High Definition Brings European Vacations to American Homes
"The goal of a documentary has always been to document reality, without manipulation,” said filmmaker Randall Dark, cofounder and president of HD Vision Studios. “When working with the forcibly controlled medium of the motion picture, that is extremely difficult – if at times impossible – to achieve. The High Definition (HD) video format, however, has made significant strides in freeing filmmakers from the obstacles standing in the way of spontaneous, undirected reality.”
The benefits of HD have never been more apparent than with Dark’s new documentary series, European Getaways. Dark and his crew had three short weeks to capture images from 10 of Europe’s premier cities – Paris, London, Rome, Naples, Amsterdam, Venice, Monte Carlo, Nice, Athens and Barcelona. The footage shot in each city was then edited into ten, 25-minute stand-alone documentaries – one film representing each city.
Dark decided on a guerilla-style approach to the project. He divided his crew in half, and gave each team five cities, an HD camera and Maxell HDCAM videocassettes.
“The goal with this series was to show these famous places from the point of view of a first-time tourist,” said Dark. “In each city we bought tourist maps and traveled from destination to destination, emulating what any foreign visitor might do. What I wanted to achieve was an accurate representation of each locale, so that a family planning to visit one of these cities could watch our programs and decide which location, and which attractions, would best appeal to their interests.”
With this type of project, HD provided two huge advantages over film: the ease of camera set-ups and the fact that footage didn’t need to be developed. By looking through the viewfinder of his HD camera, Dark could see exactly what he was shooting and recording. The sound was also fed directly into the camera. As a result, preparation time was significantly decreased. This allowed for more flexibility when moving from location to location, without sacrificing image quality.
“Free from long hours of preparation, we were able to shoot 50-60 set-ups per day,” said Dark. “One of the best examples of this advantage was at the Vatican, in Rome. We witnessed the Pope saying mass and were given permission to shoot footage of him from just a few feet away.”
Using film, the crew would have had to meter the light, make sure the sound was synched, and record the sound separately with a DAT recorder. Because of the ease of operation with his HD Camera, Dark simply turned the camera on, white balanced, and recorded the event with the sound recorded directly onto the Maxell tapes. The shooting caused no disruptions to the mass.
“I was so confident in the footage I shot that I shipped it home without even giving it so much as a glance,” said Dark. “Thanks to the reliability of the camera, and because I trust the reliability of Maxell’s HDCAM cassettes, I was confident there would be no problems with exposure or digital glitches. What I saw was what I got, in real time.”
It wasn’t until the he got back to Los Angeles to begin editing that Dark actually saw everything the crew shot. HD Vision Studios was able to edit online, directly from the masters shot in Europe. Because he wanted to accurately represent all the familiar European icons, color correction was practically nonexistent.
“I wanted to represent each city as we saw it, not as we could perceive it through the subjective magic of postproduction,” added Dark. “Herring Broadcasting, Inc., a parent of the “Wealth TV” HD network, has purchased the series and is airing it on their network. The best way to see it is in true high definition, and we’re hoping that those who tune in have as good a time experiencing Europe as we did.”