Bill Phillips is a filmmaker and teaches screenwriting at Dartmouth. He writes: In 1979, I was a freelance cameraman in L.A. and had to make a decision after taking the IATSE Camera Test… go to the major Hollywood studios and schmooze department heads to get into the Camera Trainee Program, or return to my home on Cape Cod and watch Henry Fonda and Myrna Loy act in my first produced teleplay: Summer Solstice. My friend Chris Nibley, a special effects cameraman, advised me to go East. “You don’t want to be 50 and lugging a camera up sand dunes. Sit at a desk with a word processor.”
I took his advice and became a Hollywood screenwriter for 30 years. It was fun, but now, at 60 (not 50), I’m preparing to lug cameras around. Of course, anyone in the motion picture field knows times have changed. Hardly anyone edits on film, and increasingly, people shoot on digital.
I picked the JVC GY-HM700U. I was attracted to its use of SDHC cards. The only problem was, when it arrived, I felt like Rip Van Winkle. White balance was one thing, but black stretch? 24p vs 30p vs 60p? Gain settings? Zebra pattern? I felt like Steve Martin confronted with a new foreign language: “What’s that you say?”
On November 18, Ken Freed came to the rescue. The New England District Manager for JVC’s Professional Video Products Division, he came to Dartmouth College, where I teach screenwriting, and demonstrated virtually everything you’d want to know about this camera, not only to me, but to Jim Brown, who teaches production here, Amy Lawrence, our Department Chair, Nora Jacobson, local filmmaker thinking of getting into HD, Chris Ivanyi, who does media setups here but also directs digital films, and Peter Ciardelli, Dartmouth’s digital guru.
The demo was amazing. This camera is one of the first (after its cousin, the smaller GY-HM100) to use SDHC cards for recording Quicktime files. When you finish shooting, you pull the (inexpensive) card out of the camera, insert it in your computer, and since each shot is a new Quicktime.mov file, you can instantly import it natively into Final Cut Pro and start editing. No long log-and-transfer sessions. No more folders with lots of AVCHD files for each take. (The camera also shoots MP4 files with or without an optional SxS Media Recorder to go directly into Avids.)
The camera has two SDHC card slots, so if you use 32GB cards, you get two and a half hours of sync sound (a big improvement over 10 minute film magazines!) Also, the B slot will pick up where the A slot left off, so you don’t lose a frame when the cards make the change-over.
The camera can also be put in a mode where you are constantly recording for three seconds prior to pushing RECORD. This is useful for getting important entrances, lightning strikes, and other incidents impossible for the camera operator to control.
The 35mbps High Image Quality Mode of transfer makes everything go quickly.
Ken also spoke about the differences in recording at 1080p vs. 720. Because video and film don’t necessarily correspond one-to-one, there are sometimes counterinstinctual reasons for doing things. 720 is better for shooting fast-moving action (you can slow it down in post). 1080 is better for slower subjects.
Once you’ve shot, you can put your camera into playback mode. The HM700 provides thumbnails of each of each scene. You choose them and play them right from the camera. There is also a mechanism for adding “OK” to a “print.” This not only marks the shots for the editor, but it also protects them from accidental erasure.
If you’re shooting material that allows for preparation ahead of time, you also have the capability of naming your files, making it easier to sort things out in the editing stage.
The camera is, of course, capable of doing everything in Automatic mode, but most professionals are going to want the control of iris, shutter, gain, white balance, audio 1 and 2, and a host of other options by choosing Manual mode.
One thing that perplexes cameramen accustomed to shooting film in cold weather is the disclaimer JVC makes that its equipment shouldn’t be used below 0 degrees Centigrade (freezing!). That’s considered warm during Vermont and New Hampshire winters, so this gave me pause. PortaBrace Company, however, makes a host of protective gear for most models of equipment, and they have a Polar Bear complete with pockets in which to insert hand warmers… not for you… for the camera’s electronics.
Of course similar products are made for shooting in rain.
As a screenwriter, I’m always amused that no matter how sophisticated the screenplay software, we always revert to the traditional Courier 12 font… because that’s how scripts have been written for years. Now switching over to shooting, I’m tempted to ask a similar question: “How do we make it look like film?” Ken Freed’s introduction to this camera, and (for me) to the world of digital, made me think twice before asking this. Some things (this is where the lightning strikes) might actually be better digitally!
About Bill Phillips: