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Jon Alpert Takes Sony HDV Camcorder Behind The Scenes

HVR-Z1U is key element in production of HBO documentary (November 28, 2005)

Veteran videographer and journalist Jon Alpert recently took Sony's HVR-Z1U professional HDV camcorder behind the scenes to shoot the HBO "docu-comedy" based on reality "House Arrest," which premiered on the cable network on Thanksgiving night, Thursday, Nov. 24.

"The production presented some unique challenges, and would not have been possible, or at least not have turned out the way it did, without this camcorder," Alpert said.

"House Arrest" follows a day in the life of Chris Colombo, scion of the famous New York Colombo family. Following his recent arrest on federal racketeering charges, Colombo was released on bail and placed under house arrest, with an ankle bracelet, curfew and travel restrictions.

Alpert went up to Colombo's Orange County, N.Y., home to capture test footage, and ended up shooting an entire program's worth of material.

"This show basically started by accident," Alpert said. "HBO had been approached about doing a show on Chris Colombo and sent me there to do a half-hour screen test. But what I was seeing through the lens was just so interesting that I just kept recording. I didn't get home until 2:30 am, and when we were done we knew had a ready-made TV show. We basically shot the whole show in a day."

From Colombo's home to his limo and various points in between, Alpert and the HVR-Z1U were able to discreetly capture even the smallest details that make the footage come alive on the screen.

"The look of it is astonishing," Alpert said. "You'll see beads of sweat, tears, things you might not normally see. This camera has a ?richness to it. The colors just seem to envelop you. I hadn't worked in this type of widescreen format before. It gives you the attractiveness of film but with the added benefits of working digitally."

The camcorder's ability to produce high-quality images in a compact package helped Alpert really blend into his subjects' environments without being obtrusive.

"To be in the backseat of his car and be able to shoot with no lights, no wires, no gigantic crew, basically made the shoot," Alpert said. "It was just me, Chris and his entourage. Everyone was able to act naturally. If this would have been done in the normal fashion, it would have been impossible to shoot this in one day; it would have been impossible to shoot in a week. But because I was able to blend in with everybody and still capture this type of quality really makes this show unusual.

"You can feel it and see it in the final product," he added. "It's the level of quality in terms of the camcorder's technical performance and the realism in terms of what it captured."

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