Laura Merians, DP for Lovespring International, Is Serious About Her Canon XL H1

“I‘m a big fan of digital video,” asserts Laura Merians, Director of Photography on the new Lifetime Television/Lions Gate comedy series Lovespring International. “I think it‘s interesting that people ask me why I prefer digital. I respond by asking ‘Prefer it to what?‘ It‘s a fallacy to compare digital to film. They‘re different in every way, both aesthetically and as tools, and that‘s how they should be approached. The genres that I usually work in are very organic and handheld. I love documentary and improvisational content. I love allowing performances to reveal themselves freely. For me, digital is the right tool to work with.”

Merians, who graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Digital Media, moved up from best boy to gaffer to camera operator over the course of several years‘ work on a variety of film and video projects. Today she is an accomplished DP with numerous documentaries and pilots for major cable networks to her credit. Her current assignment, Lovespring International, is an improvisational comedy about an unconventional dating agency that premieres on the Lifetime Television network on June 5th. Merians‘ camera of choice for the series is the Canon XL H1 HD camcorder. She uses three hand-held XL H1 HD camcorders to shoot the series in 1080/24 Frame mode.

XL H1 Advantages

“The Director and I like doing long takes and having the freedom to do a lot of coverage,” Merians says in reference to the 60-minute HDV cassettes the XL H1 HD camcorder can record on. “Guy loves observing a performance, keeping the camera rolling, and allowing the actors to really get into their roles.”

Merians notes that the relatively smaller size and lower weight of the XL H1 HD camcorder is also an asset in capturing uninhibited performances from actors.

“This is a huge factor in doing long takes,” she says. “There are absolutely performances and moments that we would not have been able to capture if it were not for the low weight and small size of these cameras. Any camera has a presence, especially when three of them are staring at a group of actors. But the smaller size of the XL H1 HD camcorder really helped remove distractions that might have hindered performances from being natural and comfortable. We shoot on a set built in an actual office space to convey an insular, confined feeling. The actors are able to use that to their advantage in their performances. Getting three-camera coverage in such an environment with lots of actors would be impossible to do if the cameras were bigger.”

Merians also points to the XL H1 HD camcorder‘s low-light advantages, stating, “If I were shooting in some other medium, I probably would have had to use more lighting. We shot in real locations, 360 degrees, without much blocking. I was able to light the office, but it had to be done in a way that worked for the improvisational performances.

“As for the lower weight of the XL H1 HD camcorder,” she adds, “accessories, of course, add weight to a camera, but even so, at the end of the show--after six-day weeks, 12- to 13-hour days, and 30-minute marathon takes--these XL H1‘s definitely earned great appreciation from every spinal cord and lower back on my crew.”

Image Control

In addition to its high-definition HD image quality (made possible by the camera‘s three 1/3-inch native 1440 by 1080 CCD imagers and 20x HD zoom lens) and compact size, the XL H1 also features three frame rates and control of every image parameter. Users can choose a wide array of creative “looks”.

I like all the internal presets that you can control with the XL H1 HD camcorder,” Merians explains. “For the projects in which I‘ve used the camera, I‘ve chosen to pretty much dial-in a mid-range setting, with the intention of adjusting the image in post. I love that this camera leaves me a lot of latitude to do that. This is, for me, a more efficient way of shooting. For projects such as Lovespring International--where there‘s so many variables--the XL H1 HD camcorder is ideal. As much as we plan, an improvisational setting is just too unpredictable, which is why I feel like I have the most control by just shooting nominally. Given some of the unexpected conditions, I found that the image quality of the XL H1 HD camcorder really held up. One of the features I really took advantage of was the ability to dial-in the color-temperature in the white balance settings.”

Postproduction on Lovespring International utilizes not only the latest digital color-correction tools, but has also taken advantage of the XL H1 HD camcorder‘s built-in HD-SDI and output. The show has used the HD-SDI feature to “clone” footage to HDCAM tapes for editing on Avid Xpress Pro.

Six episodes of Lovespring International have already been produced, and Merians has been assigned to shoot seven more. She looks forward to other projects where the XL H1 HD camcorder will be the right fit and she can utilize its mobility and image quality.

“Digital is my tool, and I enjoy using the XL H1 HD camcorder,” she says, “so I feel like there will be lots of opportunities to use it for a number of projects. The qualities of the XL H1 HD camcorder are qualities that I look for when figuring out how to approach a project visually.”

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