Behind the scenes on the VariCam sizzle reel

When a room of nearly 100 sceptical broadcast journalists warmly applauds your work, you know you are on the right track. That’s exactly what happened at IBC this year when the stunning Panasonic VariCam sizzle reel, produced by Light Iron, was shown for the first time.

We spoke to Suny Behar, the Director of Photography.

1. What was the concept for VariCam sizzle reel?

The main idea was to produce a sizzle reel that could showcase as many possible locations and scenarios in which the VariCam 35 could be used. Michael Cioni, the director, was adamant about not just shooting a short narrative film, since this would naturally limit the choice of locations and also the kind of elements that could me shot. By focusing mainly on getting a plurality of shots, we were able to truly demonstrate the versatility of the camera.

2. When and how long did you shoot the material? What kind of places did you choose and why?

The whole reel was done on a very accelerated schedule due to the IBC deadline that was looming. We shot right before IBC. All together this was a 10-day shoot. We had 2 cameras and pre-produced about 20 different shots in order to get the coverage necessary to really put the camera through its paces.

Sports were represented by shooting an LA Galaxy Soccer game since representing sports is in important part of the heritage of the VariCam. We also wanted to represent Music Videos, Commercials, and Narratives, so we built a few sets in a small studio where we shot the more artistic/interpretive pieces (Woman in snow, girl on a swing, raindrops on window, man at his work desk). Since nature photography was key as well, an animal wrangler was hired and asked to bring in spiders, frogs, snakes, and other reptiles to replicate what could be Nat Geo or other wildlife content.

For the establishing vista shots we took a very cool trek up and through California. Starting with Los Angeles, we drove all the way up to Yosemite and Tahoe and then back down on the Pacific coast through Big Sur and San Simeon. 1500 miles over 6 days.

And finally there were the helicopter shots of Los Angeles. The Chopper had a PictureVision mount. We were able to have the 18-80 Fuji lens on there, which gave us great options. The night time elements were photographed at 5000 ISO, which gave us unbelievable detail in the building structures and their specular reflections.

3. How did the camera performed? How does it differ from other high end cameras? And what were the main advantages?

Although the cameras we received were pre-production models, they performed exceptionally well. There are many excellent digital cinema cameras on the market today, but the VariCam 35 definitely has some features that should help it stand out of the crowd.
1) Dual Native ISO (800 and 5000) really gives you a camera with two completely different film stocks.
2) Dual Record allows you to record both your Master Media (in VLog), and your Edit ready Dailies with LUT and TC all in the same pass.
3) Wifi Metadata and LUT control. The ability to colour correct the image wirelessly and apply a non-destructive LUT to the monitor output gives directors and producers great confidence that they are acquiring exactly what they want in terms of image structure and colour.

4. What were the challenges? Were there any difficulties with the use or new features you were not familiar with? Were you able to overcome them?

We had a few challenges related to the cameras being Beta Models that end users will not face, like monitoring pathways, etc. I guess the biggest surprise and adjustment that we had to make was in terms of ISO. Every ISO that is not 800 or 5000 carries a certain amount of Gain. (1250, 2500, etc.). As it turns out, 5000 ISO is much quieter than 2000 ISO, which is not intuitive for cinematographers. These in between ISOs are not native to the sensor pathway and hence require gain adjustments. The native ISOs (800 and 5000) receive gain right behind the sensor in the analog pathway of the camera before compression and signal processing which makes it very, very clean. This took an adjustment of mindset.

6. Will you be using this camera in the future? What kind of uses do you think would be the best for it?

I will. I believe that the immediate applications would be for Television Series. With many networks demanding a 4K delivery, having the ability to shoot with great colorimetry, a great workflow, and in native 4K, makes the VariCam 35 a natural choice for episodic television.

The sizzle reel for the VariCam is available on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/105522587