The Revolution is Televised

The hotly anticipated House episode aired tonight.  Three 5DmkIIs.  Assorted Canon L-Series prime lenses.

Did we just experience a revolution?

The first few minutes were interesting.  I recognized the look of the image, the “feel,” almost immediately.  Not necessarily when the characters were outside at the crash scene.  I’ve never done a night shoot that looked anything like that crash scene.  But I sure recognized the interior colors, especially the color balanced fluorescent lighting in the emergency room, with its subtle warm yellow tones.

But within five minutes I basically stopped thinking about the camera and started paying attention to the story.

It’s possible that the buzz around this episode will focus primarily on the extremely shallow depth of field.  I personally tend to shoot on the 7D at f4.0, but, as others have written about, f4.0 on a 7D is not the same as f4.0 on a 5D.  On a 5D, it might be the equivalent of shooting at f2.0.

But I don’t feel like talking about that tonight.  This is a night to remind ourselves that the most affordable broadcast quality camera ever invented just took on the challenge of filming the season finale of a wildly popular TV show and exceeded every imaginable expectation.  And 99% of the folks watching it had no idea that the camera used could be purchased for under three grand.

My guess is every filmmaker between the ages for 14 and 64 felt a rush of adrenaline tonight.  Because the camera did exactly what we all hoped and wished it would do under the spotlight of broadcast scrutiny.  It drew us in, brought us closer to the action.  It was instrumental in creating a realistic claustrophobic environment that perfectly suited the storyline.  The episode was a season finale and needed to pack an emotional wallop, but that result is never guaranteed.  Yet I found this episode to be quite moving.  I can’t help but wonder whether the camera played an important role in capturing what seemed to be an additional layer of intimacy and immediacy in the performances.  Maybe I’m just full of it, but when the rescued woman was dying in the ambulance, and later, when House was contemplating a return to drug addiction, the stillness of the shots along with the ultra shallow depth of field created a kind of pause in the action that greatly enhanced the drama of those moments.

The Steadicam helped liberate motion picture cameras from the tripod.  The 5D may be having the opposite effect: we may actually begin to see a resurgence in the influence of still photography.  Long close ups.  Less running around.  Intimate, creative framing.

Let’s leave a discussion about depth of field for another day.  Tonight a top-rated network series filmed an entire episode with gear that just about anyone can purchase at their local camera store.  And they did it not to be cool, or to be the first out of the gate.  They did it because the cameras were literally the perfect choice of gear for the story they wanted to tell.

Bravo.

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2 responses to “The Revolution is Televised

  1. I get your point. I agree that it’s amazing that such an inexpensive camera can produce a broadcast quality image. In fact, something that is more interesting than the kind of flat image I am used to with most mainstream TV. It had a certain beauty to it. And yeah, it did add to the claustrophobia of the story line.

    Now, for my own two cents. All I’ve seen of the DSLR’s has been online. Quick pieces with lots of cuts. Kind of hard to get a great gage. Here, without commercials, I had about 44 minutes of content to view. For me, from a visual stand-point, I was in and out. Like I said, the image was interesting. Beautiful at times. But there were other moments where the perpetuity of the shallow focus look was kind of overwhelming. It felt often a tad surreal. Now they may have wanted that feel… or you could say my eyes are still adjusting to the look. But sometimes the faces felt so, well, in my face, I felt an almost subtle 3D effect from the images.

    The trick I think with storytelling that goes beyond the length of say, a music video… is you want to be interesting. But you also want an audience to feel enough complacency with the image that they can sink into the story. Clearly, this camera did that for you. For me, I found while it made some shots more intriguing, that at other times I was so conscious of the image, it actually pulled me a little out of the story. If this had been a 2 hour movie? I think I would have been somewhat exhausted visually by the end.

    But as the pre-conservative Dennis Miller used to say… “That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.” 🙂

    • Yeah, there will be a lot of discussion about too much shallow depth of field in the coming weeks and months. I think, for the moment, I just wanted to highlight some of the other aspects of last night’s remarkable achievement. I will say that House must have some of the most talented focus pullers in the business!

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