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PBS Documentary Captured With Panasonics VariCam HD

Independent Lens? ?Los Angeles Now,? airs November 23rd on PBS (October 26, 2004)

A rare and thoughtful evocation of a city, LOS ANGELES NOW, from documentary filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez, looks beyond Baywatch and Blade Runner to create a fresh and candid portrait of Americas second largest city. A fascinating look at a metropolis where more than half of the population is Latino and 40 percent are foreign born, LOS ANGELES NOW will air on Tuesday, November 23rd at 10 p.m. on the Independent Television Services acclaimed PBS series, Independent Lens. The documentary was shot with Panasonics AJ-HDC27 VariCam HD Cinema camera.

The film uses creative visuals and computer-generated imagery to evoke the citys vast array of moods and rhythms, exploring challenging questions and provocative points of view from such Los Angeles figures as actress Salma Hayek, businessman/ philanthropist Eli Broad and Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Los Angeles-native Rodriguez previous works include the critically lauded Mixed Feelings: San Diego/Tijuana and Manuel Ocampo: God is My Copilot. To attain the creative visuals he and his Director of Photography Claudio Rocha envisioned for LOS ANGELES NOW, the pair selected the VariCam. They agree that HD cameras effects abilities were critical to the story-telling dimension of the documentary, and that shooting HD was intrinsic to the narrative, with the 16:9 aspect ratio turning LA into a horizontal city and capturing its sprawl.

Panasonics 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 that permits Panasonics HD Cinema camera systems to more closely match the latitude of film stocks.

Director Rodriguez said, ?Claudio and I are longtime collaborators, and he suggested using VariCam, as hed shot a documentary in Brazil with the camera and been very impressed. Conceptually, both of us enjoy shooting digitally (Mixed Feelings was shot on mini-DV, with Claudio) for both the in-camera and after-camera effects that you really cant get with film. And while we didnt have a big budget, we did have great ambition to characterize the city in a way that hadnt been seen before.

He added, ?Shooting with the VariCam stretched our resources and helped make the city look sumptuous. It gave us tremendous flexibility, required no maintenance and really encouraged us to be spontaneous, impulsive?like the city itself. This was a lengthy shoot with several hiatuses, so I really liked the ability to shoot, go and cut--to see what we had and what we still had to accomplish.

?Shooting the documentary in HD afforded me the luxury of time, and didnt require that we sacrifice anything in terms of the look of the show. I feel Los Angeles Now is more beautiful than anything weve ever done.

DP Rocha (who also served as Animator on Los Angeles Now) is currently in London shooting Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, a feature film starring Dame Joan Plowright. He has photographed numerous award-winning American and Mexican films, including Maldano Miracle, directed by Salma Hayek; The Velocity of Gary, starring Hayek; Skipped Parts, starring Drew Barrymore; and The Whole Wide World, starring Renee Zelwegger.

He said, ?Having shot the documentary on Brazilian music with the VariCam, I felt it was perfect for Los Angeles Now, and would allow us to play with the form as much as possible, plus give us the flexibility of shooting from 4 to 60-fps in one-frame increments. We made great use of in-camera effects, shooting at low speeds, then speeding it up by playing through the frame converter. Wed shoot at 5-fps, then play in real time for strobe-like effects.

Rocha noted that he shot with the VariCam both in a helicopter and in moving cars. ?In the cars, we used a bungee cord rig to stabilize the camera, and fed the camera through the cars 12V battery. We were really able to explore and make decisions as we went along. I dont think Id ever shoot a documentary on film again, not when HD lets you economically shot more than 100 hours for a 60-minute show.

The DP continued, ?We had three different interview styles, all facilitated by the camera: very controlled, traditional sit-downs; interviews shot against a green screen, where wed play with a fantastic backdrop in post; and shorter, on-the-street interviews. Its very easy for a two-person crew to move around with the VariCam.

?The camera produces colors that are really true to life. Its easy to play with the menu, and it encourages your creativity. The camera is so sensitive to light?with a little bit of gain, the camera sees things you wouldnt see with the naked eye. In one instance, we shot at night with available light, using long 35mm lenses?we got results that couldnt even be achieved with film. VariCam is a great tool, and truly lets you exploit video as a flexible medium.

Los Angeles Now was off-lined on Avid DV Express; the HD on-line, in Final Cut Pro, was done at Digital Film Tree (Los Angeles, CA) and the color correction was done at KPBS-TV (San Diego, CA).

Additional information about LOS ANGELES NOW is available at

For more information on Panasonics complete HD Cinema product lineup, 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 Matsushita Electric Corporation of America, the principal North America subsidiary of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (NYSE: MC), one of the world's leading producers of electronic and electric products for consumer, business and industrial use.

For more information on Panasonic Broadcast products, access the companys web site at


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