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Panasonic P2 Production

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When the documentary Gangland Graveyard for Thirteen/WNET New York’s Secrets of the Dead series premiered in November, it marked the first airing of a national television show that was shot using Panasonic’s SPX800 P2 series solid-state memory camcorder—a 2/3-inch, 3-CCD ENG/EFP system that eschews videotape and records onto Panasonic’s 4GB P2 Memory Cards.Emmy Award-winning cinematographer Larry Engel served as DP, writer and director for the project, which details the rise and fall of “Last Don” Joe Massino.A 30-year veteran documentarian, Engel turned to New York rental house AbelCineTech and its director of technical development, Jesse Rosen, to assist in evaluating the P2 technology and help organize a workflow.“After this evaluation period,” Engel noted, “everyone was sold on the system’s proxy video feature, and it turned out to be our biggest advantage. We didn’t have to clone tapes. There were no screeners, no log and capture, and every day we had footage in low-res form on a server that everyone could view. As it turned out, we didn’t shoot our re-enactments until half-way through production—a little scary—but what I shot was immediately available and used by my editor the next day.”Engel added that the proxy feature also “meant I could immediately have a low-res image with burnt-in time code that the executive producer could screen.”Gangland Graveyard was produced by Optomen Productions for Thirteen/WNET New York in association with the UK’s Channel 4.“Working on an international co-production with WNET and Channel 4 was made much easier with the proxies,” said Optomen CEO/President Beth Hoppe, who served as executive producer on the project. “If I wanted to show [something to someone] in the UK, all I had to do was email it to him. And this was just minutes after it was shot… We were all willing to try this new technology, even though we had only a 10-week production cycle.”Engel shot in DVCPRO50 24p, with Fuji (superwide) and Canon (normal) lenses. The film was edited on Apple’s Final Cut Pro 5 and finishing was done at Swete in Manhattan.“Finishing was greatly simplified with P2, as there was no need to auto-conform,” Engle noted. “Essentially, finishing entailed making sure the look was okay in terms of color correction, transitions, etc.“The P2 system works very well for documentaries, especially in terms of production and post, assuming that you have enough cards and storage so you don’t have to be constantly downloading,” he added. “I liked having a big camera with the built-in color 3.5-inch LCD monitor where I could easily review video clip thumbnails. I certainly didn’t miss videotape.”

Written by Scott Lehane

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