Midseason replacement: 24p

The Hughleys is the latest program to make the switch from film to tape production
Publish date:
Updated on

The 24p format continues to make inroads in Hollywood. The Hughleys, produced by Greenblatt/Janolari, made the jump in midseason from film to tape, shot with four Sony HDW-F900 24p cameras with Panavision lenses.

"What is most interesting is that the reason I thought new shows would embrace 24p, cost savings, is not the reason I'm being requested to switch," says Derek Grover, director of photography for The Hughleys. "Nearly everyone agrees that the pictures are better."

The 24p format is being used to shoot 10 series for prime time, and Grover is involved with three of them. Greenblatt/Janolari's One on One
is shooting its 15th episode with 24p. According to Jim
also made the switch to tape in midseason. The upcoming ABC series The Web
will also be shot in 24p, as will Titus, Reba, Pasadena, Bernie Mac, The Adventures of Max Bickford, Roswell
and Yes, Dear.

According to Grover, 24p tape offers a number of production advantages over film. One of the biggest is that all four cameras are matched (color correction, luminance, time-code, etc.) on-set. "So when you get to post," he says, "those steps, in both time and cost, can be eliminated."

Grover says he can also master the sound using the camera's audio channels. "That eliminates all need for sound syncing, saving time and money. Each camera has four channels of audio, which sample at a higher rate than most field DAT recorders. Basically, I have the availability of 16 independent channels of audio if needed."

Bob Heath, producer of Brad Grey TV's According to Jim, says the move to 24p was made after Thanksgiving break. "It seemed best to do it at that time because it really helped the budget of the show and we wanted to try to get it going this season so we could work out the kinks. Everyone will tell you it's crazy to transition in mid-season because it will upset the apple cart, but it was the smoothest transition I've ever gone through."

Many of the people working with the 24p gear were well-versed in film but not tape, so the learning curve was wide, Heath explains. "We did it in baby steps. The biggest fear on the film side was what do I do with this?"

To remove any potential on-set anxiety, a day of rehearsals was used with stand-ins to accustom the crew to the gear and changes. "We saw some of the small problems we had, and, by the next week, when we began shooting, everyone was comfortable with it."

With respect to costs, Heath says the equipment is more expensive than the 16mm gear that had been used but less expensive than 35mm equipment. "The savings really come from developing and telecine. We probably net anywhere from $10,000 to $13,000 a week in savings."

One advantage with tape, he adds, is that you know you have the shot as soon as you shoot. And the turnaround time from shooting to getting it back to editorial is also shortened.

There is a downside, though: shooting outside. "It takes a lot of setup work to make those shots look like film," he says. "In fact, you can get shooting outside faster on film than on tape."

The whole point of using 24p, Heath points out, is to shoot on tape but make the program look as if it had been shot on film. The bright light of daytime makes that difficult.

"We work at a very low light level," he explains, "which gives a shallow depth of field and makes it look like film. We also filter it so that the picture is softened."

The shallow depth of field adds another challenge as well. "Your focus is critical," he says. "Because it's on digital tape. there is an attempt to use the cameras like video cameras, with one person handling both focus and camera position. And that is sometimes problematic. You need a focus point."

Panavision lenses also help create a cinematic look, which, Heath says, allows the director of photography to "keep the look pretty much the same."

Grover says other post-production developments are in the works and he may initiate them during the shooting of The Web. "I'll be doing on-set down-conversion of HD masters in real time for input into the Avid, where most offline is done," he says.

He may also use a digital disc recorder to record all uncompressed HD images and audio onto a hard drive, which can then be plugged into an Avid editor for off-line editing or a Symphony for online editing. "That would eliminate all digitizing time and costs, while still recording the images and audio on the HD-Cam tape for backup or online sessions."