Slow video adoption speeds up for nets


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When NBC decided to shoot its remake of the successful BBC series "The Office," co-executive producer Kent Zbornak backed away from using 35mm. "We wanted to shoot on videotape, with a 16:9 environment to look more like a documentary," he explains, noting that the show is shot in high-def with a Sony HDW-F900 camera. "(HD) adds to the 'reality' feel."

The industry sees digital acquisition as the up-and-coming thing for network TV programming, but it has been slow to adapt. In addition to "The Office," shows like ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" and the CW's "Everybody Hates Chris" are shot digitally, as are a small raft of new programs, such as CBS' "Rules of Engagement," ABC's "Samantha Who?" and the CW's "Gossip Girl." And, of course, all of the reality and contest shows are digital.

But, LaserPacific Media Corp. president Leon Silverman says, "We have a big share of TV work, and it's all being shot on 35mm film."

Silverman, whose LaserPacific is owned by Kodak, isn't giving film-acquired network TV an unfair boost: Major postproduction facilities throughout Los Angeles claim that the growth in digitally acquired shows has been modest at best. "I think you can say that there's been more digital acquisition than last year, although it's not up dramatically," says FotoKem senior vp Rand Gladden. "We're still in transition, and nobody jumps on the bandwagon that fast. Digital is being adopted but moving at a rate that should be expected."

But for producers who do shoot digitally, the benefits can be artistic as well as practical. "For us, the biggest freedom is the fact that we put in 60-minute loads," Zbornak says. "This gives our director and cast the freedom to do take after take."

This freedom to shoot without cutting also has an effect in post. For "The Office," a night editor digitizes and logs as much as 20 hours of tape daily. But that's a small price to pay for the speed, efficiencies and cost savings that can accrue from the digital production.

"Fewer people are screening dailies today because they're doing it right on set," says Grass Valley strategic marketing manager Mark Chiolis, who represents the Viper. "And people are sending only circle takes into post, which means they're deleting on set."

Though not every production goes that far, there are other distinct advantages. "Producers save all the film costs," FotoKem's Gladden says. "There are still charges they have to recognize for the dailies process, like synching up sound, but at a lesser rate than film."

The Panasonic P2 camera, which records onto solid-state cards, offers even more time savings, as evidenced in the "Charlie-vision" sequences of CBS' "Numbers." "You don't have to ingest tape into a nonlinear editing system," says the Post Group senior editor Randy Magalski. "You stick the card into your laptop, and, voila, you can look at your media immediately."

Speeding up the process of digitizing dailies and moving them into the editorial process is the only part of the postproduction workflow that's affected by the switch from film to digital, say post experts, but post facilities are still creating new tools to streamline the entire TV post process. For example, FotoKem's Global Data Delivery service allows its Burbank facility to transfer digitized material in real time from one facility to another, a process they're using to move "Gossip Girl" from PostWorks in New York to its Burbank outfit.

With the exception of the digitizing-and-dailies process, however, the postproduction workflow has not changed much for digital productions. "Some mimic the workflow we have had for years gone by of film-acquired shows, by creating select reels similar to a telecine-dailies-type setting," says Level 3 Post managing director Darrell Anderson. "Some simply have us create down converts for their editing needs. Once the shows get past the dailies stage, all of the show's workflow essentially remains the same."

Yet digital acquisition has a place on TV -- but where it's hottest is with the new wave of cable programming. ESPN's "The Bronx Is Burning," which is shot with the Viper, posts at Encore Hollywood. "The reason (for digital acquisition for cable shows) is obviously cost," says Encore Hollywood managing director Barbara Marshall. "But shooting digitally isn't taking away any of the qualities of production."

The wealth of digitally acquired shows for cable will eventually have an impact on network TV. "Cinematographers who come off a cable series and go to a network show are much more likely to say, 'Digital acquisition -- sure!'" says Keep Me Posted vp sales Hawk Hamilton.

At LaserPacific, which is posting FX's "The Riches" (shot with the Viper), among others, Silverman sums up the evolution of digitally shot TV. "It goes in waves," he says. "And it depends on the creative people and what their vision and experience is."


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