Cheech and Chong Doc Shot with Abel’s VariCam 3700s
Friday, 24 April 2009
The Weinstein Company will produce a concert film based on Cheech and Chong’s current “Light Up America” reunion tour and shot with the new VariCam 3700 (AJ-HPX3700), Panasonic’s premier solid-state P2 HD VariCam camcorder. Two back-to-back concerts given in San Antonio last month, covered with eight HPX3700s and two AJ-HPX3000s, will comprise the majority of the finished feature-length film.
Offering the ultimate in image quality, the VariCam 3700 advances the art of high-end cinematography by teaming VariCam’s renowned filmic-look, variable frame rates, and subtle tone control with master-quality, 10-bit 4:2:2 AVC-Intra recording and a host of new functionality.
At their peak in the 1970s, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong represented the mainstream embodiment of the attitudes and lifestyles of the underground drug culture. The team’s stature as counterculture heroes was unquestioned, and for both aging hippies and dazed-and-confused teens, their comedy defined an era. “Light Up America” is the duo’s first stage show together in a quarter-century. The concert film is directed by Christian Charles, with Shane Hurlbut as Director of Photography.
Director Charles, the Chief Creative Officer of Manhattan-based production company mouseROAR, is no stranger to working with iconic comedians, having co-developed the popular American Express ad campaign featuring Jerry Seinfeld. That work was the start of a fifteen-year writing and directing collaboration with Seinfeld.
Charles is likewise familiar with P2 HD production, having co-written and directed 25 short ﬁlms, all shot with the AG-HVX200 handheld P2 HD camcorder, that were released globally as part of a marketing campaign for Bee Movie, starring Seinfeld. Recently, Charles co-wrote and directed DIRTYLIFE, an MTV broadcast / webisode series shot with the HVX200 that follows a roadie on tour with Fall Out Boy.
“With the Cheech and Chong project, our objective was to impart a cinematic scale to a performance that is essentially two guys and two chairs,” said Charles. “The challenge was that we had a restricted budget and virtually no prep time.”
“We worked with Mike Nichols of Abel Cine Tech’s New York office,” he continued. “Our DP had seen the HPX3700 at an ASC demo in Los Angeles and was impressed, and Abel Cine was aware of my history with P2. Mike felt that the new HPX3700, with its 10-bit AVC-Intra recording, was ideal for this project.”
All the concert footage was shot on March 14 at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, TX. The production used a total of ten camcorders, with four HPX3700s and one HPX3000 each utilized at the 7:30 and 10:00 performances. The camcorders were set-up in full wireless configuration only four hours before the first show. The camcorders and P2 media were rented from Abel Cine Tech.
“While one of the reasons we opted for the HPX3700 was budgetary necessity, we very quickly became tremendously excited at the camcorders’ sheer performance, especially the additional color range we are seeing from the 10-bit recording,” Charles said. “Using five cameras at each show gave us the cinematic heft that we wanted without losing the simplicity of Cheech and Chong’s performance. The footage has real weight, and we wouldn’t have achieved that with earlier iterations of the VariCam.”
The concert footage was shot in 1080/24p in AVC-Intra 100.
DP Shane Hurlbut is a veteran of major feature production, whose credits includes Swing Vote (with Kevin Costner), Semi-Pro (Will Ferrell), We Are Marshall (Matthew McConaughey) and the upcoming Terminator: Salvation (Christian Bale).
“When we went into pre-production on the Cheech and Chong project, the VariCam 3700 had just come out,” Hurlbut said, “I saw a technical demonstration administered by the American Society of Cinematographers, and was totally impressed with how the camera handles highlights as well as shadow detail.”
“The HPX3700 demonstrates an amazing capacity to balance the highlights and lowlights while holding all the color saturation” he continued. “It’s the best 2/3” camera I’ve ever seen, and I was blown away by its dynamic range. I was also very happy with the compression, stunning, with no artifacting, and a very clean look.”
“We knew the concerts would present us with lighting extremes with no time to balance exposure for our cameras,” Hurlbut said. “The HPX3700 and P2 HD overall seemed like a great option.”
Jeff Clark, the Digital Imaging Technician on the project, supervised the camera set-up at the Majestic Theater. “We utilized the HPX3700’s Film-Rec 600% gamma to take full advantage of the AVC-Intra recording,” Clark said. “I used a DSC chart to paint the look and matrix, and was able to hold really good purples and red brick colors. The colorimetry in most cameras wouldn’t be up to that, but the HPX3700 made them look real pretty.”
“We had great latitude, as the camera’s dynamic range handled the extremes in the theater’s lighting and the darks so well,” he added.
With the VariCam 3700’s Film-Rec 600% gamma setting, images are captured with the imager’s full dynamic range and recorded at the higher bit depths offered with AVC-Intra, a feature especially valuable for linear color correction in post production. This allows professionals to obtain extensive color range and detail without the extensive management and costs of other high-resolution camera solutions, and eliminates the need for rendering, de-layering and other processes.
The Cheech and Chong film is currently in post-production and is being edited in Final Cut Pro under supervision of editor Kyle Gilman.
For more information about the “Light Up America” tour, visit www.cheechandchongtour.com.
About the VariCam 3700
Combining uncompromising cinematic quality, film-style operability and the exceptional reliability of solid-state, file-based recording, the VariCam 3700 provides premium-quality performance for narrative feature films, episodic television and commercial production. The 2/3” 2.2 megapixel 3-CCD camera features full native 1920×1080-pixel acquisition and independent-frame recording with 10-bit, 4:2:2 color sub sampling. It records in full-raster 1920×1080 resolution in AVC-Intra 100 for the highest quality, in lower-bit-rate AVC-Intra 50 for extended recording and in DVCPRO HD for added flexibility. The HPX3700 outputs a 4:4:4 RGB dual-link live signal (via HD-SDI) to deliver pristine images for uncompressed workflows and composition of visual effects, while simultaneously recording 4:2:2 HD video in camera. The HPX3700 offers variable frame rates from 1fps to 30fps in single frame increments for overcranking and undercranking.