HD goes inside the Baghdad E.R.

Week in and week out The Sopranos takes the prize at HBO for unsettling violence but this past weekend Tony and company were outdone by Baghdad E.R., a gripping and controversial HD documentary that chronicled life in the emergency room of the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

Jon Alpert, Baghdad E.R. producer and director, relied on Sony’s HDV HVR-Z1U camera, to bring viewers inside the hospital with a graphic-detail and emotional impact that only HD can deliver.

“HD really gave a detail in the picture that was an asset to the program,” says Alpert. “You could see real tears and what the blood really looks like.”

An HD Panasonic night vision camera with infrared was also used on the shoot, with Alpert figuring out how to set the camera from shooting in green to black-and-white while flying 175 mph in an Army helicopter racing to the scene of an accident.

The HDV HVR-Z1U camera was literally battle-tested, settling any doubts as to the ability of the HDV format to deliver high-quality images in challenging environments. “It survived 140-degree weather, sandstorms, and was on the battlefield,” he says. “It was beyond the cliché of making you feel like you were there.”

Also helping out was a wide-angle lens from Century Optics that let Alpert get in closer to his subjects. “That helped get the mic closer for better sound and was useful inside the humvee where you can’t back up far enough to get the shot,” he says.

“Baghdad E.R.” was post-produced using an Avid system with a Miranda converter box helping ensure the quality of the video was pristine. “Without the Miranda box we would have had artifacts but it allowed the material to maintain the same quality it had in the field.”

Alpert says the lightweight of the camera compared to other HD and even SD gear has made him a believer and he is already using it for his next project. “It’s our camera of choice right now,” he says. Next up is a PBS documentary in Turkey and an HBO special on segregation.

“You can literally run on this camera all day on one lithium battery,” he says. “I would leave home in the morning with four tapes in my pocket and I was ready to go.”