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Viper Used on TV Series

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Since its release in 2002, Thomson Grass Valley’s Viper has been the topic of much conversation, capturing the imagination of cinematographers, directors and even producers. In its FilmStream mode, the camera delivers an uncompressed 2K 4:4:4 image (comparable to the output of a film scanner), making it a popular choice for greenscreen shots, where it has a reputation for delivering a really clean key.But the amount of data coming off the camera in FilmStream mode makes it somewhat impractical for long-form work at full bandwidth (although there are projects in the works attempting just that).More often Viper is being used in its HDStream 4:4:4 or 4:2:2 modes.“Even though it’s HDStream, we get much better dynamic range because the front end of the camera is just so much better than any other camera that’s out there right now,” said Mark Doering-Powell, who is lensing the upcoming series Everybody Hates Chris. He explained that while he was shooting the pilot, the camera was delivering a huge latitude thanks to oversampling.“The opening for the pilot of Everybody Hates Chris was shot in a club, and we had to use these gold Kino Flo tubes that were spot metering, conservatively, four and a half stops over, and it was still holding saturated colors,” he said. “We were amazed how much it was holding.”The series, inspired by comedian Chris Rock’s childhood experiences growing up as the eldest of three children in Brooklyn, is one of two series shot with Viper that have been picked up by UPN for the fall season.The other is Sex, Love & Secrets, lensed by Tom Burstyn, CSC, who has shot two other series using the Viper: Terminal City and The 4400 (which earned him an Emmy nomination).Set in the small, hip neighborhood of Silver Lake on the outskirts of Hollywood, Sex, Love & Secrets explores the complex relationships of a tight-knit group of twenty-somethings finding out who they are and what they want in life.Both shows rented cameras from Burbank-based Plus8digital and recorded to Sony HDCam SR decks.“I’ve used the Viper twice before this and what I found was that in addition to it having really great latitude almost equaling 35mm, it’s also very fast, because the latitude makes lighting that much easier,” Burstyn said. “After my experience with the other two shows, I realized that the Viper was the only camera out there now that is efficient enough to be able to do a fast-paced show.”“Also, because it’s possible to record raw images without any painting or fooling around with the menus, there’s a lot of time saved. Then you do your coloring and sweetening in postproduction, where you have much more control anyway,” he added.Doering-Powell agreed that the ability to shoot without having to dig through the complicated menus that are common in other high-end digital camcorders was a big time saver.“I don’t have time to delve through the menus and have a D.I.T. (digital image technician) tweak it,” he explained. “Keep in mind when he does that, menus pop up in the viewfinder for the camera operator while they’re trying to rehearse and it’s hard not to overlap that time.”For Burstyn the camera opens up a range of new artistic possibilities—shots that he wouldn’t risk with any other format.“The only way you can keep ahead of film is by pushing the camera. You really have to use the edges of the latitude. The beauty of any HD format is you can see exactly where you lose shadow into utter black or where you lose highlight into pure white. So it really allows you play the edges; it invites you to play the edges,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy, and I think it’s a great dramatic tool, to be able to play big dramatic close-ups in the deep shadows and still be satisfied by seeing the actors’ expressions. You can have a big backlight on them, but you still see all of the facial expressions. In film I don’t think you’d take that chance.“Night exteriors are just dead easy,” he added. “The camera records very punchy shadows so you can light your foreground action and almost let the background go and it won’t go muddy like it would in film. It retains a lot of punch.”

Written by Scott Lehane

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