While more programs are converting to HD, the big exception has been with reality shows that still make up a third or more of the prime time diet. As a group, these high-concept, lower-cost series pioneered by The Real World on MTV and popularized by Survivor have resisted the urge to go HD largely due to the added cost and complications of extensive field production. But if reality represents the final HD frontier, Voom HD is going there.
Voom HD's fashion and style channel Ultra-HD just wrapped production of reality elimination series Style Me With Rachel Hunter using all-HD gear. The series, which is a co-production with WE: Women's Entertainment, relied on Sony 750 cameras and the new miniature Sony HDV miracle, the HVR-Z1U, to capture the antics of 12 contestants—aspiring fashion stylists—who compete to dress host and supermodel Rachel Hunter for a major red-carpet event.
The production went around the clock for 30 days and marshaled up to five cameras shooting simultaneously to cover the multi-ring circus of challenges set for the budding fashionistas. The smaller HDV rigs captured the behind-the scenes dramas that unfolded back at the hotel base camp, where contestants let their emotions hang out.
Executive producer Liz Dewey blew through 550 cassettes of HD stock to get coverage for eight episodes. The biggest production hurdle proved to be the inability of HD cameras to couple with wireless transmitters so that the producer could switch between shooters and monitor the action. Instead, the production staff needed to tether a lightweight monitor to any camera where instant feedback was necessary.
Despite the bulk, Dewey would not go back to standard-definition: “For a reality show, HD is ideal. In situations where you have very little control over lighting and action, this medium gives you more production value. Obviously, the pictures are crystal clear, but the extra sensitivity to shoot in low light gives the production a cleaner, more even effect.” She says that, typical of any HD production, the quality of set construction and care in makeup are paramount. But it takes a short learning curve to adapt.
Another surprise was the success of shooting for behind-the-scenes moments. Dewey reports that the videographer and audio tech could assimilate into the background of the hotel environment and move quickly to capture the outbursts that make these reality series such a guilty pleasure.
With MTV Networks announcing MHD, its first channel in high-definition, can it be long before the originator of the reality-TV movement, The Real World, takes the plunge into HD? We doubt it.
Moyer is general manager for VOOM HD network, a video-on-demand high-definition service.