It seems that Tom’s recent post about his dealings with the Phantom Flex has gotten some serious circulation via the interwebs. So I would like to take you to a time about 6 months ago, before all of this incredible footage surfaced on tomguilmette.com. We were on the verge of another long season of NBA basketball for a very successful franchise that continued to grab more and more ratings as time progressed. My goal was to do something this year for our broadcasts that would elevate the look and evolve us towards a more cinematic package for games and promos.
How was I going to achieve this? Shoot some high speed. It’s the easiest way to get a high end product that few can reproduce, and to do it quickly for minimal cost. Of course, because I was so confident that we could pull it off, it ended up being anything but easy.
One day every year, before the season starts, we get the opportunity to shoot every player on the team for about 15 minutes. This time includes any interview questions we might want to ask, any specific copy we need them to read, and most importantly some artistic shots of them that can be used within the graphics for the actual games. These would be the shots you see when the director decides to go to a highlight package focused on a single players performance. As you can imagine, a whole lot of resources ride on successfully using those 15 minutes with each player. We need our own superstars in the world of production to be successful with the superstars of the NBA world.
Enter Tom Guilmette, Jeff Hamel and Jamie Wexler. Tom is the DP, who is responsible for all moving images, both in cinematic high speed and regular broadcast HD. Jeff is our ace lighting designer who is responsible for providing quality light for both scenarios (a very difficult task considering we used the same set). Rounding out the bunch is Jamie, who shot beautiful portrait stills without compromising the video shoot. This crew was complimented by a small crew of local freelancers that assisted with all of the other crucial parts of the production.
So there were two major considerations with the goal in mind. One: Which high speed system should I use? and Two: How are we going to light it? Luckily Tom knows a little bit about cameras and Jeff has worked on the popular Discovery series Time Warp.
The location was to be in a conference room with 10ft ceilings. I needed to shoot on both a set and on a blue screen so that I could get the most milage out of my dealings with the players for the next year. We needed to light both of these scenes, and within that, the scene with the normal set had to be lit for high speed and normal speed. Jeff brought in the help of High Output Inc. for grip and electrical equipment. This included a decent sized generator (whose size escapes me, but I would guess in the realm of 20kw). Power had to be run a couple hundred feet and down one flight of stairs. On the main set (high speed) he suggested that we use large filament tungsten lights to mitigate flicker problems as much as possible. He ended up going with 4- 5k fresnels. He used a whole bunch of 1k’s for lighting the set and various accents within the scene. The whole rig was circuited with dimmers so that we could drop the intensity for the normal speed shots so that the look would somewhat match. Oh yeah, he lit the bluescreen set as well… mostly with a whole bunch of Kino Flo’s (I remember parabeams playing a big part, but there were some 4ft 4 bankers in there too).
I had serious concerns that, given the dimensions of the room, this much light would melt ceiling tiles and or possibly end up calling the fire department for us. Jeff and High Output came to the rescue once again with an idea that I had not thought of. Let’s air condition the room. We already had shipped in plenty of power, so why not. High Output rented us a huge portable AC unit that was turned on between players in the down time to keep the room comfortable and safe.
On the imaging side of things, we had a few options. Tom had just wrapped up shooting some Phantom HD Gold footage and had also developed a wonderful connection at Fastec Imaging. We threw around a lot of ideas and decided that the best option, given our time sensitivity with the players, was the most light sensitive Phantom camera we could get our hands on. The only problem was that no one has them. At the time, the v640 was the most light sensitive camera that they had that could shoot HD raster sizes at our desired frame rate. Our favorite in-town rental house (Rule/Boston Camera) did not have one at the time, although they have since upgraded to a Flex. I had to go to a bigger national rental house to get a v640 and all of the necessary camera support to build up the camera for handheld use. I rented glass locally. Rule got us hooked up nicely with a beautiful set of Zeiss Superspeed primes as well as some extra Anton Bauer Hytron140 batteries for both cameras.
On the broadcast side, Tom had his trusty Sony PDW-F800 equipped with his Fujinon ZA 17×7.6 BERM with his Vinten Vision 10AS on 10 ft of dolly track for picking off the normal speed shots of the players. Add another F800, similarly equipped, on the bluescreen set. Both broadcast cameras were set for 50 MBs acquisition so that we would have the highest quality copy of this important footage. We would later transcode to 35 MBs for our normal broadcast use. It was very important to me to shoot 50 MBs on the blue screen, because the more color information you have, the better your footage will key in compositing.
Beyond these major considerations, I designed a set that I thought would be simple enough to light and execute, while not clashing with our live event package. I mocked it up in After Effects, and was even able to show Tom and Jeff the lighting and camera moves that I wanted with the mockup that I made (below). This went a long way in helping the vision come to life. I also planned for setting the room up and accomodating the players while they waited in the area outside the room. We brought in craft services and created a small waiting room with pipe and drape. This was a great bribe for the players who had been dealing with the other vultures in the press all day long.
So with all of these considerations in mind, it was time to stop planning and start doing.
COMING UP NEXT:
In part two of this post, I’ll give you details of what went well and what went very wrong. You may be surprised by the latter.
For part two of this post, Click Here.