GEORGE GITTOES shoots SNOW MONKEY documentary with SONY PMW-200 cameras

Recently distinguished war artist, filmmaker, photojournalist, and Sydney Peace Prize winner George Gittoes shot his latest documentary Snow Monkey with two Sony PMW-200 cameras over a one-year period in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Gittoes is enthusiastic in his choice of and love for the cameras that have made so many of his projects look and feel so special as he explained, “I have been using Sony cameras since I switched to tape from 16mm film in 2003 with my film Soundtrack to War. The first of these cameras was shot by a US sniper when I was attempting to film suspicious activity for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. It was a huge revelation to me when Michael’s people took the digital footage from my small cameras and converted it to 35mm film for the big screen. I was amazed sitting in the Academy Cinema in LA and seeing how my Sony footage blended with the other footage, much of which was shot on film. Over the years I moved on to the Sony HVR-Z1 HD and HVR-Z5 cameras. At the point that I purchased the Z5 cameras there were fully file-based cameras like the PMW-200 available through Sony but I was concerned about having to rely on field downloads to hard drives. Tapes seemed more real and stable and less destructible or liable to technical issues in post. I now regret this decision as I compare the image quality of Snow Monkey with some of my previous movies. Snow Monkey is the last in a trilogy of three films starting with Miscreants of Taliwood and it is fantastic to know viewers will be getting the full detail of the amazing medieval world of Jalalabad with its many characters in their exotic cloths and environments thanks to the Sony PMW-200.”

Working on the trilogy of the three movies required Gittoes to train Afghan-Pashtuns to use all his equipment. He continued, “They had all used Sony equipment in the past for their dramas and found it easy to adapt to the upgraded models of cameras which I provided. With all of my movies I always shoot with two or more cameras simultaneously, on Snow Monkey it was two PMW-200 cameras. I do this as I seek an immersive experience. On Snow Monkey we also had a small Sony digital camera and often shot with a fourth camera by using one of the Z5 cameras. I have worked with the same editor, Nick Meyers, since Rampage in 2006 and actually shoot for the style of cutting we have evolved together – which is a kind of all-round holographic effect.”

In his earlier years Gittoes was one of the pioneers of laser holography making some of the first ever colour holograms at Sydney CSIRO and he has always been obsessed since. Gittoes says that using multiple cameras to simulate the viewing experience is as close to ‘being there’ as possible, even more so than viewing with 3D glasses.

He continued, “Back in the days of shooting on 16mm neg film I would often shoot a whole movie in a war zone like Nicaragua without ever seeing any rushes. I was shooting totally blind – and would always be in a state of extreme anxiety until I could sit in a screening room at a lab and be relieved to know I actually had a film. Seeing the first Snow Monkey results from the PMW-200 on our iMac computer monitors was an exciting moment and continued to be through the year long shoot. We were constantly astonished by the detail and clarity of image these cameras made possible. We were never frustrated by technical limitations and were able to achieve every kind of cinematographic problem we were confronted with. Being able to share the footage at the end of the day with both the crew and participants was always a joy. Also, being in a war zone it was crucial to do good back up so we made three versions of all our footage on separate 2TB hard drives. We had about twelve of these drives with us and would send drives back to Australia by DHL after every few weeks to ensure the safety of the material and get tech checks done by the editors. The whole PMW-200 workflow was particularly straightforward and very efficient.”

Snow Monkey will premiere on the big screen at Hoyts in Melbourne for the Melbourne International Film Festival this month and Gittoes is certain it will look like any major feature adding, “It is clear from watching it on the big screen at Trackdown during the mix as we have been doing over the last week that it will look that good. I can honestly say the PMW-200 cameras used on Snow Monkey have delivered the best picture quality in any of my movies so far.”



The PMW-200 has now been superseded by an upgraded model, the new PXW-X200 which boasts all the features of the PMW-200 with a larger 14x to 17x zoom lens and additional codec recording choices. For more on the new PXW-X200 go to: »

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