From 70ft theatrical screen to cell phone, HD is the answer, says Dark

“Closing Escrow,” an independent film shot entirely in HD, is out of post and entering the festival circuit as Randall Dark, the movie’s executive producer seeks broader distribution.

Dark, who has long been an advocate of high definition as a viable alternative to 35mm film, hasn’t simply been content to push his comedy through post and out to moviegoers. He’s creating a smorgasbord of HD projects ranging from a 3-D feature film about World War II aviators flying over the Himalayas to deliver relief to the embattled Chinese to an expeditionary documentary, a unique, reality golf show and even music videos shot for cell phones and Video iPods.

“HD Technology Update” thought it was a good time to catch up on Dark’s latest projects and how HD is helping to make them happen.

HD Technology Update: Randall, for the past 20 years you’re always in the thick of HD production. What are your latest projects?

Randall Dark: I’m involved in four or five incredibly important projects, two of which I call the China projects. There’s a 3-D/2-D feature for an IMAX-type environment called the “High Road to China.” It’s a story about the Hump during the Second World War.

I think it’s important for a number of reasons. China obviously is an emerging power, and Americans seem to have lost sight of what an incredible country we are and the great things we have done hand in hand with nations throughout history. This is a forgotten story — how the American airmen, working with the Chinese were able to fly over the Himalayas in incredibly dangerous planes for humanitarian aid. I’m absolutely passionate about it.

I’m working on that as well as a project called “The Lost Tiger,” solving the mystery of Johnny Blackburn’s lost P40.

HDTU: What advantages and challenges does HD bring to the project?

RD: The most powerful attribute of any HD image is the sense of being there it affords. Capturing the raw emotion of Chinese and American people standing side by side as a plane that was responsible for bringing supplies to Chinese people who were starving in WWII is pulled from the murky water of a lake where it was downed is imperative to my story. It’s going to bring back a flood of emotion, and I want my viewers to feel like they’re standing on that piece of land with them.

Film is a great art form, but film distances you — it’s called poetic distancing. The frame rate and grain of film makes it look like it happened yesterday. This is a moment that’s happening in real time that I want to share as realistically and intimately as possible. HD technology will give the viewer that sense.

As for the underwater photography, I hear it is very, very murky down there, so we may have to do some animation or re-enactments. I will definitely be under the water with the camera to see what we can get, but we’ll have to wait and see if it works out. That’s just the nature of the water as opposed to the technology of HD.

HDTU: Are all the pieces in place? Is there a watertight housing for your HD camera?

RD: What’s great about where HD is today is that there aren’t any more excuses. Whether it’s underwater housing or mounts for flight-to-flight aerials or helicopter, everything I need for 3-D or 2-D projects is available. There aren’t limitations where one, it doesn’t exist, or two, it’s too expensive to have. My hands are no longer tied creatively at any level.

HDTU: What camera will you be using?

RD: I plan to use the Sony CineAlta F-900 V3 HD camera.

HDTU: And your recorder?

RD: A combination of in-camera and SR. I’ll also bring a 950. This gives me the flexibility to shot 3.1.1, 4.2.2 or 4.4.4. If there were any other new, cool toys coming out, I’d love to take them with me.

For “The Lost Tiger,” I plan to have three high-end cameras on location because that moment only happens once. I want to be sure I have a shot of the plane and shots of the people. I might include a couple of toy HD cameras just for fun. As long as I have my workhorse cameras with me, I’m always adventurous. If a manufacturer has something hot out of the design factory, call me; I’ll try it.

HDTU: When will you shoot, and what’s your distribution?

RD: We’re looking at an October-November shoot date, and we’re talking to PBS right now, but nothing’s been signed yet.

HDTU: How does HD play into the production of the “High Road to China” project, especially since it is intended for a screen as big as an IMAX theater screen? How will it hold up?

RD: First, I want to give credit to the genius behind the 2-D and 3-D “High Road to China,” Jeffery Greene. He wrote the screenplay with Geoffrey Schroeder. Greene is spearheading this, and when we talked about it, he asked that very same question. “How is HD going to look on big screens?”

We‘ve all seen what “Star Wars” looked like, and “Superman Returns” will be killer on the IMAX-size screen. It was an HD shoot with a Genesis camera, and I think that’s going to give everyone the warm fuzzy feeling that you can take HD and blow it up to any size and it looks breathtaking.

We’re seeing movies today that are captured completely in high definition — like “Superman Returns” — and a lot of the independent features — like “Closing Escrow.” I guarantee you that at the local theater, nobody in the audience knows or cares whether the movie was mastered in HD or 35mm. The quality is that good.

James Cameron has been such a huge advocate of 3-D that more attention has been brought to it and more projects are being developed in it. The technology has jumped greatly because someone of that stature has endorsed it. The same can be said about Robert Rodriguez.

HDTU: Please compare shooting 3-D in film versus HD and focus on what makes HD so much easier?

RD: The complexity of making sure the two cameras are set to a point where it gives you the 3-D feel without it straining. I’m not a 3-D fan of having things jumping out unrealistically towards the camera. I’m not telling that story.

What I love about my project is that I’m going to be flying over the Himalayas and telling the story of extremely brave men. Viewers will be able to sit in the movie theater and have a sense of what it really is like to fly over the Himalayas in 3-D high definition. Just thinking about it, I get excited.

As an artist, I’m not worried about technology. In the old days when shooting film, you can only pull the trigger for so long — whether it’s a helicopter shot or a plane —because you constantly have to reload.

I can have SRs mounted in my plane and shoot for 90 minutes if I want, nonstop. So it gives me the ability to perfect the shot without stopping and starting. It becomes more cost effective. I’m able to keep them shooting for an extended period of time, giving me, the director, the opportunity to capture the moments I want to capture.

The writers created a great, great script. It’s not just an adventure with dogfights in the air and incredible scenery. It’s a very moving story. I want people to go on an emotional rollercoaster, not just a war type movie. I want people to go away saying, “What incredible people. How brave the Chinese and Americans were!” and “Wow, it was like being there.” That’s what it’s all about.

HDTU: Shifting gears, please discuss your upcoming reality golf show. You previously mentioned you would be doing wireless HD from the links.

RD: Steve Henry is spearheading this. He’s the mastermind behind this concept. I’m just the producer/director. It is going to be so much fun. Basically, it’s David vs. Goliath. We’re going to take eight of the world’s top professional golfers and put them up against eight other golfers who qualified in match play. It’s called the Trump World Match Play Challenge and will be held at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, FL, in January 2007.

It’s head-to-head match play. Every stroke is hugely important. And because it’s a game where it’s Joe Unknown vs. PGA Golfer, Joe can shoot 8 on one hole and the pro can get a birdie, and Joe only loses that one hole. The next hole is brand new. So, it puts a lot of pressure on the pros; and every hole is critical to win, much like the Ryder’s Cup.

To capture that intensity and that emotion, I need cameras that have the flexibility to be right beside the golfers where there’s interplay between the caddy and the player. I want to see the stress and the emotion before the shot and the emotion after the shot. I need to be able to capture everything, so we’ll be testing RF high-definition cameras.

In 1996, I shot Super Bowl XXX for NHK, and they brought over the first RF HD camera, and it was hilarious. It was a gigantic camera with a huge mast, and we had a guy on top of the stadium that had to have perfect line of sight, dead on, and they had to flip it perfect line of sight to my HD truck. It worked, but my goodness, it was complex and high risk. I get to sleep easy at night now because the technology is here, and it’s much more user friendly.

HDTU: What’s your recent involvement with the Caucus for Television Producers and how are you working HD into your work there?

RD: I was recently elected as a board member of the Caucus for Television Producers and Writers and Directors ( It’s a phenomenal organization. I’m honored to be involved. Its membership includes giants in the television industry.

One of the things that caused me to jump onboard is that they raise money for grants that allow students to finish their film/video projects. Mentoring and supporting students is something I believe in. I get to sit with them and say, “Hey, have you considered high definition?”

HDTU: You are shooting HD on a music video project for release on cell phones and iPods. Why?

RD: There is a whole new way to direct for cell phones and iPods. I’m directing videos with music producer Mark Vogel, and he is producing for some unbelievably gifted artists.

I’m shooting and directing content specifically designed for Video iPod and cell phone that starts with an incredible amount of information. Even though it gets whittled down to cell phone and iPod capacity, the extra resolution captures the emotion of the performance. I call this style of shooting ECU performance pieces because I’m directing specifically for the size of the display devices. A wide shot of 50 people dancing doesn’t look great on a cell phone.

Now, the other thing I believe is that what I shoot for my clients has to be evergreen. So I think it goes without saying that it’s absolutely foolish to record anything of worth unless it’s recorded in digital, wide screen, high resolution. I’m saying that because it’s obviously the world marketplace.

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