The River is a groundbreaking ABC/DreamWorks Television production created by Oren Peli and Michael R. Perry. In the story, Dr. Emmet Cole is an explorer and nature-show host who disappears deep in the Amazon jungle. After six months, Cole's emergency homing beacon starts sending out a signal, and his son and a team of documentary filmmakers set out to find him. They encounter mysterious, possibly supernatural phenomena along the way, as well as Cole's boat and a trove of video footage that adds intrigue. The show premiered on February 7.
Camera types included hard-mounted Canon EOS 5D Mark IIs and 7Ds catching surveillance footage from above, Sony PMW-EX3s handheld by on-camera documentary filmmakers, tiny GoPro units, Canon flash-based "prosumer" Vixia models, Silicon Imaging SI-2Ks, Sony PMW-F3s and ARRI ALEXAs, which were sometimes used because their more robust images could be helpful for the visual-effects team.
Leonetti performed an exhaustive battery of tests to determine the right camera for each application. "We chose carefully, because in every case, the characteristics of the image must deliver a story point to the audience," he says. "We use the Sony EX3 extensively. It delivers full HD, has a great ENG zoom lens on it, and it has excellent light sensitivity for that type of camera. The EX3 is 4:2:2, so we sometimes used the ALEXA to shoot full HD 4:4:4, knowing that we could 'dumb it down' in post to match the quality of the Sony."
Actors in the frame are often seen handholding EX3s. Bruce Greenwood, the actor portraying Emmet Cole, would also use a consumer video camera to shoot gritty "found footage" with a flashlight taped to the camera. "I realized after playing with the GoPro that in low light it becomes noisy and very yellow-orange, which can be very scary," adds Leonetti. "I used the GoPro in a way that it wasn't designed for, but every director that came in loved the images we got from it."
For another "gnarly" look, the crew used FLIR heat-sensitive camera technology. "That was great when there was no light at all," says Leonetti. "We also simulated night vision by shooting in black-and-white, and adding green and graininess in post. We used all these different flavors to help guide the audience, to cue them in to what's going on."