It's not often that a movie's camera gets more attention than the actors, but that's what happened on the set of the independent film Nicolas. Director Peter A. Shaner shot the movie with an innovative camera system (called the Sony 24P) created by Sony Corp. and Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co., making Nicolas the first U.S. feature to be produced in the 24 frames-per-second (fps) High-Definition TV (HDTV) standard. This camera integrates video, which normally records at 30 fps, with the 24-fps film standard. HDTV is cheaper than shooting on film, and it saves time in the editing process. George Lucas asked Sony and Panasonic to develop the system for the next Star Wars installment, but Shaner got to take the camera out for a test spin before it's used on Jar Jar Binks.
Q: Do you have any sense that you're making HDTV'S The Jazz Singer?
A: I've said that to the crew to get them motivated, because God knows we're not paying them enough. There are probably things in this movie that, 60 years from now, people will look at and be horrified, because we crossed some line that hadn't even been drawn yet.
Q: One of the things that came with Technicolor cameras back in the 1930s was a consultant. What comes with HDTV cameras from Panavision and Sony?
A: I'm not even sure if there's an instruction manual for this camera yet.
Q: Has there been anything that you have not been able to do with HDTV that you were able to do with film?
A: The only thing that we can't do, so far, is any kind of true slow motion. When you over-crank a camera and run it at 60, 75, or 100 fps and play it back at 24 fps you get a true slow motion. This camera will not do anything except 24, 25, or 30 fps, so you don't get a true slow motion with it.
Q: What are the first differences you noticed between this and 35mm?
A: It took a while to get into the groove of knowing what we were going to do with the camera. Then there's having the HDTV monitor on the set, which is a huge plus. The other thing is, tape is cheap. On a film set, when you yell "Cut," something I call "the bomb burst" happens: everyone who has been very focused and quiet all during the take, scatters. It seems to take five minutes to corral everybody back into doing another take. But on this, I'll roll the tape and sometimes even have discussions with the actors while the tape is rolling because everybody is so focused.
Paying the Piper?
The Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) says services such as Napster which lets you download MP3 files from other users' hard drives hurt record sales. But should the RIAA be singing the blues? A Jupiter (Media Metrix Inc.) survey of 2,258 online-music fans found that Napster users are 45 percent more likely to increase their music purchases. Still, don't expect that figure to change the music industry's tune about Napster (Inc.).