Digitally Acquired TV Series
Issue: October 1, 2010

Digitally Acquired TV Series

Although many TV series on the broadcast and cable networks still originate on film, digital acquisition of all types has boomed, impacting post production paths. “Post workflows for digital shows are settling in,” says Nick Bradley, co-producer of the new FX series, Terriers. “Now it’s a matter of a DP finding the right camera that enables them to shoot like they did with film: capturing amazing images with lots of latitude while enjoying the bonuses you get on the back end in post.”


Although Showtime’s hit series Dexter has always originated digitally, for the first two seasons the slo-mo scenes used as plot devices were shot on film “because digital cameras couldn’t ramp,” points out co-producer Chad Tomasoski, who runs post for the show. “Starting in Season 3 we moved to the Sony F23 CineAlta camera where we’ve been able to do all our slo-mo as well.”

Now in its fifth season, Dexter uses F23s as its A and B cameras and employs Sony EX1 camcorders and Canon HDSLRs in guerrilla location units. “They make it easier on the crew, and the images are great,” says Tomasoski. “We can put an operator and an EX1 in the passenger seat for driving scenes instead of using a tow unit. Any inserts are picked up with the EX1. And we’ve put a fish-eye lens on DP Romeo Tirone’s own Canon HDSLR to simulate an ATM surveillance camera.”

On the set, DIT Daniel Applegate “helps keep the frame rates and codecs of the various cameras organized for us, especially when we’re using the EX1 or HDSLRs. He transcodes footage from the EX1 and HDSLRs to QuickTime ProRes files that go to the lab [at Technicolor Hollywood],” says Tomasoski. “Any of the ProRes files he creates on set are then laid off to HDCAM SR at Technicolor for archiving purposes.”

New this season is the implementation of Technicolor’s DP Lights on-location color previsualization toolset that allows looks to be created in realtime during production and cinematographers to adjust for lighting and show subtleties while capturing the full range of the camera’s image.

“It was Daniel’s suggestion, and it’s working out great,” Tomasoski reports. “When he and the DP set the look for a scene, that LUT is carried across all the dailies footage and into final tape-to-tape color correction where colorist Joe Cook brings up the LUT and sees what they had in mind. DP Lights saves us a bit more time on the back end but, more importantly, it allows Joe to spend more time fine-tuning the look of the show instead of balancing it.”

Once Technicolor ( has the dailies select master on HDCAM SR it makes DVCAM dubs for offline on Avid Meridiens at 14:1 compressed at the show’s production offices. When the editors lock picture they send an Avid bin to Technicolor for the conform in HD and color correction.

Technicolor online editor Ray Miller uses an Avid Symphony Nitris DX V.5 to perform the HD conform, including shot stabilizations, time-warp speed changes, shot clean-up and modifications, and motion tracking for monitors and computer screens. He also intercuts any visual effects shots done at Technicolor in Adobe After Effects or Autodesk Inferno.
“The workflow is still tape-based and all final conforms and color correction are done to HDCAM SR 1080p/23.98,” he reports. “We utilize the Avid for the advantage of building multilayered effects that include motion tracking, keying, security camera looks and monitor composites — all the metadata is left intact with the Avid sequence from capture to final conform, which lends to the efficiency when conforming and building effects.”

Miller conforms the show to a log image, then delivers a Color Decision List (CDL) to Cook. “DP Lights is fully compliant with ASC CDL so it transfers over to the Avid project,” he explains. “I create a CDL to pass to Joe so he has all the information on a shot-by-shot basis. This gives him full control and more range of the image in color correction.”
A titling pass is performed in a linear edit bay; the show is laid back to HDCAM SR as Showtime’s archive element. “We utilize all the tools,” says Miller. “Every show at Technicolor has a slightly different workflow based on the most efficient way to get the show done.”


The latest episodic venture from J.J. Abrams is NBC’s Undercovers in which the lives of married former spies take a turn when they’re thrust back in the world of espionage. The show’s associate producer/supervising editor, Stephen Semel, is coming off the very successful run of Lost for which he recently won an Emmy for picture editing.

Unlike Lost, which was shot 3-perf 35mm, Undercovers originates on Red Digital Cinema’s Red One camera. “It was either Red or film for the series,” he says. “The camera department did tests, and Red proved the more flexible way to go, the more streamlined process. Because we’re dealing with raw images, there’s a lot more leeway to blow up and reposition, a lot more freedom to manipulate the image than with film.”

Working with a file-based system also “affords more flexibility in VFX, and this show has a lot of VFX,” he adds. “The couple does a lot of world travel, and we frequently have the actors in front of a greenscreen. That’s more cumbersome with non-digital acquisition.”

There’s no DIT on set, but data manager Brian Udoff copies, organizes and delivers dailies to the lab at Burbank’s Level 3 Post ( Armed with a Mac Pro with Red Rocket, Red Cine-X and other software provided by Lightiron Digital, he copies material onto a 32TB SAS RAID and two shuttle drives, the latter dispatched to Level 3 overnight. The facility copies the drives to Facilis TerraBlock storage and uses a Symphony with Red Rocket and Avid V.5 software to transcode them to DNx36 files for the creative editing team at Warner Bros. working on a complement of Avid Media Composers.

Udoff also transcodes the material to H.264 and loads it onto Apple iPads so the DP, among others, gets to see MOS dailies — or most of the dailies — by the end of the shoot day. “People can literally watch almost everything that night,” says associate producer Geoff Garrett.

Once the three editors cutting at Warner Bros. and their assistants get the show “it’s no longer a Red show — it’s just what they’re used to seeing,” he explains. “There are no dailies reels in the conventional sense: Every time the camera starts and stops it produces a separate clip which, in essence, is your daily reel, each with a unique name and ID so you can go back and reconform the show.”

The editors deliver Avid sequences to Level 3 accompanied by QuickTime references of what the picture looks like. Level 3’s editors go back to the original 4K R3D files and re-transcode at 1920x1080 full-resolution HD, 10-bit, 444 color space for the conform.

“They take off any burnt-in color settings and produce a neutral look so colorist George Manno can reference what was done on set and recreate it or take the next step,” says Garrett. “It’s all about flexibility.” He notes that consulting colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld “set the initial look for the show, which George applies across the rest of the series. Since there’s so much world travel, different looks help the audience identify the locations — Madrid warm and yellow, Russia darker and more contrasty, Paris more color saturated.”
A DPX file sequence of the conformed show goes into a DVS Clipster so Manno can work with nonlinear sequences on his DaVinci 2K. He outputs a video assembled master on HDSR as an additional tape back-up.

Level 3 also cuts in visual effects from DPX files delivered by various vendors. Sound is recorded separately in a film-style workflow and reconfigured from the production sound mixer’s DVD-RAMs.

Garrett notes that “not many people are using the Red Rocket-enabled Symphony workflow. We developed it for the show and are able to do everything in one bay — the dailies, the online, pull VFX — because it all goes back to the original R3D files. Level 3 is looking to expand the capabilities of this workflow so multiple Avids can connect to the same system.”


Terriers, the new FX series from Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin, about buddies who are also unlicensed PIs, follows the Fox studio mandate for digital acquisition — in this case with Panavision’s Genesis camera, the choice of DP Curtis Wehr.


Although a DIT was on the set of the pilot, once the series got underway Wehr went solo on location in San Diego and Ocean Beach, CA. “He decided to shoot Genesis as if it were film, and just go with his instinct of what felt right,” says co-producer Nick Bradley. “Curtis, myself and Encore Hollywood colorist Pankaj Bajpai worked on the look of the show during the pilot and got on track with each other. Everything fell into place nicely for the series without a lot of testing; the show has a great, really unique look.”
Terriers takes advantage of DiTV, Encore Hollywood’s (www.encorehollywood. com) file-based workflow. Wehr captures images to HDCAM SR tapes that are delivered to Encore, ingested into their SAN and converted to DPX files. Dailies colorist Jason Altman saves full-resolution DPX files, both raw and colored. DVCAM cassettes are made for the editors working on the Fox lot in LA, who digitize the footage into Media Composers and cut the show.

Once the show is locked, all the online work is done from DPX files. Bajpai performs the final color grading with Autodesk Lustre. Editors John Hirota and Rob Williams use Autodesk Smoke to conform, title and do VFX drop-ins. Alex Espinoza, post supervisor on Terriers, takes advantage of being able to do VFX drop-ins and final color simultaneously to save time thanks to Encore’s link between Lustre and Smoke.

“I’ve done several shows with Encore DiTV,” Bradley reports. “We did a lot of R&D on the process for The Unit, which shot film that was converted to DPX files. What I like about DiTV is that it’s very adaptable. No matter what you shoot on, once footage is converted to DPX files the post production is the same.”

He cites the example of another show he’s working on, Ride Along, a Chicago-based police drama that will debut on Fox in January. “We switched to Arri Alexa for the series, and not too many shows are on that camera yet. DP Rohn Schmidt has been shooting Alexa to HDCAM SR, and it works great. Now we’re shooting simultaneously to tape and straight to ProRes so we can do side-by-side tests. Encore is investigating the best way to do ProRes post efficiently; we have to see if it can pass the studio’s QC tests for domestic and international markets.”

According to Bradley, “all DPs who have gotten their hands on Alexa think they’ve found the best of all possible worlds. Our in-house producer at Encore, Jason Parks, and VP of DiTV Services, Jennifer Tellefsen, are working closely with Arri to test ProRes.”

Overall, the move from film to digital acquisition for shows he’s worked on has been “a smooth transition,” he says. “What I especially like about it is how it’s brought the post production department and camera department closer together. We have more communication than ever before. Everyone is talking to each other a lot more.”


USA Network’s stylish White Collar takes a bicoastal approach to production and post. The series shoots in New York City with a Sony F35 as DP Russell Fine’s primary camera; a Sony EX3 is used for inserts and shooting on the fly, and a Sony DSR-PD150 camcorder that records to DVCAM tape is used to capture “surveillance” footage. Othmar Bickauer is the on-set DIT.

“We upgraded to the F35 this season,” says co-producer Keira Morrisette. “At wrap each day we send our footage to our lab at Technicolor New York for a midnight telecine session. The HDCAM camera masters and sound files are used to create our HDCAM master dailies reels. From there dailies tapes are made along with a standard def DVCAM that is digitized so ALE files can be sent via a TPN line to Technicolor Hollywood. There the files are downloaded and put onto a drive and taken to editorial.

“When we shoot with the EX3, we need to do an additional step before telecine,” she notes. “The footage needs to be converted through FileMaker Pro and then laid off onto HDCAM masters before it is telecined. If the footage is being used for playback, then it can be converted to QuickTimes and sent directly to our playback people in production.” She notes that the TPN lines eliminate the need to FedEx media from coast to coast. “They get dailies by 9:30am in Los Angeles. It’s a great method for shows that post in LA and shoot elsewhere.”

In LA, editors working on Avid Meridiens at the White Collar post production offices cut and lock the shows. Then Technicolor does the online on a Symphony and color correction with a DaVinci. Most of the VFX are done at Modern Videofilm, but the show has also tapped Stargate and Technicolor.
“It’s a pretty conventional path with a standard timeline based on airdate schedules,” Morrisette explains.
All audio post is done at Larson Studios in Los Angeles; New York ADR is performed at Soundtrack NY.
“With the ADR in New York, instead of a traditional ISDN line we do a phone patch using a Pro Tools system at Larson so we can follow along with the session in New York,” says Morrisette. “That allows me to still supervise the session and have a relationship with the actors as if we were all in the same city. I started using that process with Harper’s Island, which shot in Vancouver, and it worked really well. So last year I began doing it with White Collar.”
She points out that the show tries to use as much production audio as possible, looping primarily for the inevitable noise on the streets of New York and to add lines that have been written during post. “Production sound mixer Matthew Price and his team are amazing — they’re why we manage to keep most of the production sound they capture.


DP Lisa Wiegand is shooting the new ABC crime series, Detroit 1-8-7, in her native Motor City with a pair of Panasonic AJ-HPX3700 P2 HD Varicam camcorders supplemented by Panasonic AJ-HPX3000s and AJ-HPX170 P2 HD camcorders, all rented from Fletcher Camera & Lenses in Detroit.
Wiegand is no stranger to the P2 workflow: She used HPX3700s for the second season of Fox’s Dollhouse. “Having worked on a daily basis with the HPX3700 last season and having shot several documentaries with the original, tape-based Varicam, I decided that the P2 HD Varicam was ideal for the verite aesthetic of Detroit 1-8-7,” she says. “Except for occasional long-lens or car-mount work, our operators are consistently shooting handheld, and the HPX3700 is more ergonomic for them. We also use ENG lenses for a more documentary feel.”
There’s no DIT on set but the crew includes a digital loader and camera utility. When an operator fills a P2 card it’s immediately downloaded and backed up to a pair of G-RAID hard drives: one drive and the original card go to post and one drive remains on set.

Detroit 1-8-7 uses Mobilabs, the location-based dailies solution for digitally-acquired shows from Next Element by Deluxe ( Next Element’s crew in Burbank set up the process in Detroit, hiring local dailies colorist Christopher Dinnan and engineer Duane Wood. “They found very, very good Detroit talent,” notes post producer Paul Rabwin. “Having Mobilabs there has been invaluable — I can’t imagine doing the show without them.”

Mobilabs creates high-resolution DNx 175 files and sends them digitally to Next Element in Burbank, which, in turn, creates DNx 36 files for editorial on the Paramount lot. “We get dailies by 9am, just like they do in Detroit,” Rabwin reports. “Sometimes they’re in my Avid before Lisa has even seen them!”

Wiegand gets her HD dailies delivered on a memory stick. “I love it — they’re so easy to download, and I don’t have to go to the lab to watch them,” she says. Next Element also makes a DVD viewing copy for the set, and posts a digital version of the dailies to a secure Website at ABC Studios so executives have first-thing-in-the-morning access as well.
Editors cut the show in HD on an Media Composer Nitris system. “We stay tapeless, so we send Avid bins to Next Element where the show is assembled,” Rabwin explains. “They deliver drives with the assembled master to Level 3, which handles color correction, titling and visual effects drop ins. Then Level 3 manufactures an HDCAM SR master and delivers a D-5 720p 16x9 with 5.1 and LT/RT for broadcast. The network extracts a center-cut 4x3 for non-HD viewers.”

Wiegand is reteaming with Level 3 colorist Larry Field on Detroit 1-8-7 following their partnership on Dollhouse. “I felt strongly about working with a colorist with whom I had a strong relationship and clear communication,” she explains. “Larry does great work on Lustre, and I have developed a shorthand with him. I’m really happy to be working with him again.”

Wiegand and Rabwin are unanimous in praising the P2 post workflow. “We had no problems at all when I did Dollhouse and almost half of the season of Detroit 1-8-7 is done and we’ve experienced no problems,” she reports. “The workflow is fantastic,” he echoes.