Panasonic Cameras Bring New Life to Rick Bayless, Roger Ebert TV Series

Chicago production company Luminair is currently shooting two of its flagship projects, Mexico-One Plate at a Time and Ebert Presents at the Movies, with its pair of Panasonic’s AG-AF100 large imager HD cinema cameras.

Panasonic cameras capture Rick Bayless in action during a taping of Mexico – One Plate at a Time

Mexico – One Plate at a Time brings to life the foods, the flavors, the stories and the fun of Mexico for public television viewers. In each episode, chef, restaurateur, author, teacher and culinary adventurer Rick Bayless tosses together cooking demonstrations, cultural musings, exotic locations and ideas for home entertaining.

Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert has returned to television with Ebert Presents at the Movies, a fresh, updated and re-imagined version of Sneak Previews. That iconic format was on the air for 35 years and remains the gold standard for movie criticism on TV.

Luminair President and Executive Producer George Elder, who carries the EP credit on Frontera Media Productions’ Mexico – One Plate at a Time, has supervised production of the series for seasons four through eight, all of which have been shot with Panasonic camcorders. Most recently, the show had been captured with AJ-HPX2000 P2 HD camcorder as the primary camera and AG-HVX200A P2 HD handhelds as second cameras.

“The first camera we’d used on the Bayless show was the seminal AJ-SDX900, which gave us Panasonic’s classic 24p cinematic look,” says Elder. “That filmic legacy continued with our use of the HPX2000 and HVX200As. We’d typically used the HPX2000 on a Steadicam, with the HVX200As operated handheld for food close-ups and other tight shots. Approaching season eight, which entailed lengthy location work in Baja Mexico, we wanted to get rid of the Steadicam and go for a more documentary feel. Our initial thought was that an HDSLR would be a lightweight, easy-to-use solution, but I could see that there were inherent production liabilities.

“Research led us to the AF100, which I quickly realized was an actual video camera, not a still camera tricked out to be a video camera,” he continues. “It gave us on-board monitoring, broad lensing options and built-in audio along with the larger sensor capture chip. We really like the higher-resolution variable frame recording. The depth of field is similar to that of 35mm cameras, and altogether, the cost-effective AF100 allows us to maintain film standards we’d established with our prior Panasonic camcorders.”

Luminair’s Scott Dummler is Director/Editor of the upcoming season of the Bayless series, and has also supervised location work for Ebert Presents at the Movies (Luminair routinely shoots television and web segments for the latter, including extensive work at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival).

“I’ve done a lot of shooting with the Canon 7D, and liked the low-cost and quality images,” Dummler says, ““but in the run-up to shooting in Baja Mexico, I was concerned about that camera’s potential for overheating and lack of standard video controls. I was pleased when we chose the AF100 as our next-generation, go-to camera.

“My experience with the Panasonic camcorder has been excellent, realizing all the benefits of an HDSLR plus superior images and optimized video features,” he continues. ”The look of the AF100 is essential; the camcorder performs equally well on action and close work, and does very well in low and available light.”

Longtime Luminair collaborator Bob Long served as Director of Photography on all the Bayless and Ebert shoots. “The AF100 was the real head turner on the Cannes red carpet,” he says. “We were working lean with the camcorder on a lightweight set of sticks, and all the guys with the big, clunky set-ups were giving us the onceover. It was easy for us to work close enough to get nice, waist-up shots of the celebrities.

“The red ‘focus finder’ on the LCD screen is a brilliant feature,” Long adds. “A big drawback with HDSLRs–especially when you are shooting with a slim depth of field–is knowing when and where you are tack sharp. The focus assist on the AF100 is invaluable in this regard. When the 7D was being considered for the Mexico locations, I questioned whether it was hearty enough, whether it would overheat, whether we’d need a box full of them! I was delighted when we opted for the AF100. It proved ideal for our run-and-gun style, and the footage looks spectacular, with great saturation.”

Dummler is currently supervising editorial on the upcoming season of Mexico – One Plate at a Time, which begins to air this September.

“Final Cut Pro editing is easier with AF100 footage (vs. HDSLRs), with no rendering required,” he says. “Easier and faster, which was crucial while we were on location in Cannes, where we could go back to our hotel and edit web segments to air that day or the next.”

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