Skip to main content

Producer's Blog: Capturing Ancient Mammoths in HD

KWBU-TV in Waco, Texas, is co-producing a 15 minute HD video about the Waco Mammoth Site for the Mayborn Museum at Baylor University. Located on 110 acres at the confluence of the Brazos and Bosque rivers, the Waco Mammoth site has unearthed the remains of 23 Columbian mammoths, making it one of the largest digs of its kind in the world.

The HD feature is being co-produced by 16X9 Productions in Los Angeles, and is intended for museum visitors and to help raise funds to preserve the site. HD Notebook asked executive producer Joani Livingston to blog the unique HD shoot for us. Here is her second entry:

"DAY TWO: 'Generating' Solutions to HD Hurdles

"Mammoth happenings will have to wait today. Tonight we have our PBS March membership drive, so my staff and I will be busy preparing for that. But throughout the day, I check on minute mammoth details ranging from craft services to flight arrivals to unpredictable weather.

"I get word the presser is a 'go' tomorrow, and thankfully, the museum staff has been successful in having the media event staged in the museum's rotunda, rather than at the mammoth site itself. At 10:30 a.m., the media advisory goes out from Congressman Edward's office, and shortly thereafter, my friends at the local news stations start calling. They want to piggyback on what we're doing, thereby gaining access to the highly secretive site. (A snowball has a better chance in a Texas August, frankly.) Security is extremely tight at the dig site and an armed guard is posted at the gate of the wooded area.

"Producer Kristen Cox and I put our heads together and tossed the media a bone. How about an interview with the geologist who's currently working at the site, along with some recent digital stills? Problem solved, and from museum to media, everyone was happy.

"Moments later I find out about a problem with the generator. Baylor University had offered use of its generator as a cost-saving measure. It
was discovered, however, to be a welding generator -- meaning it has no crystal sync. (That keeps the power from fluctuating, and flickering lights would definitely be a problem with the HD camera.) Not only would the lights flicker, but the ballasts in the HMIs would also suffer damage. I felt the budget could take the hit, so a quiet generator (oxymoron?) was brought in from Dallas, instead.

"Before the pledge drive started, I met up with the crew for dinner. The forecast for the next day called for increasing cloud[s], so the exterior shots were prioritized and contingency plans made, should the dig site become rainy sludge.

"You're spending money every time you squeeze the camera trigger and although HD is very cost-effective, we had an ambitious shooting schedule
the next day -- which was the only day at the mammoth site! Afterward, DP Allan Westbrook took our Sony F900 back to his hotel room. Shooting 1080i and using an improvisational documentary style, he wanted to run it out before the next morning.

"After dinner I met up with my staff and we went on to have a fantastic pledge drive night. As I drove home at midnight, I reflected on how everything had gone flawlessly on Day Two. Despite an early call time, I could sleep peacefully, knowing tonight's success bodes well for the mammoth task ahead."

[To be continued.]