Steven Trent Smith
This spring Martha
and I had the pleasure of hosting a pair of DV seminars. The first was
organized by the Philadelphia Independent Film and Video Association
(PIFVA) as an event tied into the annual Philadelphia International
The PIFVA meeting was a sort of "hands-on" clinic, chock-a-block
full of tips for shooting DV in its various iterations. This format
has become wildly successful, and our audience revealed the diversity
of interest in DV. About half the folks were focusing upon documentary
filmmaking. The other half wanted to produce fictional films, especially
I opened the session with my preachy dogma- that we are witnessing a
"sea change" in motion picture production, and that because
of DV's low cost and ease of accessibility, this format is "democratizing"
the production process. Anybody can now make high (technical) quality
programs for a fraction of what it cost a few years ago. Anybody.
We then showed examples of how DV is changing the video world.
On the non-fiction side, the first tape we looked at was a 1996 episode
of The Learning Channel's Travelers series, shot in the Philippines.
That show was one of the first to embrace miniDV in a serious way. The
first few were shot with a pair of Betacams. That was proving to be
a budget-buster, so the producers asked Videosmith to take an off-the-shelf
Sony VX-1000 camcorder and give it the capabilities of the big Beta
cameras. We fiddled around a bit and came up with what we called the
"Mightywondercam." The VX-1000 sat atop a shoulder pod that
carried a 12v battery for the camera (through a 7.2v converter) and
light; a Sennheiser ME-66 short shotgun microphone and a pair of Lectrosonics
VHF radio mics. The microphones plugged directly into the camera (via
a "Y" cable), for in those early days of DV nothing like the
Beachtek DXA box existed.
The idea behind Mightywondercam was to provide two-camera coverage on
Travelers at a substantial savings over all-Beta. The rig worked surprisingly
well. And in the Philippines, it was a life-saver. Because of the heat
and high humidity, the Beta got a mother head-clog and was rendered
useless. Until we could get a replacement up from Manila, the Mightywondercam
was all we had. I showed segments of this footage to the PIFVA people
as a demonstration of both early DV quality and versatility.
The second tape we showed was a few scenes from the Naudet brothers'
gut-wrenching coverage of the collapse of the World Trader Center towers
(shown on CBS as 9/11). The mere fact that their DV camera continued
to work after several dust baths was a remarkable testament to the ruggedness
of the gear and format.
We then shifted gears- to the fiction arena.
I showed excerpts from British director Mike Figgis' groundbreaking
Timecode. This film was shot simultaneously with four Sony DSR-130 DVCam
camcorders. Figgis chose these because he wanted to roll continuously
for ninety minutes (the big DSR's can record up to 184 minutes without
a pause). The final product is displayed as a "quad-split"
on the screen. The action is synchronous on each quadrant, sometimes
diverging, sometimes converging. The story is rather bland, and I found
Timecode a very hard film to watch. But the very fact that it was made
on DV and blown up to 35mm for theatrical release makes it a landmark.
BTW- Figgis's next film is also being shot on DV, with little PD-100A
All four cameras were handheld, and the images looked like video - no
attempt was made to go for a "film-look". But the final demo
of the day was The Anniversary Party, shot very definitely in film-style,
with a Sony DSR-500 DVCam. John Bailey, ASC was the DP. Jennifer Jason
Leigh and Alan Cumming co-wrote/directed/produced, and starred in the
film. Also appearing were such luminaries as Kevin Kline, Jennifer Beals
and Gwyneth Paltrow. The main reason for shooting DV was the cost savings.
The film looked gorgeous, and only occasionally could the viewer see
the video origins (mainly in contrast ratios and motion artifacts).
What I pointed out to the participants was that if the story and the
acting are good, an audience does not much care what format a film is
Also BTW- the latest Star Wars episode was shot on high definition video.
The second meeting we did was for the Media Communications Association
- International (better known in the Philadelphia as the ITVA). The
group was made up mainly of old-line video producers and technicians,
most of them with corporate TV backgrounds, who'd seen it all and done
it all. This session was billed as a "shootout" between DV
and Betacam SP. Using our new Sony DSR-570, we were able to simultaneously
record DVCam and SP on separate decks. This then allowed us to compare
the images side-by-side. The group was truly stumped. They were unable
to tell the difference.
After the "oohing" and "ahhing" was over, we showed
the same tapes we'd played during the PIFVA meeting. At the close of
the session we took a poll - who in the audience already had experience
with DV? To my astonishment, a majority raised their hands. And not
only had these folks used DV, more than half of them owned their own
DV cameras, decks and edit stations. Here was proof positive that the
sea change was reaching high tide.
As I've said before- this is an exciting time to be working in video.
Opportunities are rife. Doors are opening. The inundation has begun.
There'll be a lot of failed DV films, but they are films (personal statements,
if you will) that could not, would not, have reached us even five years
ago. Viva DV!
© 2002 Steven Trent Smith