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Panasonics AJ-SDX900 Captures ?Reality

DP Tony Sacco shoots Project Greenlight & Project Runway for Miramax (July 19, 2004)

Noted cinematographer Tony Sacco, principal of ABS Productions, Inc. (Los Angeles, CA), is currently serving as director of photography for two high-profile Miramax Television productions, Project Greenlight and Project Runway, both being shot in their entirety with Panasonic AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO Cinema camcorders.

The Projects will both air on the Bravo network, Runway in fall 2004 and Greenlight early in 2005. Sacco, who owns his own SDX900, also used the camera to shoot several episodes of the second season of NBCs Last Comic Standing, currently airing. Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz of Magic Elves, Inc. are executive producers on all three series.

Now shooting its third season, the Emmy-nominated Project Greenlight is a filmmaking contest, feature film and behind-the-scenes documentary series that chronicles the challenges of first-time writers and directors. The creation of filmmaker/actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (and American Pie producer Chris Moore), the contest has opened the industry to aspiring filmmakers who need a big break to jump-start their dreams, as Damons and Afflecks careers were with the Screenwriting Academy Award the pair shared for Good Will Hunting. The upcoming season will consist of nine one-hour episodes.

Inspired by the success of Project Greenlight, Miramax Television is teaming up with supermodel Heidi Klum, Elle magazine and Bravo for Project Runway, a behind-the-scrim documentary series and competition to find a new star designer and launch his career with the opportunity of a lifetime. SDX900s will roll for 10 episodes as aspiring new designers will be given all the resources of top industry pros in order to prepare their own competitive runway show for New York's Spring Fashion Week in February 2005.

Sacco, a veteran of several reality show shoots (Project Greenlight/ for HBO, Fear Factor, The Bachelor, American Idol) whose clients also include the Discovery Channel, Dateline, ESPN, and VH1, purchased his SDX900 last January.

?I always push for shooting my shows in High Definition. That argument lasts about 10 seconds, as not too many reality show budgets can afford HD. For me to DP a show and visually make it stand out from the rest of the pack, 24p was the answer, he recounted. ?When I was offered the job of DP on Last Comic Standing, the producers were very supportive in allowing me to present different ?looks for the show. I was introduced to the SDX900 by a colleague, and shortly after was able to test the camera for a week, shooting at 24p, 30p, and 60i, 4:3 and 16:9. This proved to be invaluable, as I took the camera around to my clients, showing them the footage, showing them the camera. I did further tests, specific to reality TV, using mixed lighting, low lighting, to see how it would handle. Even I was surprised at how well it performed in low light, faster then Beta and with very low noise in the gains, perfect for reality! I finally got the go ahead to use the SDX900 for the show at 25Mbps. The next day I bought the SDX900, and have been using it exclusively ever since.

For additional rentals and support, Sacco uses Moviola Hollywood. He is shooting Project Greenlight and Project Runway in 24p throughout.

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.

Saccos first outing with the SDX900 was for Last Comic Standing. He said, ?We went to comedy clubs in eight different cities in under three weeks. I traveled to each city with three SDX900 camera packages, and hired local shooters in each town. Last winter, none of the shooters was very familiar with the camera, but they quickly realized how easy it was to use. Everyone loved shooting with it. With no engineer or gaffer on the road with me (I was both) I was able to make sure by taking all three cameras with me that they matched perfectly all the time.

?Because of the cameras speed and how well it handled under low lighting, I was able to light with less lighting and create a little bit of a moody club feel. Once we went to the semi-finals in New York and the finals in Las Vegas, the challenge was to keep that moody feel and very rich chromatic colors for the stage performance in the big theaters. Ultimately, the lighting directors in both cities loved the set-up of the cameras, the ?look, and how well the colors popped.

Sacco added, ?The SDX900s performance in the field continues to be incredible. The 15-second pre-record board is a huge hit in the reality world. The ability to paint the camera quickly in its presets, the ability to match multiple cameras in the field on the fly, dial in color, take out color are all tremendous benefits, and the camera is lighter than most Betacams, a tremendous help when you are shooting handheld all day.

Addressing the cameras color handling, the DP said, ?Shooting in the progressive mode in combination with the cine-like gamma curve creates the look or illusion of film, and is far superior to standard 60i video. In the unpredictable world of reality filming, where youre not able to paint each scene and light everything, the SDX900 passes with flying colors, handling mixed lighting well, holding up with major f-stop differences between the subject and background, and the colorimetry of the camera is great.

?With reality (TV), we shoot 99% preset. I dont have much to tweak in the camera besides setting the presets warmer, and cranking the chroma more than normal to really warm up skin tones and make colors pop more. I use new, HD lenses on the cameras?a definite asset. I have a philosophy of trying as much as possible to give post the exact look and color on tape while we are shooting, rather than waiting to go to color correction and tweaking.

Sacco concluded, ?Anyone thinking about doing a documentary without a major budget should invest in the SDX900. With the quality of the image it produces, it will look like a big budget production.

For more information on Panasonics 24p digital camera line-up, 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 worlds leading producers of electronic and electric products for consumer, business and industrial use.

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Related Keywords:Panasonic, AJ-SDX900, Tony Sacco, Project Greenlight, Project Runway, Miramax, ABS Productions, AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO Cinema, camcorders, Bravo, SDX900, NBC, Last Comic Standing, Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, Magic Elves, Moviola Hollywood,


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