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LUMIX Pro Case Study: BGH1 on Set: ABC Drama “The Rookie”

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LUMIX Pro Case Study: BGH1 on Set: ABC Drama “The Rookie”

See how the ABC TV drama “The Rookie” is using the LUMIX BGH1 to reduce production time, lower costs, and make setup simpler without sacrificing image quality.

Like all network TV series, “The Rookie” is not immune from the challenges of COVID-19. Restricted access to on-camera talent can pose a problem when your current workflow requires you to record the same scene multiple times for different camera angles and pickups. When the camera is an Arri Alexa Mini, it can be difficult to place the camera for the driver angle, passenger angle, and the hood mount and keep the cameras out of view. This requires the production to stop after each take and move the camera and its tray from one side of the car to the other so you can reshoot the same scene from a different angle.

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These car scenes are already a challenge with environmental concerns and changes in lighting; now you can only have so much time allotted with talent before they need to end for the day for safety protocols. The E-One Entertainment production team of Director Bill Roe, Producer Marco Black, and Directors of Photography Jay Hanrahan and Cybel Martin knew they would have to streamline these scenes, but the question was how?

The production team envisioned the use of multiple compact cameras that would allow them to “cross shoot” their scenes. This would enable the team to ditch the large trays holding the cameras (called “hostess trays”) and conceal the cameras so the Arri Alexa Mini could ride on the hood of the car and film at the same time as the cross-firing cameras. That would bring it down to one take for three camera angles. The team began to research compact camera solutions that would not require a hostess tray and could be easily concealed in the cabin of their “pod car” police cruiser. Their challenge was to locate cameras small enough to hide but of equal quality to the Alexa Mini so that camera cuts would match and not take days for color correcting.

Rookie Case Study 2

During the process of testing several solutions, Panasonic announced the pending release of the DC-BGH1 box-styled cinema camera. DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) Earl Fulcher immediately contacted Matt Frazer at Panasonic for early access to a prototype for testing.

Producer Marco Black explains: “We ran several tests involving the BGH1, and Black Magic Pocket & Micro models. We were already familiar with GoPros, which are great for certain applications, but do not hold up if using to film a traditional scene. Earl really led the charge in terms of introducing our DPs to these [BGH1] cameras and showing everyone how great the image capture and range is on them. Once our Producing Director Bill Roe saw their capabilities – that sealed the deal. Before he started directing, Bill Roe was a cameraman for many years on such TV shows as ‘The X-Files’ and ‘Castle,’ in addition to many feature films.”

From Bill Roe’s perspective, the BGH1 became the best solution for their needs. “After speaking with our DPs Jay Hanrahan & Cybel Martin, our DIT Earl Fulcher, our loader Kyle Jacobs, as well as our Key Grip Vidal Cohen, we concluded that the Panasonic LUMIX BGH1 would fit all our criteria and be a great option for us.”

Earl was most excited by the remote monitoring and control functions offered in the BGH1 and the LUMIX Tether for Multicam App; Earl noted features like SDI output, Time Code, GenLock, and Ethernet would be used for these scenes. The plan was to use five BGH1 cameras (one in the back seat and four up front) so they needed to be able to sync all five cameras and sound in post (along with the Alexa Mini) and remote trigger the recording and monitor from the chase vehicle. A laptop was mounted in the trunk of the pod car and a Wi-Fi transmitter attached outside so that everything would be transmitted to the chase vehicle and all cameras could be monitored and controlled. Control and monitoring could be handled by the LUMIX Tether for Multicam App but for all cameras to be viewed at once, the SDI output would need to be sent to the chase vehicle as well. As for lenses, the team tested several lens options from Panasonic and SLR Magic, but the production team found that the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm f2.8-4 and Panasonic Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4 native lenses gave them the most flexibility for camera placement and delivered the quality they needed in a compact package.

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One more hurdle to clear: post-production

At this point you might think that once the director, DoPs, DIT, and producer all like the BGH1, it’s time to use it—but there was one more layer of approvals needed for the BGH1: the post-production staff. Even if the BGH1 appeared to be a good fit, since it would be used for a broadcast television series shot on Arri Alexa, a certain level of image quality is needed to meet ABC production guidelines. It’s the responsibility of the post-production team to develop tools to get the BGH1 to color match the Alexa Mini –no easy task, as the cameras are used together in the same scene. In addition, if creating the tools and matching the scenes requires hours of work, the benefits gained in production would be lost. That match is critical!

Producer Marco Black: “We mounted the BGH1 alongside two other Black Magic models and drove around the studio lot to simulate our typical “pod car” run . . . in and out of hard sunlight, the bumpy L.A. roads, etc.

The BGH1 held up the best in terms of range and image quality. Our colorist also noted that the LUT applied best on the BGH1, and that the range was wide and more favorable. The thumbs-up from the post side really helped seal the deal.”

Production starts

With all parties in agreement, production with the BGH1 cameras could begin. So how did this work in practice? Let’s just say there were a lot of unintended positive results and reactions.

Marco Black: “Normally we film our pod car using our Alexa minis. The BGH1 replaced our side “hostess tray” angles. We were able to mount BGH1s on both passenger and driver sides without seeing the camera in the opposing frame. It allowed us to cross shoot, in combination with our Alexa minis hood mounted. End result is we could film a scene in one pass without having to stop and flip a hostess tray. The time saved has been monumental in helping us navigate shorter shooting days due to COVID protocols.”

Director Bill Roe: “The quality of the Panasonic LUMIX was great and being able to use five cameras at once saved us a lot of production time as we were able to shoot multiple angles in a single pass.”

Post Producer Helen Pai: “We tested several cameras and the Panasonic BGH1 had the best range for dailies and final color. This camera has been used extensively in recent episodes and the footage has integrated well with our existing footage—not only with color, but with all aspects of finishing. We've had no issues in post with the Panasonic footage.”

From Panasonic’s perspective, this result seems entirely too good to be true— there had to be some obstacles or difficulties to overcome when using the BGH1? As it turns out, there was only one major obstacle that put the BGH1 at risk. According to Marco Black, “the difficulty or obstacle in terms of transitioning to the BGH1 is skepticism. A lot of people were skeptical if the BGH1 could hold up in quality to the image quality of the Alexa. Obviously, this is not a camera meant to replace an Alexa-type model, but it is great when it is used to augment and help you gain additional angles on a scene when you simply do not have time for traditional set-ups.”

In closing, we asked if the BGH1 will be retired at the end of the pandemic restrictions—will “The Rookie” return to the Alexa for these scenes in the future? Marco Black answers: “Using the BGH1 has given us the ability to shoot more cameras at once on a camera car rig then you would normally be able to. We came to this out of the necessity of expediting our shooting day due to time restrictions with our COVID protocols. It has proven so invaluable to us that I do not see us stopping this approach once we are no longer working under the time restrictions that COVID procedures have created. The actors love how much faster our camera car work takes. We recently filmed a scene with a helicopter pilot over Los Angeles. We mounted several of the BGH1s inside the cockpit and filmed the pilot flying above Downtown L.A.”

BGH1s in a helicopter over Downtown L.A. you say? We can’t wait to see that footage!

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Panasonic would like to thank Marco Black, Bill Roe, Helen Pai, and Earl Fuller for sharing their experiences with the BGH1. See if you can spot the BGH1 footage in Season 3 of “The Rookie” airing Sunday nights at 10pm Eastern and Pacific on ABC. For more information on the BGH1, click the link below.