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April 2014
Issue: November 1, 2008

TELEVISION: LEVERAGING THE RED

By: Daniel Restuccio
HOLLYWOOD — It’s early morning at a San Pedro warehouse that’s been transformed into a high-tech set for episode nine of Dean Devlin’s new TV series Leverage. The actors crouch behind a window as director Jonathan Frakes (yes, Star Trek’s Number 1!) watches intently on a monitor as a crane lowers a Red One camera into position for the shot.

This TNT series, premiering in December, is one of a slew of productions embracing a virtually tapeless 4K workflow provided by Red camera technology.

What led producer/director/writer Devlin to the One camera? An introduction by Mel Gibson connected Devlin with Red CEO Jim Jannard. Shortly thereafter, Devlin (Independence Day) shot the TV movie The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice on the Red and was so impressed that he chose to shoot every episode of Leverage with the Red One.

ON SET

On today’s shoot there are three Reds on set. One is sitting on the camera assistant cart while first AC Troy Blischok moves swiftly, switching out one of the Angenieux PL mount Opitmo lenses. “We’re shooting with the Red because the workflow is very easy to manage for television,” he says. “The camera looks very good. It’s very cost effective for this type of production.”

Second AC Jessica Ward pulls the hard drive from the back of the camera, switches it for a fresh one and taps the camera joystick to format the drive.

“We treat it just like film, just like a film camera, Panavision, Arri,” continues Blischok.  “We have magazines. We load the magazines, they just happen to be digital hard drives or Flash drives. We pass the exposed magazines off to the post liaison. They download them, give us a progress report. Then from there [it] goes right into post.”

Unlike film magazines however, those hard drives skip going to the lab for processing or to a post facility for telecine. Instead they head straight to Devlin’s Hollywood-based production company, Electric Entertainment (www.electricentertainment.com), just an hour’s drive from set. The busy production office has been expanded into an even busier post facility that includes a VFX company, a digital theater, editing and color correction suites, and a sound mixing and ADR stage.

“What we’re delivered from the set is a FireWire drive that has the dailies that have been taken directly from the hard drive of the camera,” explains Leverage assistant editor Brian Gonosey. “We take those dailies and process them into what we are going to edit, finish and deliver on, which is the Apple ProRes 10-bit format. The files on set are captured at 4,000 pixel image resolution. So we have to scale those down as part of our transcode process to get them to our high-def format for editing. That’s what we edit with, what we correct with and deliver with. The ProRes file is laid to the SR tape.”

WORKFLOW

Gonosey worked with Devlin and Apple to set up their post infrastructure. “Apple and I were saying the same things to Dean. With this specific product you can do your entire production, soup to nuts, all in one building. If you have the right talent behind those tools you are going to end up with the same product as if you had gone to five different facilities around town.”

“We said, ‘Okay, now were shooting digitally, what else can we do with this?’” explains Devlin. “Because up until a few years ago we were shooting digitally, but we were still posting as if it were film. That’s when we said, ‘Let’s embrace all this new technology. How can we marry this all together for a completely internal digital experience?’”

Explains Gonosey, “With the cost of computers coming down, the cost of storage coming down, and the speed of computers increasing, we’ve been able to build a pretty impressive scalable SAN. We have six editors working in full high def simultaneously for easily 15 hours a day. All of them [are] also multi-clipping, running three or four streams of high def.”

“It was phenomenal,” says Devlin. “Not only did it allow us to do things in-house, but it actually changed the workflow. Now that it’s all in-house and now that it’s interconnected the way it is, we’re color correcting dailies, were mixing rough cuts, we’re doing looping to rough edits. So the process has changed when and how we do things... It’s been a phenomenal experience — not just in the protection of the material, but rethinking the creative process in working on the material.”

For final color correction, Devlin’s facility uses Apple’s Color, which supports the 10-bit, 4:2:2 Rec. 709 color space they work in for HDTV. “For our visual effects,” explains Gonosey, “for compositing and tracking, all of those shots are sent as the full RAW 4K files to visual effects. Our internal visual effects company is under the same roof, shares the same network, so assistants see a shot and they can output it. A visual effects artist has access to it within minutes.”

“If you don’t realize that the tipping point in digital has already happened you’ve been asleep,” concludes Devlin. “Our directors now are saying ‘cut’ far less often. Before you were worried how much film you were burning how much film you printed. Well everything is printed now.”