- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

First-time HDTV buyers know the feeling, that “wow” moment when they first catch sight of those razor-sharp images.

The men and women shooting those programs aren’t immune to the effect.

The same HD, or high-definition, technology making televised images more crisp and clear is changing the way programs are shot — and how the behind-the-scenes talent view their handiwork.

Shana Jacobus, manager of production and development for the Discovery Channel’s HD Theater, says HD lets television teams capture scenes that otherwise would never be seen.

For years, television cameramen have had fits trying to track hyenas dashing through their natural habitat to reach their prey.

Not any more.

Today’s HD-equipped cameras can record the charging hyenas from the sky via helicopter-mounted systems, according to Miss Jacobus. “They can capture animal behavior on the ground that has never been seen,” she says. “And without getting too involved with it or interrupting it.” HD has “opened up a lot of new programming ideas,” she says, including the channel’s “Sunrise Earth” series. What sounds like a snore-fest on paper — watching the sun peer over the horizon at different spots around the globe — can be mesmerizing on an HD set.

“In standard definition, you’d never put an hour of the sun rising on TV and expect the viewer to hang in there,” she says.

What’s next? “The Discovery Channel Presents: Watching the Grass Grow”? Seriously, the impact of the technological change is being unmistakably felt in post-production meetings at the channel.

Miss Jacobus says her colleagues have been spotting details in the backgrounds of their shots they never realized they had recorded. “They’d call people into the room — ‘Look at this shot,’” she says.

Veteran television executive Greg Moyer, general manager of the VOOM HD Networks and former chief creative officer for Discovery Communications, says HD has sparked a “rebirth of my interest in making programming.” With HD, television shows become more cinematic, says Mr. Moyer, whose networks carry HD programming on 15 separate channels on Echostar’s DISH Network.

“That rectangle looks a lot more like the framing used in cinema,” he says.

HD lets cinematographers linger a little longer on their close-ups.

“You’re looking at more detail,” he says. “That doesn’t mean every HD show should slow down or be glacially paced, but you can make watchable television with far fewer edits.” He suggests some production teams might push themselves into trickier terrain to get the right shot now, knowing it will all be captured in stunning clarity.

The technology could also affect the way networks shoot more conventional programs.

With standard definition, editors occasionally “overtook the role of shooters,” he says, citing programs like “Entertainment Tonight,” which often rely on paparazzi-style footage. “Through fast-paced, clever editing, they make it seem like a moment worth observing,” he explains.

With HD, the photographer is put back in charge.

The transformative effects of HD aren’t limited to images originally intended for television.

Jason Kliot, an independent film producer and co-president of New York-based HDNet Films, says the HD format is a boon for guerrilla filmmakers who often must settle for exhibiting their work on traditional television sets instead of the big screen.

“When you’re showing [an independent film] on a 4:3 screen, you’re just seeing a tiny sliver of the information,” Mr. Kliot says.

He calls the shift from standard to HD technology “an aesthetic transformation” more substantial than when black-and-white sets gave way to color. “People are getting the direct vision from the filmmakers,” he says.

For an indie filmmaker such as Mr. Kliot, HD technology promises the capability to shoot projects that “look like Hollywood films for a fraction of the cost.” Once he has his raw footage, he can now bend it to his every whim. “I can color-correct every pixel on the screen,” he says.

Media critic Marshall McLuhan once coined the terms “hot” and “cool” in describing media, with television being relegated to the cool end of the spectrum for its lack of highly defined imagery, Mr. Kliot says.

“Television,” Mr. Kliot says, “is now burning hot.”

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