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Panasonic VariCam 35 Used to Film “Bad Santa 2”

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Fans of the cult hit film, Bad Santa have been waiting for the sequel since 2003 and it has finally arrived for this holiday season.  Bad Santa 2 stars Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton in the lead role once again. In addition, legendary cinematographer, Theo Van de Sande, ASC, has re-united with noted film director Mark Waters to shoot the entire hit holiday comedy with the Panasonic VariCam 35 4K cinema cameras.

When approached for a previous project with Waters, one for Amazon Studios, Van de Sande had a particular camera in mind but was told by the studio that he had to shoot with a camera that had at least 4K resolution. The native of The Netherlands was initially a bit irritated at being told what equipment he was to use but he soon recalled that several years ago, when digital cinema was still young and growing, the ASC Technical Committee sought out other emerging formats that would rival 35mm film.

Van de Sande reflects that, “We came to the conclusion that a 35mm negative had more or less 4K resolution and dynamic range of about 13 – 1/2 stops. At that time, the dynamic range of HD was around 9 stops and the resolution not even 2K so there was no comparison between the quality of digital and film.”

Soon after, Van de Sande was at a Panasonic Varicam 35 presentation at the ASC Clubhouse and commented that, “At the event, Steve Mahrer (Panasonic’s Senior Technologist) told me about the native 5,000 ISO setting, which had practically no noise. I couldn’t believe it, because to achieve such a low light sensitivity of 5,000 ISO, you have to give something up; whether it’s dynamic range, resolution or color. I looked at the camera image on a 4K monitor and thought, wow, this really is unbelievable.”

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The stats on the Panasonic VariCam 35 are, indeed, impressive:

  • It has a single super 35mm MOS sensor and an interchangeable stainless steel EF mount along with dual native ISO 800/5000.
  • 14 stops of dynamic range with V-log and a simultaneous dual codec recording as well as selectable gamma curves.
  • 4K up to 60 fps with 2K/HD up to 240 fps. It also has a removable cut filter, a 3.5 inch LCD control panel and AVC-Intra ProRes.
Theo Van de Sande has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award and one of his films was nominated for an Academy Award.
Theo Van de Sande has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award and one of his films was nominated for an Academy Award.

Van de Sande came to America from The Netherlands after having shot 25 feature films and documentaries. His reputation preceded him to Los Angeles and he quickly mounted up credits with the impressive filming of such films as, Wayne’s World, Blade, Cruel Intentions, Volcano, Big Daddy, Crossing Delancy and Out of Time. He has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award and, one film he shot, Colors Straight Up, was nominated for an Academy Award.

Van de Sande, and director Waters, knew that this “comedy” was going to have a dark undertone to it and filming in the dead of winter in Montreal wasn’t likely to lighten the mood.

“It’s a comedy,” explained Van de Sande, “but it’s such a raunchy film that we wanted to give it a darker and more human aspect. If we shot it as a straight up comedy, it would have looked too vulgar. We decided to concentrate more on the performances and work more with prime lenses. I also lit the scenes moodier, almost like an indie film.”

The production was shot with three Panasonic VariCam 35’s Van de Sande said that his crew found the VariCam’s extremely easy to use and even came up with a few suggestions on how the technology could be improved. The VariCam has over 30 years of hardened experience and tough ENG/EFP camera design protocols and specifications. This experience, it seems, came in quite handy during the shooting of the film.

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Van de Sande remembers that, “One night, the temperature was minus 28 Celsius and everything fell apart. The dolly stopped working and the lenses froze so you couldn’t even focus. But the camera kept shooting without any protection. The VariCam comes from sports and ENG and its technology is more rugged than traditional cinema cameras.”

Needless to say, Van de Sande has become sold on the Panasonic VariCam 35 as he comments that, “Over the years, I have developed a workflow with the VariCam 35 that is very efficient, fast and high quality. Using the dual recording function of the camera, I recorded both 4K and 2K files. The 4K data is immediately stored on LTO tape drives for later use and the 2K files captured on Micro P2 cards are used for editing, deliverables, and every thing else in post until the moment we’re going to do the final color correction.”

Van de Sande wanted a darker and moodier look to this black comedy. He wanted the affect to be almost indie film like (Photo by Jan Thijs)
Van de Sande wanted a darker and moodier look to this black comedy. He wanted the affect to be almost indie film like (Photo by Jan Thijs)

Van de Sande also takes the time to comment on how much his workflow has improved with the use of the VariCam. He states that, “My 4K/2K workflow is different from what other people are doing. By now, I have shot over 60 feature films from around which 53 were finished on film. I had to create an image in my head and then transfer it to film. That’s, basically, what I still do. I light the scene and use the default VariCam Rec 709 setting in the camera as ‘my print’. In post production, I have so much leeway that I can be stronger with my decision making. That’s why I like working with the VariCam – I can make top quality decisions at the last moment.”

The majority of the film, Van de Sande says was shot in native 800 ISO with just an handful of shots captured in 5,000 ISO. He stated that there were a few scenes where the 800 ISO just wasn’t enough to capture the quality he was looking for.

Bad Santa 2 is currently playing in theaters throughout the country.

-Written by Kevin Sawyer

Mr. Sawyer is a freelance writer, editor and journalist from Tampa. He has written thousands of articles for hundreds of magazines and news sites on countless topics including science, the media and technology. He is also the author of many white papers, special reports and ebooks covering a wide range of subjects.
Kevin Sawyer
Broadcast Beat - Production Industry Resource