips (the DP) would slip filters in front of the lenses, and I remember seeing the difference in dailies. But, still, a light was a light.

Luckily, I graduated with one of the most knowledgeable guys in the business of lights. I call my friend John Gresch from ARRI Films and say, "John, can I borrow a couple of lights to shoot this little short?" "Yeah, come on over, see what weve got," he said. Oh my god where did all this equipment come from? I thought. There had to be 4,000 types of lights to choose from. I was overwhelmed. He assured me that with all that I had learned from Bill Nelson back at "Tech," I had what it took to light this movie. Besides, I was using a Panasonic DVX 100A. The most forgiving camera under $5000, even with the Anamorphic lens. He put together a great "lighting kit" for me, and off I went. We shot the whole eight pages in one day. We then went to Laser Pacific for a color correction, which took all of 45 minutes, and I have to say (and, so has everyone else whos seen it?) "It Looks Mahvelous?"

I'd like to take complete credit, but in all honesty, as if preparing my Academy Award speech, Id have to thank Panasonic, for making an exquisite, user friendly camera, John Gresch, and ARRIs lighting department (also known as Illumination Dynamics) for giving me a crash course, Kaye Kittrell who wrote, directed, starred in and pretty much left me alone to DP, Laser Pacific for being surprised first that I, Shari Belafonte, was DPing then really surprised (and impressed, I might add) that the footage they were looking at was off the DVX 100A and not an HD camera, Sam Behrens, my video assist man, my wing man, my hus-man, who hooked me up with a monitor so I could actually see what we were getting. And, my grandmother? for buying me ?flip-books when I was a child. 

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