New York-based cinematographer John Foster recently shot the indie comedy Bottleworld with Panasonic’s new AJ-HPX3000 native 1080p, master quality, one-piece camcorder. The movie stars veteran character actor Scott Wilson (In Cold Blood, In the Heat of the Night) and was written and directed by Alex Smith. Over the past decade, Foster has shot several features that have premiered at the New York, Telluride, Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto and Cannes Film Festivals, including Adrift in Manhattan, Rock the Paint, Keane and Tully.
Bottleworld is an ensemble piece that revolves around a liquor store of the same name. It begins as Wilson, a new employee at Bottleworld, enters this seemingly utopian environment and is welcomed by his co-workers, especially the store’s manager, Murray. When Murray’s daughter, Chrissy, visits for the holidays, Wilson quickly falls in love with her. Wilson is very happy with his new life, but when he overhears Carl, an angry employee, plan to terrorize the store on a holiday, he becomes obsessed with the threat.
Foster shot Rock the Paint, which made its debut at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival, with the Panasonic AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO50 camcorder. “The material went through color correction, was uprezzed to HD and digitally projected on a giant screen at Tribeca—it looked terrific,” Foster said. ”I was so impressed with the camera’s performance that I purchased it immediately after the shoot.”
“That experience predisposed me to shoot any movie with Panasonic 24p cameras, which all yield a filmic look,” said Foster, who went on to shoot documentaries and many commercial spots with the SDX900, AJ-HDC27 VariCam HD Cinema, and AG-HVX200 and AG-DVX100 camcorders. “While we were in pre-production for Bottleworld, I went to an HPX3000 seminar at Abel Cine Tech. It fit the bill, as we wanted to shoot with a camcorder (vs. a camera tethered to a deck), and the big selling point was its ability to shot 1080p.”
Bottleworld was shot on location in Bristol, PA last fall. The 23-day shoot predominantly took place in an abandoned lumber store that the production team converted into a suburban liquor emporium. Foster shot DVCPRO HD at 1080/23.98PA (over 60i) with the HPX3000, which has five P2 card slots. The camera, rented from Abel Cine Tech, was outfitted with two Canon HD lenses, a Cine-Style zoom and a wider angle zoom. Most scenes were shot classically off a dolly. Foster’s camera crew consisted of 1st A.C. Marc Jeff Schirmer and 2nd A.C. Rory Hanrahan.
The production set up a workstation in the lumberyard behind the store. As an HVX200 owner, Foster is well-acquainted with the P2 workflow. “Rory was assigned to download and manage the files,” he said. “He downloaded through an Apple PowerBook G4 notebook straight to two 500GB G-Tech hard drives that were paired for back-up. We typically recorded up to seven P2 cards each day of shooting, and would swap out the cards once or twice a day.”
“I also had a MacBook Pro on the set that we used for fast assembly edits so we could watch dailies,” Foster added.
The production was predominantly shot indoors in daytime, or day into evening. “We shot in such a short period of time that the change in daylight was an illusion we needed to create to make it seem colder outside than inside as autumn changed to winter,” the DP explained. “When the script called for winter scenes, I changed the interior practicals to warmer bulbs and white-balanced the camera to them. This made the daylight outside appear to be cooler relative to the inside. We shot to allow flexibility in post- production, and the HPX3000 lends itself to that.”
“We had many different color temperatures going on, and when we turned the camera on it was quite amazing how beautifully it handled the varying temps without doing anything special except white balancing,” Foster continued. “The white balance offset function was excellent. We would white balance the usual way by holding a white card under the lights we wanted to be neutral. Then we would go to the offset and dial in a change of color temperature in increments of 200 degrees K until we had the warmth or coolness we were looking for.”
“We made extensive use of the camera’s Dynamic Range Stretching (DRS) to bring down the blown-out windows on sunny days,” Foster noted. “On some occasions, the afternoon sun would come blasting in through the front of the store, and the ND panels weren’t enough. We went into the CineGamma setting that Abel Cine Tech had loaded into the camera, and we would also use DRS and turn it up 100%, 200%, or sometimes as high as 500% until it brought down the highlights to within 100 units of video.”
“We experienced relatively stable shooting conditions in the store, but with huge variations in temperature and humidity,” he said. “When we started shooting in October, it was really hot and humid, then it turned cooler to a very comfortable range, and by the end of the shoot in early November it was very cool. This put some strain on keeping the back-focus of the lens sharp, so we used a Zeiss Sharp Max Universal field calibrator to adjust and align back-focus.”
“John did an amazing job keeping a single-location shoot looking fresh, and he was able to manipulate the set in every way,” said writer/director Smith. “The story calls for many subtle changes in light, time and temperature, and John made each one look terrific. I couldn’t be happier with the look of the film, and am very pleased that John chose the HPX3000, which I would recommend highly to colleagues.”
“The HPX3000 is very user-friendly,” Foster said. “I found it neutral in terms of reds and blues, which meant there was no color bias to fight. We easily achieved the realistic look the director wanted. Especially beneficial on this shoot was the fact that the camera lets you work quickly and still get a great image.”
About the AJ-HPX3000
With three 2/3” high-density 2.2-megapixel CCDs, the HPX3000 captures cinema-quality images in full-raster 1920 x 1080 resolution with 4:2:2 10-bit sampling, utilizing the powerful, new AVC-Intra codec. The HPX3000 offers intuitive film camera-like operation with advanced gamma settings, including Film-Rec mode (made popular by the VariCam). Designed for episodic television, filmmaking and commercial production where mastering quality is essential, the HPX3000 records in industry-standard DVCPRO HD at 1080 in 24p, 25p, 30p, 50i and 60i, and in AVC-Intra. AVC-Intra, the industry’s most advanced compression technology, provides high-quality 10-bit intra-frame encoding utilizing the Hi-10 and Hi-422 profiles of H.264 in two modes: AVC-Intra 100 for full-raster mastering video quality and AVC-Intra 50 Mbps for DVCPRO HD quality at half the bit rate, thereby doubling the record time on a P2 card. For added flexibility, the HPX3000 can also produce standard definition recordings in DVCPRO50, and is 60/50-Hz switchable for worldwide use.
View more photos from the Bottleworld shoot: