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Q&A: HD Production Pioneer Randall Dark Talks Turkey

Randall Dark is a producer and director of HD content, a once-emerging field he helped establish more than 20 years ago. Earlier this year, Dark left his longtime home, HD Vision Studios, to start his own company, Randall Dark Productions. He currently has studios in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. He recently spoke with HD Notebook:

HD Notebook: Since you’ve had the opportunity to watch HD evolve in various fits and starts over two decades, what strikes you about its current enthusiastic acceptance by both the industry and consumers?

Dark: It only took 20 years? Actually, I’m amazed at how far HD has come, especially in the last few years. We’ve gone from virtually no HD broadcasts to almost all high-end sporting events and entertainment—both fiction and non-fiction—being not only broadcast in HD, but shot in HD as well. HDTV sets are flying off the retail shelves. When was the last time you saw a 4x3 aspect ratio television? It’s in the same “curbside pile” alongside the record player and VHS machine.

HD Notebook: Other than maybe the fact that you already own certain equipment, what format(s) do you prefer working in, and why? Also, what are your thoughts on 1080p?

Dark: My new company has not purchased any equipment. This allows me the flexibility to rent whatever is best for the project without being saddled to legacy technology.

Image is everything and I believe in capturing pictures with as much information as possible. There are specific applications for lower resolution HD, such as HDV, but I firmly believe it’s imperative to protect the future use of content—so I insist on using high-end HD equipment. I’ve shot a number of projects at 1080 30p and have been extremely pleased with the images. I’m somewhat frame-rate agnostic. Certain stories need to be captured at 24p, while others need a much faster frame rate. We’re sometimes caught up in the “Geek Hype.” 1080i images during broadcast sporting events look fantastic, but there will be a continued push towards 1080p.

HD Notebook: You recently helped produce a full-length comedy motion picture, “Closing Escrow,&dquo; about real estate, which is now available on DVD, which you and others on the crew regularly blogged for HD Notebook readers from pre-production to post, starting back in August 2005. Tell us what you learned from this ambitious project.

Dark: I should write a book about the making of a “modified low-budget feature.” For the most part, it was a fantastic learning experience. In the real estate business, the mantra is “Location, Location, Location.” In the independent film world, it’s “Pre-production, Pre-production.” Producer Kristen Cox was able to keep us on time and on budget because of the pre-production time she spent with Armen Kaprelian, the director.

However, the most important lesson is that it’s imperative to get even a limited theatrical release. I call it the “Theatrical Critical Release!” Obviously, having a few screens in New York and Los Angeles are key, but it’s important to have a few other cities included, as well. The main reason is that the movie must get reviewed by recognized critics. Good, bad or ugly, this is paramount, since most of the revenues come from DVD sales and if people haven’t heard about your movie, why would they rent it? The reviews can be used for grassroots Internet direct marketing.

HD Notebook: What’s one of the more dramatic examples of how advances in HD technology have helped you do your job better?

Dark: Evolution of technology is allowing me to produce programs in high-definition that a few years ago would have been almost impossible. A perfect example is a new series I’m working on called “Smoke Jumpers” with Megalomedia. As you mentioned in your opening question, imagine 20 years ago trying to jump out of a plane with all that analog HD gear on!—a VTR the size of a refrigerator tethered by RGB cable to cameras that cost over $350,000 each. Good luck! Now we have an arsenal of cost-effective choices in a variety of sizes, and it keeps getting better.