Blackmagic Pocket Camera Captures the Cinematic Moments of Heartland
Heading into its 10th season, Heartland is one of Canada's most popular television series and is known for its cinematic atmosphere and backdrops. Heartland director of photography Craig Wrobleski, csc explained the production framework for the stylistic series: "We do block shoots, shooting two episodes at a time. Each block is 15 days and we are generally out for 10 of the 15 days."
"Out" means out at one of Heartland's two main standing sets near Millarville southwest of Calgary. "It's beautiful," Craig stated. "Nestled in the foothills of the Rockies." When not out in the great wide open, Craig and his team are back in the studio for four or five days at a time, shooting in one of the various stage sets.
The Heartland production team doesn't follow a typical TV series shooting style. "We have all the feature film production value built in with the locations, the vistas, the horses, etc.," said Craig. "There was no reason for us to limit our production to the level of a typical TV show when we have all the ingredients of a big western."
Each episode is shot as a mini movie, with each block having a different set of requirements. Craig explained, "Because we shoot each block as a mini movie, we really have to approach each one individually, and the camera equipment is a big part of that equation as we like to keep the camera moving and just shoot the scenes in a more cinematic way."
Part of Craig's camera equation is the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera. "The first time we used it, it really surprised me," he said. "We were doing a rodeo sequence. It's the kind of sequence you want to get as many cameras on as you can. The shot included a rodeo announcer who was in a booth above the infield where the rodeo happens. It was a very sunny day, so the infield was baked in sun. The Heartland director wanted to get one shot over the announcer's shoulder so we could establish the scene." At the time, Craig had only three cameras in the production pool. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera had been tested, but not been used in a scene before. "I said, 'Okay, we've only got three cameras for the sequence, and we need to get them in the action,' so we put the Pocket camera up there, literally mounted it on a C stand and put it over this guy's shoulder," he explained. "He was inside the building with nothing but a small door beside him with just a bit of light coming through. We looked out onto the sunny infield, and I was blown away that the camera held detail in the shadows inside the booth."
Craig assumed the shot would result in little more than a silhouette, but the result far exceeded his expectations. "When we got the footage back from the colorist, there was so much detail. I was floored, in a good way," he said. "You could see detail in all of his clothes and none of the shadows completely fell off to pure black. It gave me a lot of faith in the camera that we could set it up and use it where we couldn't fit the bigger production cameras. It's especially surprising given its price point and size."
|Craig Wrobleski (Left), Director Bruce McDonald (Right)|
A fan of Blackmagic Design's engineering, Craig appreciates the Pocket Cinema Camera's form factor and the fact that it embodies features designed for the craft of filmmaking. "I've always thought Blackmagic was a smart company in terms of how they design equipment," he said. "Their gear is very intuitive, ergonomic well thought out."
The design carries through to the camera's ruggedness, especially on set with so many moving parts and animals. "We shoot out in the wild and a lot of times when we're working with the horses we're putting the camera down in sand, dirt or rocks, and the mini-HDMI port gets filled with sand," he said. "We just blow it out and it keeps working. The camera itself is remarkably robust. In one scene, a stunt person landed on top of the Blackmagic camera, breaking the screen and damaging the lens, but the body and the camera itself still worked fine. All we had to do was get a new lens and get the screen fixed, and it was as good as new." With a cage now on the camera to protect the screen, Craig and his team haven't had a problem since.
Both inside and out, the Pocket Cinema Camera fits perfectly into the Heartland production, outputting high quality content that stands up to the other footage shot for the show. "The Pocket Cinema Camera gave us content that could carry a little more screen time and intercut better with the content from the other cameras we used on set," Craig said. "That was a big part of the appeal."
With the Pocket Cinema Camera, the team can shoot in Pro Res 422, which fits into the Heartland post workflow that is done through Technicolor Toronto. "As with any camera, we ran it through its paces with the editors," Craig said. "We shot some test footage and ran it through our whole post process of editing and color grading, which in part uses Blackmagic's DaVinci Resolve, and it fit in beautifully."
The camera's diverse format support ensures content maps back to Heartland's preferred post workflow, matching codecs for ease of editing and grading. "I'm always interested in a tool that works in the most streamlined way," Craig said. "Footage from the Pocket Cinema Camera doesn't muddy the process or introduce new variables into something that already has enough variables in it to begin with."
In addition to its production qualities and sturdiness, the Pocket Cinema Camera gave the Heartland production team more shooting options thanks to its compact size. There was one scene in particular that required a very unique close up shot, on a hillside. Off the bat, the team knew that the conventional sized cameras would not work and they would need something that would fit in the palm of your hand as the actors themselves would have to film their own scene. "Just like using a cell phone to shoot a selfie, the actors held the Blackmagic camera themselves, and it worked great," Craig said. "The production team even ended up pulling stills from the Blackmagic footage as well, one of which ended up as the cover of the characters' wedding book. The book was used as a prop, placed on display in their on set apartment which was pretty cool."
With so many diverse shooting scenarios, the Heartland team carries the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with them at all times. "It's something we can use to get right in close, without having to build an elaborate rig, and still have the quality of a cinema camera," Craig said.
With the stealthy Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera always in tow, the Heartland team is sure to discover many more creative uses for the camera in seasons to come.