By John Virata
Studio’s P2-lensed movie wins award at NYIIFV Festival
Star Circle Pictures’ Samaritan, the company’s entry into the 2006 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival won an award for Best Suspense Short Film Genre. What is notable, in addition to a good story, is the film’s use of the Panasonic, P2-based AG-HVX200 camera. The film, shot over two days in January 2006, with post production finished in April, is the first motion picture, according to Panasonic, to be completed using the HVX-200 HD camera. In fact, at the time, the camera SCP used was one of five in existence. Kimball Carr, writer, editor, and director of Samaritan and vice president of development and production at Star Circle Pictures, and Ethan Marten, vice president of marketing and public relations, discuss with Digital Media Net Senior Editor John Virata, some aspects of the making of Samaritan as well as new technologies such as MySpace and how it serves as a viral marketing tool for independent filmmakers and independent films.
JV: It is said that Samaritan was conceived to demonstrate the studio’s belief in making a good film in look and story in a cost effective manner. Obviously previsualization played a major role when setting up shots. You mention the use of Frame Forge 3D Studio. How flexible was the software and how did it help you to achieve your goals?
Kimball Carr: Frame Forge 3d was instrumental in the creation of Samaritan and sped up the process of creating renderings to represent each shot in the film. The software proved useful due to its responsiveness and fairly user friendly interface. For basic blocking, camera angles and even sequencing the final cut of the picture, which benefited a low shooting ratio, the package was quite good. Star Circle Pictures will continue to push the envelope with its next project in terms of blurring the line of pre production, production and post, and part of this continued innovation will be greater use of previsualization methods and tools.
Ethan Marten: We originally set out to audition the technology before shooting our feature Six Bullets 7 Strangers. SCP wanted to see if its production flow theories would work in practice. We were warned by industry professionals, ‘what you’re attempting is impossible.’ the flexibility allowed SCP, as Robert Evans would say; to make the impossible possible.
JV: Samaritan was filmed with the Panasonic AG-HVX200 HD camera.
Detractors of the camera have derided the P2 format as being too expensive and holding too little disk space on the cards. Yet, Samaritan won an award at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. Why did you go with that model camera?
KC: Star Circle Pictures intended to shoot Samaritan with high definition technology in keeping with its continued pursuit of alternate motion picture production methods. SCP sees HD as a film replacement medium which, when used with other skillful techniques and tools, will continue to give motion picture makers a new alternative to the costly and antiquated limitations present with film. Another thrust of star circle’s mission has been to play a role in the ushering in of tapeless footage capture which in and off itself presents numerous benefits. The Panasonic P2 cards presented us with an opportunity to take advantage of tapeless capture months before hard drive alternatives from companies like focus enhancements were on the market. The other key attributes of the HVX-200 which made it our camera of choice for Samaritan were its small form factor, 24p recording mode, and Varicam capabilities.
JV: Do you feel the win has helped to validate the P2 format and what Panasonic is trying to do with it?
KC: We are pleased to have been the first company in the world, according to panasonic, to use the HVX-200 and their P2 technology to complete the production of a motion picture. While SCP is appreciative that the technology behind Samaritan has received extensive world wide press coverage, we are also honored that the award from the NYIIFVF recognizes the artistic work of the SCP team and the very talented actors and artists who contributed to the picture. EM: The technology allows us to be more productive, but suspense doesn’t come from a P2 card. The completion of the project – 81 set-ups in two nights – validates the P2 format. The ability to tell compelling, quality stories more efficiently and inexpensively is an objective. The NYIIFVF win validates Star Circle Pictures’ dedication to both arts and sciences.
JV: Did you consider other camera models before you decided on the HVX200?
KC: Yes. Our initial intention after deciding to build a production flow around HD was to utilize the up and coming HDV format. Just before preproduction of the project commenced, we shifted our production model to accommodate the HVX-200 which was due to begin shipping in November 2005. It has been noted that our nimble proactive approach to taking on this new breed of camera and the other processes present in the making of ‘Samaritan’ have shown SCP to be a maverick kind of company with a fresh vision of how motion pictures can be made.
JV: What software and hardware did you use to assemble Samaritan and why did you choose those solutions?
KC: With the decision to go HD with Samaritan, SCP researched the various platforms for HD postproduction. We decided to shift our infrastruture away from PC-based solutions to a full Mac solution including the G5 workstation running the Final Cut Pro HD suite. On set a Mac PowerBook G4 was used for HD footage review along with a G-Raid hard drive array for HD storage. We have been very happy with the performance of these products.
JV: How long did it take to edit and finish the film?
KC: Our two-day shoot was complete in mid January 2006. Our post production of the project wrapped the first week of April 2006.
EM: We had a rough edit at wrap. Kimball had many additional responsibilities, writer/director/producer/editor otherwise I would venture to say we would have been able to have a final edit in a fraction of the time.
JV: How many different endings did you arrive at with the story?
KC: One. For the Samaritan short, there was always just the ending seen in the finished picture. However, the ending of the short is only the beginning. There are much deeper and broader explorations of the Samaritan character and story behind the Samaritan’s actions which are elaborated in several other projects in which SCP is currently engaged. This is a story with broad context and vast depth. Audiences have not seen the last of the Samaritan.
JV: Over the course of how many hours did SCP shoot with the AG-HVX200 HD camera?
KC: We shot tests for roughly eight hours and then a combined 17 hours of production shooting.
JV: How many hours of footage did you shoot in total?
KC: Approximately 6 hours.
JV: Do you have formal filmmaking training?
KC: We have produced a feature and two featurette projects in house, with several other projects in development. The members of our production crew have a combined total of dozens of productions to their credit ranging from short films, feature films and experimental projects. None of the principals of Star Circle is a graduate of film school – a fact that we are quite proud of as we feel it key to our mission that our maverick nature remain at the core of our company.
EM: (Laughing) We’re pretty informal. I first started working behind the camera in 1988 with Buzz Kulik on Too Young The Hero. Since then I have worked in front of or behind the camera with Lucas Films, Hollywood Pictures, Discovery Channel,Family Channel, New Dominion Pictures, and NASA. My father, Albert Marten, was a pioneer of the modern motion picture industry, being one of the first to take Hollywood production off-shore to locations in Europe after the Second World War, and introducing the concept of the completion bond to the industry in the United States. He arranged financing for the production of over 150 features, as well as several television series and Broadway plays. He and my brother Richard, the president of Star Circle, built Virginia’s first full service motion picture studio.
JV: How long has SCP been shooting in the digital format?
KC: SCP has always been a non-film-based firm and we have three productions to our credit dating from 2000 to present.
JV: How many years has Star Circle Pictures been making movies?
KC:Informally, since 2000. SCP has been in formal existence since 2001. I’ve been producing and directing motion picture projects since 1999, and a script writer for numerous companies since 1993.
JV: What is it that you like about the digital format that cannot be achieved with film?
KC: Speaking specifically of high definition video (to be more precise than referring to any digital medium), there are comparable quality factors in terms of image quality, color range and clarity. There is also a speed and immediacy present with HD that film does not possess. Working with HD removes guess work inherent in the process of shooting film in that you see what you get more accurately with HD. In addition, reduced cost is a favorable factor for HD as is the streamlined flow of producing with it.
EM: Technology is rattling the foundations of cinematic storytelling, but the integrity of story and character comes first. Star Circle Pictures insists technology is always subsidiary and never dominates the human element — in front of or behind the camera. It was ingenuity as well as technology that brought Carr’s dynamic script to life, and allowed the completion of the 81 set-ups, on schedule, on budget in only two nights. That being said, Samaritan is suspenseful drama, reminiscent of classic “Twilight Zone,” which poses the question, “Why do we fear what we do not understand?” If you’re resisting digital and high definition technology, to quote The Samaritan; “The truth may not be what you want it to be.”
JV: What role does MySpace play in the marketing of your film? Is it common for independent filmmakers to have a presence on MySpace?
EM: Common? I punched in a search for independent filmmakers on MySpace last night, resulting in 9,420 pages. Multiply that by ten sites per page. Punch in independent films, and you’ll see at least 12,800 pages. Great networking opportunities. Sometimes it’s like mining for gold, but imagine a more active pre-existing social network of more than 134,000,000 than MySpace. One can produce exponential increases in brand awareness through MySpace. Think of it as word-of-mouth delivered and enhanced online. Free fits any budget, too. Our investors appreciate that. Samaritan has two sites on MySpace as well as the producers, actors, crew, and fans. That’s in addition to www.starcirclepictures.com. We blog, update, share news, and strategically hide enough information and encourage people to figure it out. Viral marketing feeds on fascination.