Shot on location in the New Mexico desert outside Gallup and throughout the Navajo Nation, including parts of Arizona and Utah, the film provided unique challenges for Cinematographer Vincent Pascoe and Associate Producer Christina Jo’Leigh, who also was the second unit DP on the project. Pascoe used two prosumer cameras from Panasonic –– the HVX200 HD camcorder and the GH1 DSLR. “One of the reasons we used the GH1 was its small size and light weight,” says Leigh. “This enabled us to take the camera into areas where we never could have otherwise gone with some 50-pound camera loaded down with heavy lenses. It was also the first DSLR to shoot 24p at full 1080p resolution, which was very important for us.”
The GH1 recorded in AVCHD, making it easy to just drop the footage into Adobe Premiere and Avid systems. The production used a program called NeoScene from Cineform to transcode the footage. “Because the hotel we were staying at had TVs equipped with HDMI connectors in the rooms, we just connected our cameras to the TV set in our room to watch dailies,” Pascoe explains. “In the film’s trailer [which can be seen online at http://www.vimeo.com/7122045] there are several scenes where we cut back and forth between footage shot on the HVX and the DSLR that melded seamlessly.” While the film itself has yet to be completed, the often stunning high-def images shown in the trailer dramatically demonstrate the high-quality footage inexpensive cameras are now capable of.
Pascoe used the Redrock Micro lens adapter on the HVX so he could work with his collection of Nikon lenses. A 4/3-inch Olympus mount enabled him to shoot with the same Nikon lenses on the GH1, so there was a consistency in the glass used. “A lot of times Christina and I were the only crew other than the director and sound person,” says Pascoe. “Since it was just us, it was often a challenge doing things like racking focus and operating. One of our locations was a three-hour drive from Gallup followed by a lengthy hike into the canyon through very hard terrain where I couldn’t carry bulky cases.” This was where the GH1 really proved its worth to the DP. Another advantage was the GH1’s resilience in the desert heat. “The GH1 never overheated, unlike some of the other cameras I’ve used,” Pascoe notes.
Pascoe and Jo’Leigh used a pair of 16 GB SDHC cards, each of which stored up to two hours of footage, which proved to be a huge advantage over the HVX, which uses P2 cards for storage. The maximum running time for the P2 cards that Pascoe used was much briefer than the SDHC cards, which meant they had to swap out cards much more frequently.
On a human level, one of the things that most impressed both Pascoe and Leigh was working with the Navajo Nation. “The Navajo are a deeply spiritual people,” says Leigh. “It is that spirituality that unites them. Every single day we were there, there was a medicine man present on set. Our day began with everyone sitting cross-legged in a circle while the medicine man would chant in Navajo followed by a ritual that was intended to make sure your words and thoughts were holy and that you gave an offering to the Holy Spirit.” Some of the prayers were used to encourage good weather –– and, on several occasions, threatening weather politely halted until production wrapped for the day and everyone was safely indoors.
Overall, Leigh is grateful for the opportunity to experience the Navajo Nation firsthand: “The incredible generosity of the Navajo people was something I hope everyone has a chance to experience at some point in their lives. The way that they welcomed us into their culture and lives is an experience I’ll always carry with me. It absolutely changed me.”