Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

DV Devotees

DV Devotees

DV may spell cheap-and-cheerful to some but, as Rob Buckley discovers, others are busy developing a whole new DV production grammar

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Most people expected digital video to change everything. From more efficient, more flexible shooting crews to simpler post production and lower costs, digital was to be the industry's Domestos - able to kill all known problems. Its one drawback was thought to be quality: no one expected it to have any. However, a whole set of London-based units founded on the back of DV are now claiming that even quality is not at issue.

“The message I'm getting is that it 's the right tool for the job:' says Euan Semple. head of the BBC's Digilab. ”Depending on the experience of the person using it, and what they expect to do with the kit, they can now pick from a range of options where previously it was just high-end stuff.“

Digilab is the BBC's response to this ballooning choice in equipment: the simpler days of ”one size fits all“ BetaSP are disappearing rapidly, to be replaced with a cornucopia of formats and cameras. Semple and his staff have the unenviable task of sifting through the whole range of digital products to see what their strengths and weaknesses are for specific tasks, and advising accordingly.

”At Digilab. we don't specify what people can and can't use, but we do give warnings about things we find 'difficult' to use. Technology may be getting more complicated, but it's actually becoming more accessible.“ As a result of DV and related technologies. Semple feels, people are becoming more confident about production: they specify exactly what they want. either for their crew or for them 10 go out and use for themselves. ”The exciting thing is that it blurs the edges between different groups that have been quite separate in the past.“

Working out the pros and cons of digital is exercising most broadcast organisations, though few have dedicated groups like the BBC's . LWT has, however, since the launch of its own Lab at the start of the year. Set up by director of programmes Marcus Plantin and run by ex·LWT producer/director Ralph Jones, The Lab is an attempt to become ”small and nimble, like an independent product ion company,“ and to train the next generation of programme-makers – all while experimenting with DV.

Jones was brought on board because of his previous experience with digital formats. ”I'd used them for programmes and series for broadcasters outside ITV, so I was keen to set up The Lab and see what we could do with our new toys. “

Jones lists the advantages of digital: it's lightweight. easy to use, cheaper, and the cameras have intelligent labour-saving features. For low-budget work, It's certainly worth considering. But BetaSP now has many of the qualities that were once the attraction of DV: smaller crews, thanks improvements in SP cameras' light-sensitivity. and smaller, lighter equipment (Its price has also fallen.) Then there are always the things that are the same for both analogue and digital:tripods, for example, still can't be miniaturised. For Jones, though, ”it just happens that the mix of camera features, size, quality and price works for us.“

So what are the caveats of working with DV? ”Some people in front of the camera won't take you seriously if you use the very small handicams, so we tend to use them for back-up. And you have to go to the bother of colour correction if you have to mix DVCam and SP footage,“ But the similarity in the formats' picture-quality actually means that different directing styles are more noticeable than format switches. It's easier to mix DV and SP footage from the same director, Jones believes, than to mix two DV shoots by different directors who hadn't compared notes.

He also offers ad vice on compatibility. ”You should make up your mind to go with one format I know that in theory you can mix them up, but I find you should stick with one format,M The Lab has gone with Sony from start to finish: 95% of its material is shot on DVCam the rest on SP by freelance crews: even its editing suite is one of Sony's ES3 range rather than the more traditional Avid.

Whatever their choice of format, if there's one thing that links DV proponents right now, it's their choice of names. Film Four's low-budget film-making unit, headed by Robin Gutch, is called... The Lab. Gulch believes DV is going to be a crucial part of his Lab's work and that it will liberate fllm-makers to discover their own voice. “DV has many advantages for low-budget film-makers, he believes: it gives them greater practical access, It avoids the costs of large 35mm crews and expensive kit, and it can produce better performances from actors by offering greater intimacy. It's qu te feasible for a director who wants to experiment to take a few days with a DV camera and his cast to try out shots – something normally far too costly.

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