Panasonic Drives Ice Cube’s 30 for 30 ESPN Documentary
Straight Outta L.A., a portrait of the 1980s’ Los Angeles Raiders directed by rapper-turned-filmmaker Ice Cube, was shot with Panasonic VariCam 2700 P2 HD camcorders.
A production of Hunting Lane Films, Straight Outta L.A. will air Tuesday, May 11 as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 film project, a series of documentaries by well-known filmmakers that celebrate the network’s 30th anniversary.
Designed as a premium-quality, workhorse HD cinematography camcorder, the VariCam 2700 is used in a variety of applications, from sports and films to music videos and television commercials. The camcorder combines VariCam’s filmic-look with key functions including variable frame rates, wide dynamic range, and advanced master-quality, 10-bit 4:2:2 AVC-Intra recording.
Straight Outta L.A. covers the epoch in the Raiders franchise when owner Al Davis beat the NFL in court and moved his team from Oakland to Los Angeles. In 1995, after 13 seasons in Los Angeles, Davis moved the team back to Oakland. With a squad as colorful as its owner, the Raiders captivated a large number of African-American and Hispanic fans in L.A. at a time when gang warfare, immigration, and the real estate boom were rapidly changing the city. The L.A. Raiders morphed into a worldwide brand as the team’s colors, swagger, and anti-establishment ethos became linked with “gangsta rap” and the hip-hop scene that was permeating South Central Los Angeles. Director Ice Cube was not only witness to this evolution, he was also a part of it as a member of the notorious and influential rap group N.W.A. Still a die-hard Raiders fan, Ice Cube explores the unlikely, fleeting marriage between the NFL’s rebel franchise and America’s glamour city.
The one-hour documentary is laden with interviews with musicians, pop culture commentators and football luminaries. Subjects included former N.W.A. member MC Ren (N.W.A.’s album Straight Outta Compton marked the beginning of the gangsta rap era and is an obvious influence on the project); producer/rapper Snoop Dogg; NFL announcer and former Raiders coach and John Madden, and former players Greg Townsend and Marcus Allen, among others.
Location work encompassed shooting Ice Cube at the L.A. Coliseum, the site of the Raider’s Southern California play, as well as numerous B-roll scenics that will play as vignettes during the interviews.
Director of Photography Alex Van Wagner has worked broadly with Panasonic tape-based HD cameras, notably on reality programming, but Straight Outta L.A. marked his fist experience with P2 HD camcorders. The production rented two AJ-HPX2700s and made supplemental use of an AJ-HPX2000. The interviews were shot against a white cyc, with one HPX2700 used for a master wide shot, the second for close-ups. In the field, Van Wagner used the two P2 VariCams for cross coverage.
“The HPX2700 is an amazing camera, especially for shooting sports,” says Van Wagner. “Using the AVC-Intra codec, we’ve consistently obtained beautiful imagery and been able to maximize the recording capacity of the P2 media.”
Van Wagner operated the A camera, with AC/gaffer Mark Alvarado on the B camera. The small crew also comprised a producer and assistant editor. The DP shot in AVC-Intra 100 at 720/24pN, making extensive use of the HPX2700’s variable frame rate capabilities, not only for classic slow motion but also shooting at 1-fps to simulate traffic streaking through Los Angeles and performing in-camera ramps at 1-fps to 24-fps. The HPX2700s were equipped with Canon Cine Zoom and Zeiss DigiPrime HD lenses, and with a wide-angle fisheye lens for stadium work.
“The P2 VariCam was well-received by the entire crew—director, producer, editor—who all love the footage,” says Van Wagner. “The HPX2700 would be a top choice of mine for anything sports-related, or for documentary-style reality shoots, independent films or commercials.”
On location, P2 material was off-loaded into a MacBook Pro; the assistant editor prepared redundant Xserve G4 drives for Hunting Lane’s Dan Marks, who is editing Straight Outta L.A. in Final Cut Pro 7.