Intelligence Squared Debates

Even though I don’t do a lot of it, I love shooting multi-cam events. I enjoy the complexity of matching cameras, running hundreds of feet of cable, feeding everything into switchers and monitors and routers and … you get the idea. It’s nice to play with all the toys every once in awhile!

For the last 2 years, I have worked with Suspension Productions to shoot a live debate series called Intelligence Squared, hosted by ABC News correspondent John Donvan. While the monthly event is attended by over 400 people, it is also livestreamed to Fora.tv and NPR, as well as broadcast after-the-fact to PBS stations nationwide. This is an exciting opportunity to have our material shown to such a wide, diverse viewing audience. Tonight’s topic: “The FDA’s Caution is Hazardous to Our Health” is our last shoot of the season, before starting up again in September.

 

Camera Plot. Courtesy of Suspension Productions.

Camera Plot. Courtesy of Suspension Productions.

 

We shoot the show on 4 Panasonic Varicam 2700′s and 2 HPX-250′s. The 2700′s provide the master coverage of each debate team, the moderator, and an operated audience shot. The 250′s provide the locked wide position from the front and back of house. Everything gets fed into a multitrack switcher that our director, Joe Locarro, calls and cuts the show from. The live edit then gets recorded to P2 cards, as well as sent to a computer for H.264 encoding for the livestream. Each camera records its own isolated angle to P2 cards as well. When Joe goes back to re-edit the show for television broadcast, he is able to use the line cut as a starting point before fine tuning the edit with the ISO tracks.

 

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The show runs for about an hour and a half, so with 6 cameras rolling straight through, there is a lot of media to manage. The turn around time for the edit is very fast, so we decided to shoot the show at 1920×1080 30PN in AVC-Intra 50 to save space and render time. Final Cut Pro’s multicam editor is better at handling 1080 material at AVC-Intra 50 than at higher data rates, and AVC-Intra 50 allows the entire show to fit on one 64GB P2 card, per camera.

 

Color matching cameras

Color matching cameras

 

Unfortunately, there is also no time for a color correct other than a minimal pass for tweaking shot to shot. Because of this, we established a look in the beginning and load it into the cameras at each checkout. Since there are two different camera systems, I had to spend some time matching the HPX-250 to the 2700. There really isn’t much you can do with the 250, so I got it as close as possible. I was able to match the gamma, color saturation, and black levels pretty closely, but the color tends to favor red-magenta in the current configuration. Even with that said, they are pretty damn close. Thankfully, these cameras do not share similar frames to the 2700 shots, so they intercut pretty seamlessly. Something we found when color balancing the 2700′s is that you cannot expect the same color rendition from camera to camera if you dial in a specific color temperature. Not only does manually setting a Kelvin temperature not take into account any green-magenta shift that a white balance compensates for, but each sensor can have a variance of a few hundred degrees Kelvin. Even after white balancing each camera to a uniform tungsten source, the temperature can read anywhere from 2800 to 3300 degrees. This is a little off putting at first, but once you switch the cameras through a vectorscope, the uneasiness slowly goes away…

All in all, this is an exciting job to work on. Not only do I get to develop the look of the show and continually adjust the cameras month after month, but we all get to sit in on some very compelling debates covering a wide range of subjects. The hardest part of the shoot is not getting lost in the debate and staying focused on operating!

Be sure to watch the livestream tonight at 6:30 or check out PBS to see how it all comes together.

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