HD In Real Time

If you were to visit the set of a prime-time network show, you would probably find top-of-the-line digital cinematography cameras or film cameras in use. But some producers and cinematographers find innovative ways to use low-cost equipment, such as on the current season of FOX’s 24, now in production.

The gear in question is JVC’s GY-HM100U and GY-HM700U camcorders. Producer Michael Klick explains that the cameras are used to gather footage for on-set imagery. "We use them to gather source materials, for things like computer screens, PDAs, telephone screens, or when we cut in with newsreel footage, traffic-cam footage and so on."

"We’ve always had a component of the show that’s broadcasting on TVs, computer displays, within the offices of the secret service agency CTU, in hotel lobbies, newsstands and so on," says series cinematographer Rodney Charters, ASC, CSC. "For the last three years, we’ve been using small-format JVC cameras for this footage." For the new season, using the new JVC camcorders, the production has moved from a tape-based to tapeless, file-based acquisition.

Season 8 of 24 also has a new CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) set that includes a 24-foot-wide projection screen, increasing the need for video playback material.

The high-definition cameras are used to shoot newscast inserts for the show as well. "Which camera we use is always story-specific," says Charters. "For example, if someone is arrested, and we need to see it on the news, we’ll shoot as if a news guy was there, cut it with a real FOX News reader from New York, composited with the banner, and we may or may not use live sound. It’s amazing how complex the story can become when different characters in different parts of the city witness events through TV."

Charters explained that a secondary use of the small HD cameras is to create background projection plates for "in-car" setups. In past seasons, these plates were shot with standard-definition cameras in PAL. "The small footprint of the 100U is perfect; it’s small, lightweight and easy to mount on the back of a car." The HD files are edited on a Mac and projected in the background for filming the car shots.

"We’re now getting away with using just three cameras for the plates," adds Charters. "At one time, we used as many as nine cameras to make everything match, but now we’re just shooting the driver, rear and a 30-degree angle on the passenger side. I use a long lens so we just see the effect, not outside the vehicle."

The show itself is shot on film. Charters likes the grain and texture that he feels is an important part of the look of 24. However, he has used a Panasonic VariCam for night-vision scenes, and when shooting night scenes from a helicopter, he used a Sony F950 with a stabilized ball rig.