Director of Photography:
Film or HD Video?
I began my career as a stills photographer in 1987 and with a background in large format film I was always disappointed with the image quality of standard definition 2/3" video cameras. Back in 2004, the day we decided to produce "The Daniel Project" as a documentary for both TV and the large screen, budget restraints would not allow for film, so our sights were set on a high definition digital solution. Camera systems from RED & Silicon Imaging were in their infancy, Sony & Panasonic were developing XDCAMHD & P2 technologies respectfully and NLE Software and computer systems were trying to keep up with it all. While it was an exciting time for imaging technology it was also a frustrating and somewhat confusing time for any busy production company trying to figure out what format to choose for a long term project.
In 2006 our studio was overhauled and high definition technologies were installed. After three years working with a number of systems we finally decided to go with Sony's XDCAM HD format. At the beginning the only camera units available were the PDW-F330/350 models, and while the image at 1440x1080p 420 colour space was good for its time, I was not keen on the ½" chip-set. Using its laser disc based system, there was certainly no disputing the production value of the optical disc compared to the expense of P2 solid state media. Alas, the documentary was held up for various reasons but it did mean that the all new Sony PDW-700 XDCAMHD 422 camera model was released. This was the camera many had been waiting for and I knew it would handle just about anything we would throw at it. For those readers interested, you can read a number of reviews I have written regarding The PDW-F350 & PDW-700 Camera models, the XDCAMHD 422 codec and as an ICE (Independent Certified Expert) for Sony Europe. There are also a number of interviews with "The Producer" magazine discussing the use of XDCAM HD on various projects. The links are at the foot of this page.
Filming – What were the challenges?
The most challenging environment for this film was the tight shooting schedule in Israel. The XDCAMHD 422 disc based system was a joy to work with, allowing forty five minutes of 422 1920X1080p high quality HD data to be recorded onto a virtually indestructible inexpensive disc. The camera was subjected to extreme humidity in the underground caves of Hezekiah's tunnel in Jerusalem; condensation was dripping off both the equipment and crew in the pitch black tunnels which we lit with V-Lock battery powered 8"x8" LED lighting panels. After filming underground we hurriedly had to make our way to the surface into the baking sun for an interview close to the Western Wall and there was absolutely no issue with camera condensation, this for me was such a break-through. The last time I was in the Middle East we were plagued with condensation and clogging video heads, now with the PDW-700 it made life so much easier and predictable. Working to a very quick schedule out in the Negev desert, we were continuously in and out of large poly tents where both Keith (AC / Soundman) and I were sweating profusely, yet once again the camera system coped without any fuss.
The PDW-700 has a very sharp image with its 2.2million Power HAD sensors and requires very careful focusing. It is that sharp image that I was looking for when filming in Israel, particularly with the wide panoramic vista shots from the Mount of Olives overlooking the old city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. While this iconic scene is a job for a 35mm film camera or to that end a DSLR camera, the PDW-700 did a great job for a video camera. Having positioned ourselves very early in the morning we waited for the sun to rise, with a latitude of 11 stops using Hypergamma in the menu settings the 700 captured a beautiful range of very sharp images where you can see excellent detail in the cluttered old city buildings, the glowing street lamps and the shafts of sunlight. HD monitoring out in the field was usually done with a Sony LMD 9050 HD monitor.
Audio & Lighting
With the camera able to record 24bit audio over 4 channels, as you would expect, the quality is very good indeed and Keith used a range of audio link options, including a realtively new high frequency WiFi line level system to camera, depending where we were filming and how much time we had to shoot.
Lighting is one of those areas that is very important to me, lighting tells a story, it can change a scene in an instant and yet we often do not get the time to control our environment or wait around long enough for a particular cloud formation or shafts of sunlight to paint that perfect picture. In many of our locations, electrical power and time was an issue so we brought along a number of LED lighting panels powered by the same batteries as our camera and field monitor which helped with transportation / location issues. Where these portable lightweight units really came into their own was out in the field, particularly in difficult environments such as the underground cave system in Jerusalem or where one of our interviews meant we had to follow a rabbi throughout various rooms where there was no time or the facilities to set up studio lighting.
The project was finally cut on Final Cut Studio utilising the XDCAMHD 422 codec. Editing took a good number of months as we discussed how the project should be constructed. Given the breadth, the depth and the nature of the subject matter it would be easy to fall into the trap of sensationalism, so a great deal of time was spent thinking about how to present what is a very complex subject. When it came to the actual "look" of the film, XDCAM HD422 is also great for grading, and to that end I choose to reduce the colour and introduce various tints to help merge standard definition archive footage. While the film was shot in full frame 16:9 1920x1080p, which is the format that every broadcaster to date has shown it, I actually designed the film to fit a wide screen format which is available in Standard Definition on the Special Edition DVD set on this website. Although not available in Blu-Ray DVD at this time, the TV version can be seen in HD on the Film-On-Demand website NetFlix in the USA & UK.
The Challenges of Eschatology - Research
Biblical Eschatology (the theological study of apocalyptic or end times texts) is a subject that requires years of research to fully understand what is a very complex topic. Certainly the overall message is actually quite straight forward, unfortunately the way that message is often presented sounds somewhat unbelievable or at the other end of the spectrum most definitely misleading.
For the genuine documentary film maker, before you ask any questions, you not only have to understand the subject matter in question, you have to fully understand the question you are asking, and how that relates to the bigger picture. Only then will you understand the replies, which in the case of Eschatology can be complex indeed.
To say that you require a good understanding of Biblical texts goes without saying, however there is also a need to investigate ancient archeology, historical records, customs and traditions to help you break down passages that claim to predict future events. On one side of the argument there are those that claim that these ancient texts were written after the fact or have been fulfilled in ancient history, while on the other side there are those who are quick to present just about any passage of text to support the latest news flash.
Of course, it is also easy to see why many individuals have interpreted many of these ancient texts as alien visitations from other worlds or visions of UFOs and mystical beings that are portrayed in popular science fiction films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Cocoon, Star Trek and X-Files. Certainly the infatuation with pop culture appears never ending and begs the question, what draws mankind to these stories that are told over and over?
The Daniel Project is an investigative look into what is without doubt one of the most controversial and challenging topics that has ever been recorded and while I personally have absolutely no time for unsupported claims, this subject matter certainly cannot be dismissed lightly. Someone may say, well what does it matter? what will be will be? …if only it were that simple, if Biblical eschatology is true… then every living individual has a personal decision to make… our hope is, that The Daniel Project will present this topic in a clear logical format that will help individuals make that informed decision.
Of course there is so much more to film making and this is just an overview. All the technical stuff aside, content is king and this particular documentary deals with a lot of challenging issues that will affect individuals in so many different ways. While there is an element of entertainment to the film, there has been a restrained use of dramatic archive / news footage, it was important to get a proper balance. The films subject matter is in its own right thought provoking and we hope that the finished result, while in no way perfect, helps to bring clarity to what is actually an astonishing topic.
For those interested here is a short list of equipment used on the Daniel Project and links to various technical reviews and magazine interviews.
Camera & Format:
- Main Camera - Sony PDW-700 XDCAMHD 422 c/w HD lenses - see review done for Sony
- Early Footage - Sony PDW-F350 XDCAMHD 420 c/w HD lenses - see review done for Sony
- Extras - Sony PMW EX3 XDCAMEX 420 c/w HD lenses
- IDX Batteries
- Chrosziel Matte Box and various filters - see review
- Redrock Micro Focus Puller - see review
- DV Tek ENG Steady Rig - see review done for DV Tek - see review done for DV Tek
- Sony LMD 9050 HD field monitor & HD Cinema Monitors
- Ricsonix Camlynx Wi Fi System - see review done for Ricsonix
- Lectrosonics Radio System
- Sound Devices 302 mixer
- Sennheiser MKH416 / MKH50 / MKE2 Gold Mics
- Coolights LED600 8”x8” panels - see review done for Coolights
- LightPanels LED Mini Plus - see review done for Coolights
- Arri 650W Fresnel
- Inario 800W Red Heads
- DedoTek and Dedo lighting
- Various diffusers / shapers / filters
- Apple Mac G5 Quad and G5 8 core
- Sony LMD HD 232 monitor & MEU controller
- Final Cut Studio 2
- XDCAMHD 422 1920X1080p timeline - see review done for Sony
- Mastered to Apple Pro Res
- Sony U1 Drive see review done for Sony