Peter Parnham takes a look at Shortland Street’s new look
Shortland Street is undergoing a makeover. Like the best nip and tucks, you are not supposed to notice what is different after she returns from vacation. It’s just that somehow, she looks a little younger and in some undefinable way, more attractive. Approaching 6,000 episodes, the dowager of New Zealand TV has probably earned a little treat after years of watching younger relatives pass away.
In a new world where free to air audiences are in danger of wandering off, it has to make sense to look after the show that earns the big dollars. The latest TVNZ advertising schedule shows Shortland Street way ahead in earning power, pulling about 60 percent more than, say, an advertising spot during TV One’s 6pm news.
Hence the investment in a substantial quantity of new cameras, lenses, and lighting by producers South Pacific Pictures is a relatively safe bet. New gear doesn’t by itself rejuvenate the look of the show, but the particular choices made break with the past and make the new look possible.
The switch to a new set of cameras is news among camera aficionados because of the decision to go with five Panasonic VariCam 35 cameras: three set up for studio, and two set up for location shooting. It is the first sale of the new cameras in New Zealand and probably the biggest number of cameras sold in one go since the last time Shortland Street upgraded to hi-definition in 2009. It also represents somewhat of a comeback to high-end cameras for Panasonic and wins them immediate admission to the senior ranks of the 35mm digital camera club – a club which is getting rather crowded with its new and eager upstarts intent on disturbing the establishment.
Bigger sensors better look
The thing about cameras like the VariCam 35 is that they have 35mm film-sized sensors which are much bigger than the 2/3” sensors of the previous cameras. They impart a more sophisticated cinematic look, with a more visually pleasing perspective and a shallower depth of field. This allows the cinematographer to add layers of focus and visual depth to the shot.
“These new digital cameras have opened up a whole new kind of visual palette,” says Sean Rundle, who as technical producer is responsible for the cinematography and the look of the Shortland Street images. But he stresses the project it is not just about cameras, it is about lighting too.
“It’s a two-pronged attack on the look of the show,” he says. “It is safe to say that previously the show was lit with high key lighting – a tsunami of light. So over Christmas and New Year, as the cameras were being brought in, I re-lit all the sets.”
Since the show works about eight weeks ahead, this translates to the visual make-over being visible to punters from the middle of March.