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Safekeeping a precious commodity: the image

Pictures today often are captured not on film but as digital data, which on a project like `Zodiac' are handled by an engineer.

March 11, 2007|Susan King

R. Wayne Tidwell

Supervising engineer

Credits: David Fincher's "Zodiac," currently working on Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

The data: "The digital equipment we [shot 'Zodiac'] with is relatively new -- the Viper camera and the S2 digital recorder from the S.two Corp. Unlike a film camera, the Viper digital camera does not record anything; it is the electronic camera that has the lens and the three chips that make the picture. The S2 records [the images]. There is a dual length cable [attached to the Viper camera]. That is where I get my signal for the data recorders. We had two data recorders on 'Zodiac.' One for A camera and one for B camera, and I had one backup just in case."

Job description: "The job I do is called data capture, and I would be the data capture engineer. I record each take we do. I am responsible for the stock of digital magazines, which is basically our shooting stock. I am responsible for managing the stock with my assistant. I am also monitoring a waveform monitor for each camera image. I am assisting the cameramen by watching the light levels that are entering the lens -- more specifically the amount of light hitting the color sensors in the camera.

Review, keep, delete: "In addition to recording the image and monitoring the waveform monitor and managing the stock, I am also doing the playback as a video assist operator would. So as soon as we 'cut,' I am immediately playing back for the director on the monitors the master footage, so he can review each take. Now, we take that a step further. With the S2 data recorder, you have the option to delete unwanted takes from the magazine, thereby recapturing hard drive space.

"One of the more critical functions I perform is deleting unwanted footage while retaining the keeper takes. That took a little getting used to because my background is in many years of normal video assist on feature movies where I am recording the reference material. I don't have a hand in the master footage to any degree. Now I have gone to this position to where I am responsible for the master footage throughout the day and, needless to say, I have to pay more attention than I have in the past."

"Go learn how to do it": "Fincher started doing tests and commercials with the Viper camera roughly four years ago. Fortunately, he called and said, 'I want to try this digital system. This is how I want to shoot, so go learn how to do it.' There was no class. We started with a different data recorder, and it didn't serve David's needs, but I went to the company that reps the data recorder and the engineer taught me how it worked and how to use it. Then David went to the S.two Corp. with the S2 machine, and their engineers taught me. Their representative, Steve Roach, was present with us on just about all the commercials we did leading up to 'Zodiac' -- he helped me with questions I needed answers to throughout the commercial shooting."

Background: "I was born and raised in Ventura. And I was in law enforcement for a while. I was a police officer for three years.... I realized I wasn't going to make a career of that. My mother said, 'Why don't you look into the film business? It's California. Everybody makes movies.' So we started looking into it, and I eventually got into the sound union and got into video assist."

Working with Fincher: "He makes everybody better. The sound mixer on this show called me before we started working and he said, 'Do you have any advice?' I said the best advice I can give is you do your job thoroughly, do it quickly and if you have a problem, be honest. That is it in a nutshell. He expects 100% from everybody, but he's very loyal and likes to take the same people from show to show."

Age: 38

Resides in: Thousand Oaks.

Union: Sound and Video Union. It is part of Local 695.


-- Susan King

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