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HD on the Rise

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Reality TV Goes HDWith so much reality TV on the air, you may think you’re familiar with its look and style. Well, don’t get too comfortable. As more and more reality shows start shooting on HD, the “reality look” as we know it will inevitably start to change. So while you may not need to readjust your set, you may find yourself readjusting your expectations.Three issues emerge when considering reality TV going HD. The first is whether shooting HD will have an impact on the storytelling process. The second is whether or not shooting HD will impact the look of a show as you watch at home. The third is how shooting HD will impact the overall production and postproduction workflow of a reality series. The last of the three is a bigger topic that I will cover in this column next month.One reality series that provides a good example for observation and discussion is Fox’s The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best, in which British thrill-seeking entrepreneur Richard Branson tests the strength, stamina and business acumen of 16 contestants to see if they’ve got what it takes to become a self-made billionaire like himself. The show is produced by Bunim-Murray Productions (BMP, the grandfather of reality and creator of the madly popular Real World for MTV, as well as Road Rules, Simple Life, Starting Over, and others.) The Rebel Billionaire premiered Fox on November 9Mark Radounis, director of post for BMP, supervises the editorial team and post process. Radounis has trained many new editors to tell a good story visually. “BMP prides themselves on placing story above all else. The quality of the image isn’t going to affect the story,” says Radounis, addressing the issue of storytelling. Mark Jungjohann, director of photography for The Rebel Billionaire, concurs. “A good story is a good story no matter what aesthetic ways [you choose] to tell it.”But what about the second issue—how HD might change the look and style of the show? Jungjohann believes that the “cinematic” feel of HD has a great potential for adding its own dimension to a show. “I doubt HD will do any good to a home improvement show,” he says. “In The Rebel Billionaire—a whirlwind trip around the world combined with some crazy adventures on the way—HD was perfect.”Let’s take a closer look at the, well, reality, of what this means. Reality shows are typically known for their run-and-gun shooting style and fast-paced editing. They shoot with tiny “lipstick” DV cameras that can be attached to helmets, belts, bikes, and the like. Viewers have accepted the sometimes lower-than-standard quality video because of the unique way the action is being captured. Also, the lickety-split style of editing conceals some of the inferior video imagery.Cut to HD. Time and again producers say that if they’re shooting HD, they want to include “beauty shots.” These are those dreamy images of faraway places, gorgeous sunsets or snow-covered mountains. Generally, to ensure that the viewer won’t be distracted by jerky camera moves, these shots require smooth pans and zooms, which are created by putting the camera on a tripod. So the overall pace of a reality show shot with HD could slow down a bit to linger on the beauty shots, and individual shots could seem more visually stable because a tripod will most likely be used for the HD camera.And what about coverage? Shooting a pristine HD image requires additional setup, which means you just might miss an all-important action shot. On The Rebel Billionaire, DP Jungjohann had to send gaffers ahead to light the next scene. “Our cameras were rated around 320 ASA, which was not enough to just walk into a location and shoot nighttime and interiors,” he says. “So we had two gaffers leapfrog from location to location [to set up lights].”Shooting in HD’s native 16×9 format can also alter shot coverage. When a scene is shot in 16×9, HD viewers may see action in areas that won’t be seen on a standard definition 4×3 screen. Jungjohann knew the show would be aired in both 16×9 and 4×3. “We had both formats framed in our viewfinders. That can be very confusing shooting reality. There is a lot going on in front of the camera and part of your concentration has to be dedicated to frame both ratios simultaneously.”These are just a few things to keep an eye on as the HD format starts to seep into reality TV. That is, if your reality includes viewing HD at home.Next month, HD on the Rise will look at the production and postproduction workflow of The Rebel Billionaire.Diana Weynand is co-owner of Weynand Training and consulting. She is the author of How Video Works, Final Cut Pro for Avid Editors, Final Cut Pro HD, and Final Cut Express 2. She can be reached at [email protected]

Written by Diana Weynand

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