Robert Altman's New HD Movie

This is an interesting Q&A with Robert Altmans's son (Robert Reed Altman) who is a camera operator on his dad's movies. This is from HD Studio:







60-Second Q&A:

Acclaimed director Robert Altman's new feature film, A Prairie Home Companion, was captured on Sony F-900 HD cameras and three different Fujinon HAe10x10 (10-100mm T1.8) and two HAe5x6 (6mm to 30mmT1.8) HD zooms. Clairmont Camera supplied the HAe10x10 lenses while Fletcher Chicago provided the HAe5x6 lenses.

Altman's son, Robert Reed Altman, served as the A-camera operator (along with Pete Diazzi), and said his father chose HD video for this production because he wanted to shoot for 30 minutes straight without re-loading. The final scenes in the film range up to 23 minutes in length. Some of the environments, such as on the stage and backstage make-up rooms, involved lower lighting levels, which Robert said was another reason why Sony's HDCAM video cameras worked so well for this shoot.

The total shoot took six weeks in and around St. Paul, Minn. The HD video was transferred to film at Technicolor's facility in New York. Ed Lachman, ASC, served as DP while Ryan Sheridan was HD Engineer on the set.

Q: Being such a well-known film director, why did your dad shoot in HD?

A: We did The Company in HD back in 2003 because there were long dance scenes in it. We find that HD allows us to experiment with longer scenes and not have to worry about film stock. He decided to do the same thing on Prairie Home Companion so that he could shoot long takes. One scene was 9 pages long (about 23 minutes). We used four Sony cameras that were supplied by Panavision for The Company because we wanted the renders to match between the cameras, but we were not happy with the results. So we did a lot of research for this movie and chose the Sony F900s tied to two SRW-1 HDCAM SR VTRs, which allowed us to capture more information on the tape. We used two cameras most of the time and three for some of the scenes. My dad also liked the quality of the image of the Fujinon lenses and the wide zoom range that they provided us with. He likes to zoom in on his subjects a lot.

Q: How did this production differ from a traditional film set?

A: The whole film was shot on a stage in a theater or outdoors, so we were shooting at very low light level range. We think HD works a lot better than film in low light situations. Other than that, were able to be a lot more mobile than usual because we were using an Evertz fiber-optic cable system (configured by Clairmont Camera) that connected each camera to a centrally controlled engineering station where the DIT sat. This cut down the number of cables in the set to from about 15 to a single cable, which made a big difference between this shoot and the Company shoot. Another difference [was] my dad used two large 20-inch Sony monitors on set to watch the output of both cameras as we were shooting. He also had a mic which he used to talk us through the scenes. It was much better than watching a small video assist screen like we usually have on a film set. And it saved us a lot of time in post because we got what we wanted on the set.

Q: How did the Sony F900s perform?

A: They were great. We did a bunch of tests and realized that shooting in 4:2;2 was fine for what we needed. The nice thing was we could record video in the camera as well as to the SWR-1s at the same time. This gave us our dailies and a back-up tape in the camera. The SWR-1 tape became our master because you get one-third of the color information on the deck while you get about one seventh of the color on the tape inside the camera. This allowed us to produce the best image possible with the Sony cameras.

Cool stuff. I never saw "The Company" (my girlfriend did though and said she didn't like it - and since it was about a dance company and she didn't like it - I could only imagine I wouldn't), but I find it interesting that it was shot on HD. I don't recall hearing that at the time. I'm always glad when I hear of an A-List Hollywood director choosing to shoot on HD, thus making it more acceptable in the eyes of distributors, the public, etc.

Altman films though are always hit or miss in my opinion. I loved "The Player" and enjoyed "Mash" (sort of), but a lot of his other films don't do much for me. Nonetheless I do think he is an innovative director and I'm very glad to see him embracing the HD revolution. Slowly but surely we're getting there...

-Blake


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I'm a filmmaker who's produced & directed five feature films including the comedy SPILT MILK (available on iTunes), the new horror/thriller PHOBIA (on iTunes) and the action/thiller KILLING DOWN (which you can buy or rent at pretty much all the usual places).

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