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INDY FILMMAKER, Noah Kadner SHOOTS FORMOSA, VINTAGE 1950

COW Library : Indie Film & Documentary : Noah Kadner : INDY FILMMAKER, Noah Kadner SHOOTS FORMOSA, VINTAGE 1950
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INDY FILMMAKER, Noah Kadner SHOOTS FORMOSA, VINTAGE 1950’s FEATURE
A Creative COW Press Release




All photos © 2004 High Road Productions. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
Director Noah Kadner recently shot his debut feature, Formosa, a period comedy about a hapless group of social guidance filmmakers, with Panasonic’s AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO Cinema‘ camcorder. An independent project from High Road Productions (Los Angeles, CA), with Anita M. Cal producer, Formosa will go out to potential distributors and have a limited festival run beginning later this year.



The movie was shot last fall in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico. The film (screenplay by Jamieson Stern) follows the travails of Sid Silver, whose social guidance films aren't reaching the teens of 1951, who are going hog wild. Clay Crawford also has a problem. He's on the run from the law and trying to make it to California to find a man who may be his father. Sid and Clay's paths cross in the hot desert winds of New Mexico. The fates of Formosa Studios and perhaps Albuquerque itself hang in the balance. Formosa stars Steven Gilborn, Geoffrey Lewis, Clayton Rohner and Jessica Kiper.


Jamieson Stern waits for a shot at the Old Albuquerque Airport. Jamieson
wrote the script for Formosa and also plays Clay Crawford.

Panasonic’s AJ-SDX900 offers videographers the ultimate in acquisition flexibility, expressed in the operator-controllable selection of EFP-quality 4:2:2 sampled DVCPRO50 or classic 4:1:1 sampled DVCPRO recording, with support for native 16:9 wide-screen. The AJ-SDX900 combines in one camera the “look” and “feel” of electronic film, high-performance 525-line field production, and low-cost NTSC compatible news. It is also the first 50Mbps 4:2:2 sampled standard definition camcorder to offer 24 frames-per-second progressive scan (480/24p) acquisition, in addition to 30 frames-per-second progressive (480/30p) and 60-fields-per-second interlace scan (480/60i) capture.

Recounting pre-production options, Kadner said, “When budgeting the film I was very concerned about the costs involved in shooting 35mm – stock, processing, telecine, negative cutting, answer printing. On the flipside, I was intrigued by 24p but only if the quality could approach that of 35mm. I was an early supporter of Panasonic’s AG-DVX100 24p mini-DV camcorder, and when I first heard about the SDX900 I became even more excited, because I saw that it combined the DVX100’s 24p capture system, full size Cine-style lenses, native 16:9 CCDs and Digital Betacam™ equivalent quality DVCPRO50 compression. I reasoned that the SDX900 was a camera that, put in the right hands, could create footage comparable to 35mm, at a fraction of the cost, and I was not disappointed.”

He continued, “Operationally, the SDX900 performed without a hitch. We shot in all kinds of conditions, from very hot to bitterly cold and often within the same day. A good section of Formosa is set out in the desert of New Mexico. Shooting there in November, we would often go from 25 degrees and windy at dawn to 75 to 85 within a few hours, with occasional bursts of rain. The camera never gave us trouble and was always ready to rock.

“Many scenes feature 8 to 10 characters interacting, all with dialogue and lines of action. We only had 20 days to shoot so we knew going in that just covering everything in the script would be difficult. By using two SDX900s, we were able to comfortably cover the larger scenes and rack up generous amounts of additional footage. The camera freed me creatively as well. Because we were constantly rolling tape, I could experiment and improvise with the actors and be confident I would be able to edit their performances into coherent scenes. The actors loved it too, because it kept them on their toes. They had to be on their game because we constantly moved cameras around from character to character, catching moments of spontaneity. Were I shooting 35mm, the specter of money would color my work, causing me to cut at a moment’s notice and refrain from doing one more take for fear of wasting money.”

Formosa ‘s period setting presented several technical challenges. “We did considerable green screen compositing shots with the SDX900,” the director noted. “Movies shot in the forties and fifties often used rear-screen projection to do car scenes, and we wanted to approximate this look. Since we didn’t have the background plates shot yet, we opted to shoot these sequences on a green screen stage. We also shot a scene set at a drive-in on the green screen stage when it proved difficult to find a vintage drive-in theater in the area. Having shot a bunch of green screen using DV format cameras, I knew that it can be difficult to key DV25 footage due to the higher compression and 4:1:1 color space. With the SDX900’s available 4:2:2 color space, we were able to pull keys much more easily and with much higher quality.”

Formosa was Director of Photography Tyler Oliver’s first experience with a Panasonic 24p camera. He noted, “I was eager to see how far I could push the camera in terms of lighting and contrast to try to get as close to a 35mm look as possible. Let’s just say I was completely blown away by the quality of images we were able to capture. And there was no need for Pro-Mists or other film-emulating ‘tricks.’ The best way to describe working with the SDX900 is that I felt like I was shooting film with a real-time telecine on set.”

Oliver continued, “As for the camera’s physical performance, it was a workhorse. Originally, the ‘B’ Camera was intended primarily as a backup, but by the second day of shooting we were rolling both cameras at least 50 percent of the time. On a low-budget film like Formosa, the SDX900’s ease of use and flexibility really helped us stretch our resources and get tremendous production value for our money.

“Because we decided to shoot Formosa in a 1950s Hollywood style, the film presented a significant challenge for digital capture. Our entire stylistic foundation would be undermined if the images looked cheap and video-like, so I knew this project would put the SDX900 through its paces. The first week or so, we were shooting on a soundstage, and we were aiming for a ‘classic’ Hollywood lighting style, with fairly hot backlights and hairlights and a nice, wrapping key. We shot both high-key and nighttime scenes, and the SDX900 delivered exactly the smooth, classic look we needed. The camera held incredible detail in the shadows with very low noise levels, and highlights bloomed in a pleasing way. When shooting 35mm, I always like to let practicals and windows blow out, shoot down the lens, and otherwise warm up the frame, and I really hoped the SDX900 could handle that. Once again, the SDX900 delivered--I found that the camera handled overexposure very well, and I loved the look.”

Addressing the camera’s light handling characteristics and color rendition, Oliver said, “Day exteriors can be a real challenge for digital capture, and once again I was curious to see how the SDX900 would perform. I’m happy to say we were able to achieve the same sort of 35mm-type richness on location as in the studio. We were working with a variety of elements: classic picture cars with lots of chrome and hot spots, desert vistas in the background, and some establishing shots lit with only available light. Throughout, the SDX900 gave me plenty of room to play with. Frequently, I was able to use the sun as a backlight, with just a bounce on the actor’s face, and achieve beautiful results comparable to 35mm.

“As far as color rendition, I was most concerned with the actors’ skin tones. Happily, the SDX900 delivered color that seemed accurate and pleasing at the same time. Our lead actress had exceptionally light skin and we were able to get a great skin tone by adding some rouge on her key light, and the SDX900 captured her beautifully. On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of the actors was an older Native American man, and the camera rendered every bit of character in his unique face. Frequently, actors with such extreme differences in skin tone appeared in the same frame, and the SDX900 handled the color rendition in a very satisfying way.”


Image shows actresses Jessica Kiper(left) and Tara Nulty(right) preparing for a scene on the Formosa stage set.


Describing post-production, Kadner said, “We are cutting Formosa on a Final Cut Pro™ editing system. We have a dual processor 2Ghz Macintosh™ G5 with FCP 4.1. We’re cutting in native DVCPRO50 and 24p via a Panasonic AJ-SD930 VTR with the IEEE-1394 interface option. The whole film, approximately 25 hours of raw footage, resides on off-the-shelf EZQuest Cobra 200GB Firewire 400 drives. As the native data rate of 24p DVCPRO50 is about 5.1 MB/second, a Firewire 400 drive is more than capable of handling the workload. Additionally, we use a DLP projector to screen our edits on a 100” screen feeding directly off our FCP timeline. This gives us a great theater experience and helps guide the creative side of the edit.”

Commenting on the camera’s cost-efficiency, the director added, “We estimate conservatively that our budget would have been two-thirds higher if we had shot film. We would have needed more lighting equipment for our night shoots, more budget for more days of shooting because we would have been shooting with a single film camera as opposed to two SDX900s. Then there would have been a long road to post-production involving negative cutting, answer printing and finally a film-to-tape transfer for the DVD and VHS versions. Now we can completely reverse that paradigm. With the DVCPRO50 master we can easily create a 24p anamorphic 16:9 DVD, a letterboxed VHS version and a film output at will. Simply put, we could not have completed Formosa without the SDX900. Now we have a great-looking movie, and we’re looking forward to shopping Formosa around to distributors and showing it at festivals.

“I would say to any filmmakers concerned about a video look to watch Formosa - they will be truly amazed at how cinematic it looks and what we’ve achieved. My hope and dream is that audiences watching Formosa will not think of it as a 24p movie but just a movie, and the SDX900 gave me the tools I needed to make that dream a reality.”


Formosa is now available for sale directly from the filmmakers.


Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. is a leading supplier of broadcast, professional video and presentation products and systems. Panasonic Broadcast is a unit company of Matsushita Electric Corporation of America, the principal North America subsidiary of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (NYSE: MC), one of the world’s leading producers of electronic and electric products for consumer, business and industrial use. For more information on Panasonic Broadcast products, visit www.panasonic.com/broadcast.

All photos and text © 2004 High Road Productions. All rights reserved


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