A special Ken Burns moment
It’s always interesting to watch filmmakers at work, to see the equipment they use, the crew they gather, the manner in which they shoot. I was at Fenway Park a while back for the Red Sox-Athletics game, and a small group of us stopped down on the field to chat with Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, with whom I was co-author on his book “Born To Play: My Life in the Game.” It was about 3 p.m., and the game was at 7, so the park was empty but for a few players running or taking early BP. As Dustin and I stood chatting, from the visitors dugout came a group of about six people, one hauling a camera and another lugging a tripod. Behind them was Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker whose work, among others, included the series “Baseball.” The crew set to work shooting the Green Monster, Fenway’s famous left-field wall.
What surprised me was that they were shooting film. Indeed, in this era of Red Ones and Vipers, it’s not just film equipment, it looks like old film equipment.
In an interview on Documentary.org with Burns’ longtime DP Buddy Squires, Bob Fisher writes that during the shoots for the upcoming doc on the National Parks,
Squires usually carried supplies and his gear in a backpack, including the same reliable Aaton XTR camera that he has used for years, Canon 8:64 and 11:165 mm zooms and a 300mm long lens, a tripod and an ample supply of Super-16 film.
That must be the Aaton there. Burns apparently is filming an epilogue to the baseball series called “The 10th inning” for PBS, slated for Spring 2010.
In the Fisher interview, Squires notes that,
Film provided the latitude needed to record nature at its best, with true colors and details in the brightest highlights and darkest shadows the way the human eye sees them. It is also the only proven archival medium, and this film is history.
According to the piece, for the Parks series they shot 400,000 feet of Super-16. Here’s where the economics of film is interesting. A listing for a used Aaton XTR asks $13,000, significantly less than HD cameras such as, say, a Grass Valley Viper or a Panavision Genesis. But 400,000 feet of Kodak film roughs out to about $175,000. Then you have to develop it, print to positive, and so on.
Even more interesting to me is that Burns’ work goes to television, not for theatrical distribution or even film festivals. So it has to go digital one way or another.
I had an Aiptek pocket camera so I shot this video evidence. And the finale to all this was that as I chatted with Dustin, I saw from the corner of my eye they had swung their camera around and were filming us talking, probably on the notion that “that guy with Pedroia must be somebody.” Which I’m clearly not. But look for me in “The Tenth Inning”! I’m the tall one here: