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The Digital Filmmaker: Star Circle Pictures based in Virginia Beach, Virginia has just wrapped production on a micro feature called “Samaritan,”  the third venture for Star Circle, which represents the next chapter in the firm's evolution. The project was shot for the express purpose of demonstrating the company's belief in “cost efficiency, faster production flow and good quality.”

For “Samaritan,” Star Circle Pictures may be one of the first in the world to use a transformative new camera along with several other unique methods. “Samaritan” is a film "about how an armed robbery is thwarted by a stranger, the Samaritan, named Victor who uses his non-physical abilities to disarm the assailant. A veteran detective has more questions than answers. The picture explores an uncertain world and why we fear what we do not understand.

Producer Richard Marten: "With the making of “Samaritan,” Star Circle is challenging the existing way 'it has always been done. This industry has traditionally been slow to change when new technologies arise. The addition of sound, color, non-linear editing - all of these innovations had long roads before becoming widely adopted. On the other hand, the revolution is imminent.”

Producer/director Kimball Carr: "This project was conceived as a proof of our goal. We're excited about the ways in which we can show how far the technology can be pushed to support and augment creativity. Technology without the passion of the people shaping it is worthless - it has to service the vision. With Samaritan, we believe it has. Our task was formidable: shoot a micro motion picture comprised of 81 setups in just two nights. We started planning in October of 2005. When we had an agreed on script I knew the crew and the cast would need a lot of preparation. We knew that pre-visualization could play a significant role in facilitating the project. For this, we turned to Innovative Software's Frame Forge 3D Studio. Storyboarding isn't new, but small, guerrilla production houses usually don't have the ability to pre-viz an entire production. I wanted the picture shot before we actually shot it. I pre-visualized every shot, scene by scene in the weeks before the shoot. It was so helpful the DP and me to view the animated boards, and then walk through the shots. Then, on the day of rehearsal we put it all up on a screen, to show the cast, and crew every shot. They were able to see the entire picture before we captured the first megabyte. It was invaluable."

Producer Ethan Marten: Even the most gripping script and best planning will amount to little if the final product doesn't look the part. When it came to the format and technology the Star Circle team would use, they had an ace up their sleeve. The new AG-HVX-200 HD camera by Panasonic is the first of its kind in the world. There's a lot to love: DVC PRO HD recording format; P2 solid state recording media; handheld form factor; Varicam capabilities which mirror those of cameras in the $70,000 and up price range.”

Richard Marten: Originally, when we decided upon HD for the project we had settled on HDV. But as preproduction got underway, we had our eyes and ears open. When we heard that the new Panasonic offering was nearing its debut, we shifted gears and altered the entire production flow overnight. We were determined to use this groundbreaking camera. After weeks of searching and fruitless dead ends, we hit pay dirt. With the camera secured for our use for the middle of January, the rental house told us we were the first crew in the world to use this camera for a motion picture.”

Ethan Marten: “We were on the extreme edge of motion picture technology and creativity. The camera was only part of what made this shoot special, though it was integral. Securing its use was a major component in our ability to demonstrate what Samaritan was conceived for in the first place."

Kimball Carr: "During one of my conversations with Steve Weiss, co-owner of Zacuto Rentals in Chicago, he was protective about the camera. He told me not to break it, and I kind of chuckled and he said, 'No, really – this camera is the only one I have. Some of the accessories are prototypes. We haven't even taken photos of her yet for our catalogue!' I knew that moment how special this experience was going to be.”

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Ethan Marten: “So what's the big deal? Aren't there other crews shooting HD out there? What's so special? I can answer that. The difference is vast. Forget about film. The new Panasonic camera even makes it possible for a motion picture team to say good-bye to tape. Equipped with Panasonic's new P2 media cards, the HVX-200 is the first camera on Earth that not only records High Definition video but also does so on 2, 4 or 8-gigabyte data cards similar to PCMCIA cards. The data can then be transferred directly to a laptop workstation on set - no time consuming capturing of footage, no risk of tape dropouts or breakage – just clean, HD quality footage.”

Kimball Carr: "I have dreamed of creating a lean and mean production flow like this for a long time. I have done a lot of DV shooting over the years and looked forward to moving to HD but I wanted more than just pretty pictures. I wanted the other advantages that come with this new camera."

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Ethan Marten: “During the shoot, the team was able to view full resolution views of shots from an Apple Powerbook. Not reconstituted video tap feeds of native footage. For "Samaritan", we were viewing full screen 720p 24 HD footage within 2 minutes of shooting. The ability for to confirm the quality of the actual footage and even perform quick assembly edits to examine shot flow was crucial.”

Kimball Carr: "Before we'd even shot a single megabyte of footage “Samaritan” had already generated interest as an example of motion picture arts and technology. We've been asked to provide footage for an upcoming conference on technology in motion pictures. We're excited to be on the crest of the wave. In early December 2005, I was speaking with an editor for one of the largest commercial and industrial producers on the East Coast. He was stunned that we were going to utilize a full-fledged HD production flow from pre-production through postproduction implementing the technologies and techniques we had harnessed. Even if he had known some of these tools were available, I am not sure he knew we could combine them in the way we did. He actually said to me, 'You can't do that.’ I said, 'watch us.'"

Ethan Marten: “Star Circle has big visions. Not content to stop at state of the art cameras and motion picture making processes, the team wants to be a part of next generation advances.”

Kimball Carr: "Film is antiquated. For all of its beauty, it’s difficult to shoot with. On the other end of the process - exhibition - film carries with it another host of issues. We want to be one of the early adopters of a new and improved way to exhibit motion pictures."

Ethan Marten: “Star Circle has plans to exhibit “Samaritan” and, they hope, future projects via high definition streaming media stations in movie houses. The technology is only just now being introduced in a small number of theaters in the United States and Star Circle predicts that HD exhibition is the future for the medium.”

Partner Josh Levy: "Simplicity, quality and security are just a few of the advantages that we see. Streaming an HD movie file to a theater, one that won't degrade after many viewings like film, is such a superior process for the theater owner, audience and the motion picture maker. Added to the quality of the image and ease of use and transmission are the safeguards against piracy. This is the way the industry has to go."

Ethan Marten: Our true passion: storytelling. As much as we are committed to furthering technology -- the integrity of story and character comes first. Star Circle Pictures insists technology is always subsidiary and never dominates the human element - in front of or behind the camera. It was ingenuity as well as technology that allowed the completion of the 81 set-ups, on schedule, on budget in only two nights. Star Circle is still receiving letters from cast and crew describing what a fun, and relaxed set it was to work on.”

The Digital Filmmaker: For our March issue, we will feature clips from “Samaritan” and behind-the-scenes interviews with Samaritan lead actors Johnny Alonso (star of One Tree Hill on UPN) and film veteran J. Michael Hunter.


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