LOS ANGELES - In its 10-year history of documenting the practices and methods of the armed forces, production company Digital Ranch (www.digitalranch.tv) has recorded the many ways the military has evolved with new technologies. For this latest project, Inside Army, a national spot and an 18-minute direct market video for the U.S. Army through ad agency Leo Burnett, Digital Ranch was the one evolving, as its weapon of choice was the Sony 900 24p HD camera with Panavision lenses.
This project is the latest in a long line of Digital Ranch's work filming the U.S. armed forces. Before, Inside Army, the company shot the ad and web series Basic Training for the U.S Army, also through Leo Burnett. The Army gave Digital Ranch unlimited access to follow recruits through basic training and the footage led to two dozen reality-based ads documenting the recruits' transformation from civilians to soldiers. Following the success of that campaign, the Army gave digital Ranch the exclusive right to use the footage to produce Basic Training: The Series, which premiered August 5 on the History Channel. The Ranch has also been recording the personal stories of veterans from World War I though present conflicts for The Honor Project: Heroes of Our Nation on Record for the Library of Congress. Digital Ranch also provided archival footage for the HBO series Band of Brothers and is currently co-producing another military doc The Living Century for PBS with Reverie Productions.
Teaming up with producer/director Sam Ciaramitaro and cinematographer Allen Daviau, Digital Ranch put the HD camera through heavy battle as they followed the soldiers parachuting from helicopters; artillery teams firing 155mm Howitzer's and rescue forces in helicopters extracting comrades from heavily wooded areas. Executive producer at Digital Ranch Rob Kirk notes the same advantages as others who have opted to shoot HD instead of film - lower cost, 50-minute tapes and the ability to see the footage immediately. As the army sergeants were certainly not going to let their cadets rest while the film crew got ready, the ability to record for 50-minute became invaluable.
"On this type of shoot, where it was sort of a pseudo-documentary situation, is that you can pop a tape in and go for 50-minutes," notes Kirk. "We went up and did a lot of air-to-air shooting on this and we didn't have to worry about coming down, pulling off the housing, changing mags and going back up." The length of the tapes also became important during the many interviews as filmmakers were free to let the tapes run, ask all the questions they wanted with no thoughts about how much footage they were using.
In the past, documentarians conceded the lower quality image of video for the advantages of longer running tapes, immediate viewing and lower cost, but HD gives them the best of both worlds and Kirk sees the format quickly taking over the documentary market and beyond.
"We were really impressed," says Kirk. "Now, some of the real experts in this business can pick out certain scenes where you can tell it was shot on HD as opposed to film, but by-in-large you it's very hard to tell. Part of it though is having a great DP like Allen Daviau helps, but also the fact that Allen has experience shooting HD helps out a lot. If things aren't lit well, then HD is probably not going to look as close to film, but if you have someone that has experience, it looks spectacular."