WEB SPOTS: Fast, simple, cheap, P2

All Digital for the Power Company

My first P2 projects, three web spots, are now live–and I’m impressed at what we did with a small crew and a tiny camera.

The crew consisted of myself, a sound person, a key grip, and a dozen agency personnel. (Yes, the crew was outnumbered by creatives, but they were very nice people and had some good ideas. I guess that’s why they’re called creatives!) These were very fast and simple shoots, intended to accompany PG&E’s television commercial campaign promoting their use of clean energy resources. The web site is

For my work, click on:

The WINDMILLS; the COW (the video that comes up first is the TV spot; for my web spot, click “WEB FILM” at the top right of the screen); and the WAVES. (I didn’t shoot the others.)

These were all shot on a Panasonic HPX-500 from Chater Camera of San Francisco. I hadn’t used this camera before, and it was described to me as the big brother to the HVX-200–which didn’t thrill me at all. The HVX-200 is a decent camera for what it is, but I’m a bit of a big camera snob: I like the beastly-big pro cameras like the F900R or the Varicam, and I find “prosumer” cameras lack the image quality that I like my work to have. Plus I find the prosumer controls very difficult to use quickly. (I like to move quickly. My clients want me to move VERY quickly.)

I have to admit that this camera did a great little job. We shot “720p,” which for this camera is really 480p uprez’d to 720p as it uses the same SD chip as the SDX-900, and 24pn mode, which runs at 24 fps exactly. Not 60 fps trimmed down to 24, the way the Varicam does it, but actually 24 fps. (The “n” in “pn” stands for “native.”) The colorimetry is all Panasonic (they do really have the nicest colorimetry you can find in a camcorder these days) and the contrast range wasn’t horrible–it wasn’t a Varicam, but it wasn’t an HVX-200 either. For the price it split the difference nicely.

I really enjoyed the time lapse function, which I tried out on the cow/methane piece. There’s a funky way this has to be enabled: I don’t remember exactly how it’s done, but I think you change the camera over from “film” mode to “video” mode and then set the frame rate to 30p instead of 24pn. That unlocks the time lapse controls so you can set the interval and start recording. Naturally, the only way to stop shooting time lapse footage is to turn the camera off. Then it’s important to wander through the menus and put the camera back to “film” mode and 24pn. It’s a bit of a headache the first few times but over time it does become second nature.

We had no lights for these spots, only a 6×6 gryff, a couple 4×4 floppies, some 4×4 bounce cards and the occasional 4×4 silk. The interview for the cow web spot was simply subtractive lighting–I used a couple of 4×4 floppies to take the “fill” side of the face down, and a shiny board reflected some skylight to create a subtle glint in the subject’s eyes. That was it. The beach and windmill interviews were tougher as the sun was higher, and if you’re staring at a face for a long period of time while trying to sell a product it’s important that the eyes don’t look dark and sunken. Those were “lit” with a combination of a silk overhead and a lot of bounced fill underneath, trying to decrease the contrast to the point where I didn’t have to overexpose the background to make the faces look the proper exposure. The windmill footage was the hardest as we fought intermittent clouds and sun, which can be dealt with to a great extent when shooting film and futzing around a bit in telecine, but are death to 8-bit compressed HD.

The post guys at the agency added some digital grads to help out the occasional blown-out sky.

I’m pretty happy with how they turned out, considering that we shot these quickly with minimal crew. I feel that composition and picking the right spot to put the camera is more than half the battle; if you get that right it almost doesn’t matter what camera you use.


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Art Adams is a cinema lens specialist at ARRI, Inc. Before that, he was a freelance cinematographer for 26 years. You can see his work at Art has been published in HD Video Pro,…

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