Step 1: Keep Sets and Lighting Refined
In keeping with Andy Warhol’s original "screen test" aesthetic, we opted for a minimalist, yet refined and calculated approach to set and lighting. In our example, talent sits in front of an almost black backdrop and is lit by one single source, in this case, a single Briese light. The Briese unit, correctly used, produces a light that is very complimentary to facial geometry and bone structure, creating a compelling visual presence for talent. We chose Fujinon E-series primes and zooms to have even more control. We used an OConnor 2575 tripod with Ronford legs. With the Pro 35 adapter, Cooke S4 primes and onboard monitor, the camera got a little heavy and the OConnor works nicely with it.
Step 2: Create a Long Tail for Your Video, From Web to Film
The immediate destination for these “Screen Tests” is The New York Times T Magazine Web site, which, as a companion to the newspaper’s periodical style magazine, T Magazine, puts an emphasis on graphics, video and art. When we started the series we wanted to create the best possible image for future use, such as theatrical projection in HD or even scan out to film. 1080p was an immediate choice because of resolution but also because we needed a very fast and cost-effective post-production workflow. Tape just wasn’t an option. The Panasonic HPX3000 seemed to give us everything we wanted: 1080p recording, a 10-bit, 4:2:2 signal, the new AVC-Intra codec and P2 as storage medium. We also chose to shoot in color and leave the black-and-white color treatment to post.
Step 3: Edit on the Spot with P2
The first time I used P2 card technology was shortly after the release of Panasonic’s HVX200. Back then, I worried about things like redundancy, possible file corruption and of course, the reliability of this very new media. On a documentary shoot, out of town, with no rental and/or tech support in sight, this was a major concern.
However, after initial tests at the check out and on location prior to the first shoot day, capturing, transferring and storing footage turned out to be a fast, easy and quite intuitive process. It was an easy choice for this shoot, which required each 45-minute take to be shot only one time straight through.
Using Andy Warhol’s famous screen tests of Edie Sedgwick and others as a point of departure, Natalie Portman (top) and Marion Cotillard go from thoughtful repose (above) to animated conversation in the T Magazine videos (left). To watch the full-length videos, archived at T Magazine’ site, go to and click on “T Exclusive Films” in the Video tab. Photos courtesy of The New York Times.
Step 4: Archive with P2: DVCPRO HD VS. AVC-I
We were considering various P2 production and post workflows, such as going to P2 stores and then to dedicated hard drives. Having used P2 cards in different workflows, from documentary to complex studio greenscreen and compositing shoots, we decided the fastest workflow would be to take the cards directly to a computer and hard drives. P2 stores are terrific for location shoots, but seemed like an unnecessary intermediate step for a studio location. When we were shooting the first New York Times pieces export of AVC-Intra material to Final Cut and Avid was not yet available. As a result, we choose to capture and export as DVCPRO HD.
Step 5: Manage Your P2 Downloads on Set
To create an efficient workflow, we usually have a data management person on our team who is dedicated to P2 card downloads, creating redundant copies of files and conversion to QuickTime for review, as well as compositing previews on greenscreen shoots. At this point, Apple Powerbook G4s are outdated. However, they offer one very practical feature: a built-in PCMCIA slot. With this slot, you can access P2 cards without external card readers and download material for immediate ingestion into Final Cut. To do this, first insert your P2 card in the PCMCIA slot. The cards will show up on your desktop as No Name. Next, copy.mxf files to individual folders. I like to use a system where folder numbers map to P2 card numbers. Finally, create a redundant copy on a second hard drive and then import into Final Cut for QuickTime conversion via the Log and Transfer function.
Step 6: Move to an AVC-I Workflow
To run AVC-Intra files requires an Intel-based MacBook Pro laptop, as well as a PCI adapter. We have so far been using DuelAdapter from Duel Systems. The advantage of the PCI transfer over the PCMCIA slot on the G4 is significantly higher transfer speeds. First, download and install the AVC-Intra codec for Intel-based MacBook Pros from the Panasonic support desk ( Next, insert your cards into the DuelAdapter P2 card reader connected to MacBook Pro. Store your.mxf files on two redundant hard drives. Convert to QuickTime, as above, with Final Cut’s Log and Transfer function. Our current codec choice is 10-bit ProRes 4:2:2. Now your shots are ready for editing.
Step 7: Shooting Greenscreen? Try AVC-I
Based on my other shoots, I can say without question that 1080p and AVC-Intra captures superior material for greenscreen shoots and compositing work, whether the final will be used only online or projected for theatrical release.
Tools Used: Panasonic HPX3000; P2 media; OConnor 2575 tripod with Ronford legs; a single Briese light; Fujinon E-series prime and zoom lenses; Cooke primes; Apple Final Cut Pro, Apple Powerbook G4 and MacBook Pro
Your Guide
Manfred Reiff
Director of Photography
Manfred Reiff is a cinematographer and director who has focused on fashion and beauty advertising for such clients as L’Oreal, Olay, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Ford and Samsung. In the past year, he has filmed a range of leading ladies, including Beyoncà©, Milla Jovovich, Eva Longoria Parker, Andie MacDowell, Diane Keaton, Natalie Portman, Charlize Theron and Marion Cotillard. His feature film work includes Glow Ropes: The Rise and Fall of a Bar Mitzvah MC, which won an HBO Best Picture Award and took top honors at the Latino Film Festival. His additional feature credits include The Suitors, an official selection at the Cannes film Festival and Beyond, an official selection of the Hamptons Film Festival.
Manfred Says Keep in Mind…
The idea of the New York Times creative team (working with director Francesco Carrozzini, editor Vincent Velazquez, off-screen interviewer Lynn Hirschberg and the Grand Large, Inc. production company) was to create artist’s portraits influenced by Andy Warhol’s “Screen Tests” of the mid-1960s. Visitors to the Factory who Warhol thought had potential “star” quality were seated in front of a tripod-mounted camera and asked to be as still as possible, without blinking, while the camera was running. Warhol made more than 500 of these screen tests. Taking our inspiration from this body of work, we wanted to create the same immediacy but also allow for our subject’s spontaneity, to show artists in a new, more personal way. To date, we’ve shot profiles of Marion Cotillard, Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. These profiles may eventually be compiled as a film.
Manfred Reiff
Ph. 917.371.7727