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Filmmaker Designs Proprietary Camera System

The use of low-cost HDV cameras and camcorders is transforming the independent film market, freeing creative directors and producers from the expense of buying, developing and editing film. For Alex Raskin, owner of Prime HD, a New York City-based HD production company, the ability to cheaply produce films spurred on another idea: to cut screening costs by auctioning off the executive producer rights for his upcoming movie Dead Beat on eBay.

Raskin’s ability to innovate, however, extends beyond finding executive producers. He has also designed a proprietary camera system to improve the performance of his Sony Z1U HDV camcorder. “The way everyone outputs the HD signal is via Firewire and that signal is heavily compressed,” he says. “You normally don’t see compression artifacts but when you start color correction they show up as macroblocks on the image and that presents a challenge for the normal workflow.” 

Raskin uses an analog output and a Blackmagic Multi-bridge device to record uncompressed analog HD out of the camcorder. The advantage, he says, is the images have less noise and macroblocks, making it easier to do special effects. “The analog component signal is output as an HD-SDI signal via the Multi-bridge and then captured on a computer hard drive,” he says. “The pristine image is better for green screen mattes and color correction.” 

Raskin edits his projects on a PC using Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 editing software. “It’s not the latest and greatest but it’s very stable and, with the use of the Aspect HD codec, can edit material in realtime,” he says. 

Dead Beat was shot at a hospital in Secaucus, N.J. and shooting on HD eased the production schedule. “With film, if you’re wrong, you’re screwed,” he says. “But with a large 24-inch monitor on the set I can see precisely what I’m shooting and use a vectorscope and waveform monitor to ensure the image is clean.”