Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Low Budget Soap

I read in one of the trades that the daytime drama Guiding Light is now shooting much of its episodes on location using small-format, PD-150/DVX-100 class of cameras.

Compared to the traditional everything-in-the-studio daytime drama, it does have a bit more immediate, off the cuff feel, but it also ends up looking, well, cheap.

When you are producing a low-rated program, I understand the need to cut costs. You can outfit a three-camera small-format crew for the cost of one good medium format lens, so the economics make sense. You also gain some amount of increased flexibility with the physically small cameras. A scene could be shot in a stationary car without too many operator contortions.

But there are limitations to the small format gear, also. My experience with them is that their decreased dynamic range limits what you can do in color correction. There is zero depth of field, so while the operator has to hardly touch his focus knob, it is hard to focus attention of the speaker and away from the background. An underexposed image breaks down quickly. In general shots look a little home made.

Part of the problem is the token lighting. Unlike the classic three-point lighting used in the studio, many of the practical locations are lit only enough to register flesh tones and that's it. Outdoor shots appear to only use a single source to brighten the eyes. There's a lot of value there, but nobody is going to watch the show because it looks good.

The producers have clearly made a tactical choice: if they are mired as the third-place show in their time slot, profits will have to be driven from having low overhead. Spending dramatically less than your competition on the production side gives you a competitive advantage, or at least increases your margins to an acceptible level.

While it would a certain kind of script for a prime time program to adopt the same workflow, it is good to know it is possible.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Missing Avid Feature #1

Recently I needed to import a series of QuickTime videos into my Avid Media Composer, and it took longer than it should have. I only needed the audio track of each QT, not the video, but the import function within Avid doesn't have a function to choose whether you want audio, video, or both. The result was the import needed an hour when it could have been done in under 5 minutes.

QuickTime Pro may have allowed me to export just the audio track as a new file, and that is something I will have to purchase and test. My point is that ideally I wouldn't need the extra software to do this, as this issue applies to every type of media file: QT, Windows Media, Real Media, etc.

I spend too much time developing workarounds as it is, I don't need to spend more.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I'm reading from several sources that some networks are considering reducing the number of hours of prime time they provide to their affiliates. This is interesting in a number of ways.

Since I work in the opposite side of the building from sales, I don't know which would be more lucrative for stations, a few prime time ads or more ads within a syndicated show. But if a few hundred stations suddenly find themselves with a few more hours a week to fill, syndicated programming gets a boost.

I would hope stations would take a few chances by giving programming that hasn't aired in their market a spin, and depending on the number of stations in a market, they might have to. The equilibrium of availible shows/availible slots would be in flux for while if this did come to pass.

More availible syndicated hours would also mean opportunities for new programming to start up and gain a foothold in the marketplace, especially if it thematically fits in the prime time hours. This is a hard time to be spinning up shows financially, but if prime time slots suddenly come open, there will be a bit of a land rush for those slots.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

HD ads

My household ahs had HD service via Direct TV for six months, and one of the interesting quirks in the low percentage of HD ads that run during HD programming.

I've read trade articles about the aesthetic choices that must be made for ads that are to be served across broadcast networks, and they are valid choices that must be made. I've had the same discussions on virtually every new project that is shot 16:9 but won't be seen by the every viewer in that aspect. It seems that most projects have multiple destinations, so you must 4:3 protect while still making the 16:9 image interesting anyway.

But I'm surprised that only half of the ads on Discovery's or ESPN's HD feeds are also HD. The reduction in viewer experience is dramatic. If I'm an advertiser who has paid for access to an HD stream, I would want the maximum impression.

I understand there is an added expense to posting in HD versus SD, assuming the content originated on film or in HD, but when you factor in the cost of production and editing in relation to the cost of the ad buy, I see value in spending the extra dollar on the front end to maximize the impression on the back end.

That's why the "free" ad a TV station will produce in exchange for an ad buy are expensive in bad viewer impressions. You get what you pay for.

I imagine this will become less of an issue as the DTV conversion happens, but I am curious how long the residual issues will evolve.


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