Producer Marcus Gillezeau recently used the XDCAM EX camera to film a surfing documentary. Amongst other things, he was really impressed with the slow motion effects on the camera.

“A giant storm has been raging in the great Southern Ocean for more than five days. Its hurricane winds have whipped the sea into a frenzy of 90 foot waves that are now marching across the ocean towards the southern tip of Australia. As these skyscraper sized beasts make their journey toward Tasmania at a staggering 70km per hour, a team of the most temerarious surfers and filmmakers will be scrambling to make their way to meet them.

“Described, is the production of Storm Surfers – Dangerous Banks, shot for the Discovery Channel. Two of the world’s best big-wave tow-in surfers, (Ross Clarke Jones and Tom Carroll) are about to take on one of the most dangerous missions of their lives. They will attempt to surf these aquatic monsters.
“The choice of format for shooting a film like this is crucial. It needs to be exceedingly reliable, extremely robust, exceptionally portable and of the highest quality. On this production, my choice was simple. Sony XDCAM. I had just completed the production of a big special FX tele-movie where we used XDCAM® as part of a suite of cameras and this was my first chance to use the XDCAM EX™.
"As soon as we previewed the rushes on a HD monitor, we knew this camera was different. So I had no hesitation in recommending this format to the directors and DOPs on Storm Surfers. It was ideal and I was convinced. For the production of Storm Surfers, we needed to put together a unique acquisition kit. When Ross and Tom ride those big waves, we only have a four hour window. 

“Underwater DOP Rick Rafici has over 20 years experience shooting surfers. But he is no ordinary DOP. Rather than standing on the beach at a nice, safe distance, Rick sets himself on a jet ski and gets in the water to put himself right in front of the 20 foot waves; making him one of only a handful of DOPs capable of this style of shooting.  When it comes to big wave surfing, the ride for a surfer will be less than 30 seconds, so traditionally Rick has always shot on 16mm film. Why? That 30 seconds of surfing has to be milked for all it is worth, so we shoot in slow motion.
“The only small camera available that could do that until now and fit in to an underwater housing, was a 30 year old 16mm Bolex camera. However, it could only shoot about two minutes of slow motion before you needed to pull it out of its housing and reload.

“This is where the XDCAM EX camera became my first choice for Storm Surfers. The camera has a 1/2 inch, true wide screen chip (1920X1080), giving it a significant advantage over other small HD cameras that have always had 1/3 inch anamorphic chips. Most importantly, it also shoots true slow motion. Using this camera seemed like the obvious choice. Not for Rick. It took quite a lot of convincing to get him to even consider shooting on a video camera, let alone one that doesn’t use tape!

“We showed Rick some tests, the size of the camera and quality of the slow motion pictures. He was warming to the idea. However, since no underwater housings were available for the Sony XDCAM EX, we commissioned one to be built with neutral buoyancy and to have easy access to the menu functions in deep water.

“The results so far? Amazing! The shots we got in slow motion are just fantastic. Rick was sufficiently impressed and as a result, he is buying two Sony XDCAM EX cameras and commissioning more neutral buoyancy housings to be made for them. We also took a second unit to shoot the micro-docs for the webcast that ran before and during the shoot.

“In terms of the post pipe, we have made significant savings in three areas. We are able to transfer the data from the SxS cards and the XDCAM discs in about half the time it would take to digitise the footage. Additionally, the Apple Mac Power PC edit suite that we built didn’t need installation of an ingest card or additional expensive decks. Finally, because we are able to transfer all the footage in its native codec, there is no need to reconform the program during the online. The combination of these savings allowed us to redirect that budget back in to the shooting of the production values and final grade.

“As co-director Chris Nelius said: ‘This is first time we have ever made a surf film without using 16mm film.’ If you combine that with the fact this is also the first film we have made without using video tape, you have two firsts on the one production."