Panasonic VariCam LT 4K Cinema Camcorders Used to Shoot ‘Hotel Impossible’
Director of Photography John Kelleran shot season eight of the Travel Channel’s popular Hotel Impossible show with Panasonic VariCam LT 4K cinema camcorders. With several episodes of season eight already broadcast, the remainder of the season will resume in September 2017.
Hotel Impossible is a reality television program in which struggling hotels receive an extensive makeover by veteran hotel operator and hospitality expert Anthony Melchiorri and team. DP Kelleran has more than two decades experience shooting reality/documentary projects, including extensive travel assignments.
Working for production company Atlas Media, Kelleran shot a dozen Hotel Impossible
hour-long episodes in locations ranging from Palm Springs, Fire Island and Capes May and Hatteras to Sandusky, OH and Albany, NY. The production, beginning last April and wrapping December 2016, spent five days in each locale.
The previous year, Kelleran had shot episodes of HGTV’s Caribbean Life and Mexico Life with Panasonic’s AJ-HDX900 P2 HD camcorder. “Having worked with that camcorder many times in the past, I was reminded how much I loved the Panasonic ‘look,’ how the company’s cameras generate an emotional response with their handling of skin tones and color,” says Kelleran. “When the Hotel Impossible project came my way several months later, I felt obliged to take a serious look at the new VariCam LT—super 35mm sensor, low weight, low power consumption and, of course, with the classic image handling that was so attractive to me.”
What was new to Kelleran was the VariCam LT’s dual native ISOs of 800/5000. “I tested ISO5000 by shooting in my own basement at night, and had my son illuminated only by a lighter and whatever light was coming through the small basement window, one foot candle at best,” says Kelleran. “The footage showed spectacular light on the boy.”
Kelleran regularly deployed ISO5000 on each episode. “The crux of the show is chasing out problems in dark corners and corridors, which we were able to do like never before,” says Kelleran. “The LT’s extreme low light handling allowed us to work in dark rooms with only motivated light sources like lamps and windows, and absolutely keep the honesty of the narrative. We’d shoot at 120fps coming down a dimly-lit hotel corridor, and the movement was fantastic.”
The production rented three VariCam LTs from Talamas (Watertown, MA). Kelleran shot in AVC-Intra 4:2:2 1080p, and utilized the LTs’ standard EF mounts. “Using EF lenses (Tokina 11-16mm wide-angle zoom, Canon 16-35mm wide-angle zoom, Canon 24-105mm standard zoom and Canon 70-200mm telephoto zoom) allowed me and our AC and camera operators to keep the physical size of the camera package down, to undersling the cameras and be very nimble,” says Kelleran.
Atlas Media is handling the edit, using Avid Media Composer. “We gave post such a solid image that they had to spend very little time or money on color correction, but could rather devote resources to graphics, sound design and more,” says Kelleran.
“The VariCam LT is hands down the best camera available for the kind of work I do,” says the DP. “It lets real things happen in front of you that you can capture without any intrusive manipulation of the lighting.”