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Murderball Shot With Panasonic AG-DVX100A Cameras

Acclaimed documentary accumulates major awards (October 05, 2005)

co-director/DP Henry-Alex Rubin shooting the action. Photo courtesy of THINKfilm.

Co-director/DP Henry-Alex Rubin shooting the action.
Photo courtesy of THINKfilm.

One of the most acclaimed films of the year, Murderball, a THINKFILM production co-distributed with MTV Films, has dominated the film festival circuit since its debut at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Documentary Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize for Editing.

Arriving in theaters this summer in the U.S., the movie will go into international release this fall, where it is likely to be greeted with the same caliber of accolades as: ?An inspirational crowd pleaser (The New York Times); ?Hardnosed and heartbreaking (The Boston Globe); ?As in any classic sports story, the rivalry plays out at the highest level (Sports Illustrated); ?Astonishing (Robert Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times); ?Mesmerizing! Creates a new definition in courage. (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone).

Combining literal sparks and the deepest poignancy, Murderball chronicles the lives of highly competitive, quadriplegic rugby players as they overcome extraordinary obstacles to become world-class athletes. Murderball, the sports evocative original name, combines the finesse of soccer with the bone-jarring collisions of a demolition derby, with the athletes using custom wheelchairs that look like something out of a Mad Max movie. Yet as gripping as the competitive interludes of the movie (including the 2004 Paralympics in Athens) are, its the off-court action of the players, lives played out with grit, heart and flawed humanity, that makes Murderball unforgettable.

For virtually the entirety of a 2 year shoot, filmmakers Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry-Alex Rubin shot more than 200 hours of footage with Panasonic AG-DVX100A mini-DV 3-CCD 24p camcorders. The inspiration for Murderball was a newspaper article about the sport read by Shapiro, then an editor at Spin magazine. He convinced his friend, filmmaker Rubin (Who Is Henry Jaglom, Freestyle), that Murderball was worth exploring as a movie subject.

The longtime friends traveled to Sweden for the 2002 world championship to see what the game actually looked like. They found much more, including a potent narrative that pitted former Team USA all-star Joe Soares, cut from the USA team because of his age, now coach of Team Canada and set on revenge against his former teammates, especially the equally volatile star USA player, Mark Zupan. Shapiro and Rubin realized that theyd gone abroad looking for a good sports story, and came home with a highly-cinematic drama.

The filmmakers (who share the directing credit on Murderball) used Rubins own one-chip and three-chip interlace mini-DV cameras in Sweden. ?Once we got back, we understood that we needed the look and feel of fiction film, recounted Rubin, who also served as the movies Director of Photography. ?The Sony cameras werent going to transfer to film well--and from the onset, our goal was a 35mm blowup for theatrical distribution.

He continued, ?We wanted to shoot on film, but we couldnt secure financing?we were passed over by hundreds of production companies. Id seen some VariCam (Panasonics VariCam HD Cinema Camera) transfers to film, and was able to view a DVX100 test reel at DuArt Film Lab in Manhattan. The transfer to film looked far better than Sonys. I borrowed a friends DVX100 for a shoot or two, and was impressed with how beautiful and fluid the 24p feel was. I felt wed be wasting time and resources if we continued to shoot with anything else.

With a rock-bottom budget, Rubin and Shapiros producer, Jeff Mandel, turned to colleague Tony Tamberelli of Tamberelli Digital (New York, NY), who loaned them DVX100 equipment for a year and a half for free. More than half-way through shooting, thinkMTV Films invested in the project, and purchased a DVX100A (the DVX100 upgrade) for the production. Much of Murderball was a single-camera shoot, with Rubin himself shooting from a wheelchair in the cameras advanced 24p mode, largely in available light. All of the games, however, involved two or three DVX100As, with Shapiro and David Rodriguez operating the additional units.

Early on, with a film transfer in mind. Rubin decided to shoot in anamorphic using Panasonics AG-LA7200 16:9 anamorphic lens adapter. ?We decided to use it because of the improved image quality, but it was limiting for verite material, he said. ?In those real-life scenes, you wanted to be able to zoom in as close as possible to peoples eyes, to what theyre looking at?tough with an anamorphic adapter.

?I tested several options?the cameras normal 4.5-45mm lenses, a 36-72 telephoto, and two fisheyes?and sent the footage to a transfer lab in Toronto to see what a 35mm transfer would look like. I really wanted to know if it was okay to take the anamorphic off and put a telephoto on. I wanted it to have the same degree of crispness onscreen?and it did. Simply put, it was the most spectacular transfer to film from any video Ive ever seen.

He added, ?From that point on, I relied more heavily on the telephoto (often used from a rolling wheelchair). Then, the subject could really forget I was there. I wanted to disappear and go for the unguarded human intimacy.

For instance, at the Vancouver tournament (played to establish the top seed in Athens), Rubin often used the telephoto lens to shoot coach Soares across the court with players speeding by in the foreground. He cranked up the DVX100As shutter to 1/120 for a sharpening effect. Another camera was at court level, and a third was positioned high in the stands.

Its been noted that Murderball has an abundance of dolly shots for a documentary, courtesy of the players spare wheelchairs, which the filmmakers were constantly borrowing. ?We did use the wheelchairs just like dollies, Rubin explained. ?Dana would push me around, and Id zip up and down the sidelines, camera in hand. Having me in the wheelchair, even for a lot of the off-court shooting, gives the film an energy and movement. I shot low, looking up at people, from the same perspective as the players.

Rubin used very few lights in shooting. ?We went out of our way to use portable lights?baby Chimeras, Mini Moles, China balls, and even an industrial-sized flashlight ?diffused with a table napkin?that was our low soft light for shooting people in a car, the DP said.

The filmmakers worked with editors Geoffrey Richman and Conor ONeill to edit Murderball in Apple Final Cut Pro. Both editors had their own FCP systems, as did Rubin, and the three of them worked for nearly six months to finish the 85-minute film. Rubin noted, ?Slow motion was simply done through FCP. Our color correction was done with the BlackMagic codec at Final Frame (New York, NY). Until the ?third act of the move, which bursts with color, I tried hard to mute the color palette, giving the overall look a bit of an old-school, 16mm doc feel.

?For the tape-to-film transfer, we first converted to DVCPRO HD, then did our film out from a Celco onto acetate negative. We printed on Kodak Premiere 2393 at Deluxe in Toronto.

For more about Murderball, visit

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.

For more information, visit

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:Panasonic, Murderball, AG-DVX100A, Cameras, THINKFILM, camcorders, VariCam HD, DVX100, thinkMTV, AG-LA7200, anamorphic lens, Final Cut Pro, BlackMagic,


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