FORT LAUDERDALE — Gorgeous beaches, art deco architecture, hip restaurants and bustling business communities make Miami, and South Florida, one of America's most desired destination hot spots. It's also a perfect backdrop for video production companies in search of just the right images to tell a story or sell a product dramatically.
While the trendy city may be a producer's dream location, it can also be a nightmare for video production companies shooting on location. Scorching heat, extreme humidity, limited production infrastructure and support services are just a few of the factors that make South Florida an extremely challenging environment in which to shoot and create high-quality video productions.
Just ask Champe Barton, owner of HD Suite (www.hdsuite.com), a video production company based here. Barton creates and posts high def commercials, documentaries and sports programming. He began working in the HDCAM format seven years ago when he noticed that the video production industry was moving from using 35mm film to video.
As a director of photography and post engineer, Barton faced several challenges in shooting video for films. For example, he shot an HD environmental documentary focused on saving the Everglades. For this film, stunning visual impact was a key component of the argument so Barton had to keep a keen eye on the performance of his equipment and tape stock under difficult circumstances.
"There is very little engineering support down here," explains Barton, who often finds himself having to carry his video equipment around to do transfers, going from humid conditions outdoors to indoor environments with air conditioning. He says this repeated change in environmental conditions can have a big impact on his need for reliability, especially his in tape stock. "If I get a bad piece of tape and it gums up my camera, it's tough to get repairs down here. I have to wait days to ship the equipment to New York or Los Angeles and get it fixed."
Barton shoots with a Sony F900 24-frame camera, which he describes as a workhorse, and uses Maxell HDCAM high definition tape cassettes. Along with his partners — editor Kent Harrell and engineer Bart Harrisson — Barton helped found HD Suite, which employs Apple's Final Cut Pro nonlinear editing system and the Sony HDCAM HDW F500 mastering deck. The full editing suite features 12TB of hard drive space.
HD Suite's post services allow client video to remain in uncompressed high definition from content gathering, through editing to mastering. HD Suite executives note that finishing a project in high definition gives their clients the option of delivering a project in HD, standard definition or any format of film or video.
"When I'm finished editing and mastering a client's project," explains editor Harrell, "that tape is put through very careful quality control, where it is closely scrutinized, not only for my work but for the technical quality of the media. To date, we haven't had any kind of anomalies or tape-related problems."
For Barton, "high definition was a way to offer high-end clients the quality they had come to expect from 35mm film, while retaining the cost benefits and production efficiencies of tape," says Barton. "From a producer's standpoint, the time savings provided by high definition tape, as opposed to film is considerable.
The ability to shoot continuously, without reloading film, provides a real luxury and a cost savings we can pass on to our clients," he says. "HD tape also provides us with the opportunity to check our work immediately and make changes on the fly. And it makes editing much simpler."
Barton also points to the additional flexibility working in HD affords him and his partners. "Shooting in HD puts you into the 16x9 world where you can format it in standard video or HD," he explains. "In post, HD also gives you more work space and allows you to shift the image from side to side and permits more flexibility in cropping.
"Shooting in HD, once you learn how to tweak the camera, also allows you to do color correction on site, which is important for our furniture commercials because the client can't always be present for the editing session. But they're almost always on site, so they can see the final color palette," explains Barton.
For Barton and his HD Suite partners, waking up in South Florida may just be another day in paradise, but it's also another day of facing environmental and infrastructure challenges. To mitigate these challenges, Barton says the most reliable products can make a world of difference.