Jalbert Productions International Gets Exceptional Athletes on the Screen

Top: Lacrosse player Paul Rabil in a Maverik Lacrosse spot from Jalbert Productions

Based in Manhattan and Huntington, Long Island, Jalbert Productions International (JPI) has a pedigree in sports filmmaking that dates back more than 35 years, to the filming of Downhill Racer in 1969. Joe Jay Jalbert, a former athlete on the U.S. ski team, worked on that film as technical adviser, ski double, and cameraman, and his contributions were crucial (he recently contributed to the audio commentary for a Criterion Collection DVD version). JPI was founded then with a mission of capturing authentic, inspiring, and uncompromising sports footage. Today, it’s an official production company of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association, and has produced four official films for the Winter Olympics.

In recent years, Joe Jay’s son, Jay Jalbert – a former pro lacrosse player with the Colorado Mammoth and co-founder of equipment and apparel maker Maverik Lacrosse – has become an accomplished director in his own right, with television documentaries like The Thin Line: Life on the Edge for Europe’s Rush HD channel, a syndicated TV program on the 2010 Teva Mountain Games in Vail, CO, and Focused on Excellence (profiling eight South Korean athletes) to his credit. Film & Video asked him about craft, technology, and what’s next.

Film & Video: Let’s start with an obvious tech question – have you started shooting in 3D?

Jay Jalbert: We’re working on a couple of initiatives with 3D, but it’s more of a test to get into the market and try out different compositions. But we’ve been making strides. We’ve got some conversations going about 3D, and we’re looking to make a real push this year into winter sports, skiing, and snowboarding. What we can bring is a good mix of live-event action shooting as well as lifestyle, behind-the-scenes stuff. If ESPN shoots World Cup soccer, it is what it is. But if we were going to tell a story about one of the soccer players, like Landon Donovan, we could do his interview in 3D. We could look at his training, and work with him on positioning and compositions. You obviously shoot the game, where you’d have no direction at all, but when you’re focusing on one athlete you can shoot differently. So a documentary film approach would be a great step for us, as well as one of the next steps for stereo 3D.

Jay Jalbert

Do you typically own your production equipment, or rent?

We own a ton of our own equipment. We still own film cameras, and we own a couple of HD cameras. But in the last five years, we haven’t been buying new cameras because everything’s changed so quickly. It’s not the same old days where an ARRI SR will sing for you for 15 years. The Red camera might be bigger, faster, and stronger a year and a half later. The last three years, we’ve been renting gear. Our shooters have their own equipment, and that’s better because they know their technology inside and out.

What about post-production? What do you have in house?

We have three edit suites here – one Avid, one Final Cut Pro, and one dual-boot system with an Avid HD Adrenaline and Final Cut on the same tower. There are positives and negatives for both of them. With the tapeless workflow some of our clients are looking for, Final Cut has been a little bit easier on the last couple of projects. For one event, we needed to pump out on-site dailies, Web clips and highlights, so we ingested all the content into Final Cut Pro on site and then it made the most sense to edit on Final Cut. But that’s just one example.

Talk about a really exceptional image you’ve captured, and what it took to get it on screen.

We were doing a commercial for Maverik Lacrosse. We had one of the best players, Paul Rabil. His shoot is one of the fastest in the world. We wanted to get him shooting at 111 miles per hour and really get the motions and flesh vibration you get at that slow motion. He was really using his whole body. The backbone to that commercial was that one really powerful shot at 450 fps. It turned out to be a really good piece. People were excited and intrigued by how slow it was, and how crisp and amazing the Phantom camera’s footage can look. We shot it at a Lacrosse football field, Mitchell Field on Long Island.

How does working with the Phantom affect the shoot in terms of lighting and set-up?

To shoot at that high speed, you need a ton of light, so we were using natural light outside. We shot some interiors in a locker room at 120 fps, and we needed really big lights. The Red camera now has 1000 ASA, which allows you to shoot low-light situations at high speed. But specifically for the Phantom camera? It all depends on your DP and your lens. And the files are just massive. There’s not much difference in the processing – the Phantom software allows you to create QuickTime files – but it’s a little bit bigger.

Do the locations where you shoot pose special challenges?

We’ve shot in Egypt, Australia, Hong Kong, Korea, Chile, and a bunch of places in Europe. We are definitely not afraid to pack up the gear. That lends itself to some difficulties, and our team is strong at getting international projects done. Our wakeboarding shoot in Egypt was a five-camera shoot. We shot 35mm film, one Panasonic VariCam, one Sony F900, one Panasonic P2, and one jib with an F900 on it. We shot 35mm at 120 fps and ran all the other cameras at 29.97. In Egypt, our camera gear got confiscated. We had all the right permits but, in a lot of ways, some of the areas are a bit lawless. If a government official wants to take your camera gear, he will. It worked out in the end. Sometimes you just need to work through the hurdles – and budget for certain situations in which you need to improvise.

What’s on your radar, technology-wise?

[With all-in-one 3D cameras], you now have the ability to go places you couldn’t have gone before with stereo 3D rigs. If we wanted to go backpacking in Patagonia and capture some epic waterfall shoots it would have been difficult [with a two-camera stereo rig] but now you can do that. I’m not totally sure if we’ll use that camera, but it’ll add a different element to a production as a complimentary camera of some sort. DSLRs are a really efficient option that has a great cinematic feel and looks beautiful, especially for the price. We’re working with those on projects that need that sort of camera. The Phantom camera is beautiful. The Red camera has always been great. And 3D is our next push.