First introduced in mockup form at the 2012 NAB (National Association of Broadcasters ) Show, Panasonic unveiled the VariCam 35, which promised a lot of functionality and features for filmmakers of the future. Last year during my visit to the NAB show, I was able to put my hands on a pre-release model. This camera is capable of capturing 4K footage up to 120fps with over 14 stops of dynamic range and the option to record Raw and proxy files simultaneously. Here we are in 2015 and this camera is just now becoming available where in supply.
Jacksonville beach filmmaker and dear friend of mine, Stephen Morgan, recently wrapped principal photography for his short film, Don’t Look Away, which used the VariCam 35 as the primary camera on the film’s 18-day shoot on and around Jacksonville beach and the Central Florida area. The camera package was rounded out with a set of Cooke S4i Primes, a Canon zoom, ARRI MB-19 matte box & F-55 follow focus, Sachtler support and Anton Bauer batteries. A DP-7 on-board monitor facilitated the first assistant camera, and the Panasonic GH4 was used as B-cam on the shoot.
Stephen has nearly a decade of experience as a professional filmmaker and his company, Studiotown, is the team behind the film’s production. Don’t Look Away’s journey began over a year ago and is currently in its final stages as Stephen and his writing and producing partner, Alex Couch, are heavy in the post-production on the project. They are firming up final details for the film’s launch, which is expected later this spring.
Although the film was co-written and directed by Morgan, he decided on Michael Minok to DP the film so that he could better focus his efforts on directing. Minock is a 40-year veteran of the film industry with hundreds of credits, as well as nine years as a master faculty member at Rockport’s legendary Maine Media Workshops, where he taught training classes in previous generations of Panasonic VariCams. You can read about cinematographer Michael Minok’s experience shooting with the VariCam 35 in an official press release on Panasonic’s website.
Because of its low-budget nature, Morgan worked with his DP to use as much available light in his scenes as possible, using light setups only when necessary – a challenge that the new VariCam handled wonderfully. Funding for the film relied mostly on donations from non-profit organizations, friends and family.
While the final edit of the film is still in the works, Stephen visited Charlotte this March to work with Untold on putting the finishing touches on the film’s teaser through a rigorous color grading process. This film will be among one of the first short films produced that features the VariCam 35 as the primary camera. This camera is so new, in fact, that the film was shot with a pre-production model of the VariCam 35 so that the crew could provide Panasonic with feedback on the camera.
Because of its low-budget nature, Morgan worked with his DP to use as much available light in his scenes as possible, using light setups only when necessary, a challenge that the new VariCam handled wonderfully.
During the grade, it was clear to see that this camera was put into some very tough shooting environments.
The film’s editor, Gabriel Cox, cut the teaser in a Premiere CC timeline. Using DaVinci Resolve, I quickly swapped in the 4K footage and began the grade. Getting the footage setup and ready to grade was about as easy as it gets. For the teaser grade, we used the XAVC MPEG4 files in their native 4096×2160 resolution, and the rig we graded on was a 27” iMac with a 3.5 GHz i7, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M video card, and 32GB of ram. I was up and running within minutes. After working with the footage, I can definitely say that the images from the new VariCam 35 hold color information very well even in the darkest of shadows. On the other end, highlights have a pleasing roll off.
Preparing the timeline for final export
I was able to push and pull the film’s secondary footage which was shot on the GH4 to easily match the look of the VariCam footage, which was shot in Panasonic’s V-Log giving me plenty of room to move the image around in post. I’m looking forward to seeing where this camera ends up in the production landscape. From what I’ve seen, it’s as a valuable tool in both commercial and narrative environments.
Here is a quick video highlighting the grade on scenes from the film’s teaser:
Don’t Look Away: Teaser – The Color Grade
Stephen not only wants to raise awareness on the subject of the film, modern-day slavery and sex trafficking, he wants to give the film away for free once it’s done and prove that through creativity, filmmakers can create great-looking, professional products on a budget with a little support from the filmmaking community.
The graded teaser will be played at Panasonic’s booth at the 2015 NAB Show in Las Vegas, where Stephen and I will be in attendance. To learn more about Don’t Look Away visit dontlookawayfilm.com.
Images courtesy of Studiotown