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MTV wants its 24p

P. Diddy won't be the only "P" at the MTV Music Awards on Aug. 29. If all goes as planned the live broadcast from Radio City Music Hall will be the first live awards ceremony to be shot and recorded in the 24p digital format.

It's a bit of a gamble since awards shows have always been shot on videotape, but it's one that Alex Coletti, producer of the 2002 MTV Music Awards, decided to take.

"It's a good first step, and hopefully next year we'll take it to the next logical step, which is full-on broadcast in HD, letterbox, 24p live," says Coletti. All Mobile Video's 24p vehicle will be used for this year's show.

Coletti says the executives at MTV always ask for something new and different, but the decision to go 24p (for progressive) was met with a bit of quasi-trepidation.

"MTV executives said, 'Are you sure you can handle this?'" recalls Coletti. "It's a live show, hard enough to produce that you don't want to make them harder, but we're fairly comfortable with the truck and the engineers and people who come with it."

Eric Duke, president of All Mobile Video, will be there with his company's 24p production vehicle. All Mobile's gear includes Sony HDVC900 and 950 cameras and a Sony MVS8000 mapping switcher for both HD and SD productions. That's important for the awards show because, if tests the week before the show have Coletti and others concerned it won't feel live, producers can switch back to the typical 30-frames-per-second rate, the way awards shows have been shot until now.

The move to 24p will give it a more cinematic look—more like film—but it introduces other challenges because fast motion can cause the picture to fall apart. Filters will be used on the cameras, and producers and directors may toy with shutter speeds to help deal more easily with motion and blur. But the opportunity for talent to look better is a guarantee for co-operation all along.

"The talent likes the format because it really flatters them thanks to the lighting and filters," he says. "It gives the footage an evergreen look as opposed to the live video feel. This is a much warmer feel, and hopefully that will come across."

Coletti first worked with 24p (and the All Mobile video truck) on a Tribeca Film Festival project. He was pleased enough to give it a shot at MTV. "We figure 24p is where it's all going some day," he says, conceding, "There is always the minute chance that we could do rehearsal and think, 'You know what, this looks weird. Let's flip the switch.' I hate to think that's going to happen."

The 24p production truck costs a little more than a standard truck because of the gear and also the additional staff needed for the audio needs. The truck's flexibility will be increasingly required on other production vehicles as customers demand wider variety. For Coletti, using the truck is about keeping up with technology. For a film producer it may be about cost savings as 24p productions are less expensive.

The broadcast won't be letterboxed: Coletti doesn't want to throw too much new stuff at the production team. Plus, if graphics and packages were done for letterbox there'd be no flexibility to go back to 4:3.

"We considered recording letterbox and shooting center cut, like a live pan-and-scan, but I thought that wouldn't help anyone," he says. "We're making a huge step in and of itself, so we'll have a little patience and we'll hopefully get there next year."