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Unfiltered Entertainment's Wake the Witch

Shot with JVC's GY-HD250U and edited in Adobe Premiere Pro CS4
DMN: What are some of the main features of the GY-HD250U that helped you to decide to shoot with it?
CH: I started looking at HD when the first HDV rigs started to roll off the lines. I went with the HD250u for three main reasons.

First I prefer the old-school mechanical lens system. I just prefer them to the servo-based stuff you see on other cameras. It also allows for lens upgrades, like the HZ-CA13U PL adapter for 16mm and super16mm lenses. It also worked to make the form factor more to my liking. I like shoulder-mount rigs. For handheld work there is nothing better.

Second, I wanted real 24p, not simulated pull-down based 24p, but real progressive capture. The JVC ProHD series was at the time and still is the only native 720p24 rig out there. I'm not saying that other cameras can't capture 24p, but most of them do it using pull-downs for interlaced footage and interpolate the image in some way. I liked the JVC's full 1280x720 CCDs and true progressive capture.

Third, I felt the hd-sdi would allow me to upgrade from the HDV capture in the future. Turns out I was right. We're starting to see all kinds of hd-sdi capture options coming to market. These are good times.

DMN: Wake the Witch is 90 minutes. How many days did you shoot and how many hours of footage did you capture with the GY-HD250U camcorder?
CH: We shot for about 24 days. The movie actually comes in at 114 minutes. A little longer than we anticipated, but it's a solid 114 minutes. We came away from principle photography with about 20 hours of tape.

Waiting for the right light

DMN: How did the camera respond to the differing lighting environments (shooting indoors, outdoors, light and dark areas)?  Did you use any filters on the lens?
CH: The camera is awesome. HDV really is a viable format. Anyone who says it isn't just hasn't seen it shot well. Light it right. Isn't that the key to any beautiful image?

I wanted to shoot with the iris open as wide as possible throughout the shoot to maximize the 24p look and help with a shallower depth of field so I used ND filters and a circular polarizer whenever we were outside. We got lucky with the majority of our exteriors because the skies would cloud up just enough to minimize the harshness of the sun.

I'm a big fan of motivated, practical lighting, so when we went inside the filters came off and all the practicals got daylight corrected 150watt equivalent CFLs. Then I'd supplement the motivated lighting with some small 800watt equivalent HMIs. Beautiful... The camera loves the daylight corrected lighting and it made mixing natural light with my interiors super easy.

The only downside to shooting HDV is how it deals with blacks. Low light scenes did require some magic in post to smooth out the noise. We used NEAT Video's noise reduction plugin for After Effects during the color correction process. Wow! What a difference a little piece of software can make.

DMN: After a day's shoot, how did you digitize your footage and how was it stored? Did you have a dedicated hard drive to archive the footage?
CH: At the end of each weekend I'd capture via the camera's IEEE 1394 using Cineform's HD Link. What a fantastic tool. Using the scene split feature I could start the tape and walk away. What a labor saver! I converted the .m2t files directly to Cineform on capture and saved only the Cineform intermediate files. I had no use for the .m2t files. Why would I need them? The video was first captured to the RAID 0 array then synced to an external eSATA drive for backup and data transfer between systems. Upon completion the project will be fully backed up to the eSATA drive and it will stay there.

DMN: You edited with Premiere Pro. What aspects of Premiere Pro do you feel helped you in putting the movie together? 
CH: I've cut on every major software out there, from Avid to FCP and Vegas. They all do the same thing really. I love Premiere and I'm not afraid to say it. What I love most is its interoperability with After Effects. I conform and color correct in AE. I can natively open a Premiere timeline in AE and manipulate each piece of footage one by one. I love that. Then I can add an adjustment layer to the entire composition for final grading. How cool is that?! And I've kind of fallen in love with Audition. I wish they hadn't removed it from the CS packaging.

DMN: What are the specs of your editing system?
CH: My rig is based on an Athlon x2 5200 with 4 gigs of ram, 160gig system drive running Windows XP and two 500gig drives in RAID0. Not a huge beast at all. That's the best part of using Adobe and Cineform. You don't need a beast. This system cost me about $700 at the time I built it and can be built for half that now. Don't you just love technology? I plan to upgrade soon to a quad-core AM3 processor and Windows 7 64bit, more ram and a 2TB RAID 0 array.

DMN: How long were your editing sessions?
CH: Well, with a real job and all the other things life throws at you, I was lucky if I got an hour a day in. Most sessions lasted at least that long, but sometimes it was 15 minutes 3 times a day. And weekends could sometime mean two 6 hour sessions. You edit when you can.

DMN: How long was the movie in post production and what type of special effects were incorporated into the movie?
The entire post process took almost a year, 11 months to be more precise. Much of that had to do with life getting in the way. We hoped it would be faster, but instead of pushing it through with a "no matter what" attitude, we took a "the best possible product" approach. The bulk of the special effects were about set design and prop pieces. We built a 7x10 foot wall out of foam and plywood and mocked up a long ladder down a well. We also had a dead witch fabricated for us.

The visual effects where all done in the witch room, the climax of the film. We green screened a large crevice in the foam wall with three actors in full green screen suits. The green was replaced by an undulating worm hole into another dimension. We also created a burning arm effect for the climax. The VFX were only possible because of the Cineform intermediate. It gave us the color space we needed to do all the effects work and color grading.

DMN: What are you working on next?
CH: The day after "Wake the Witch" is officially available for sale on filmbaby.com and Amazon (hopefully in the next two weeks) we are going into preproduction for our next feature, "Last Ride", another horror flick, this time influenced by Italian horror from the 70's and 80's with a little American slasher thrown in for flavor. I wrote this one. Dorothy will once again steer the bus as director as I take pictures as DP. We plan to begin principle photography in late March/early April.


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
Related Keywords:filmmaking, HDV, film editing, video camera, JVC GY-HD250U


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