Sony’s Squyres Talks 4K TV Production at HPA Tech Retreat

As 4K moves into the mainstream, TV and movie producers face daunting new workflows with trepidation. At an HPA Tech Retreat panel yesterday, Sony Pictures Television SVP of Technical Operations Phil Squyres — who has post–produced several 4K TV shows — has encouraging news. “It was actually simpler than we thought it would be,” he said. “Sony had made an effort beforehand to create working relationships with third party vendors, especially dailies vendors. When we went into production, there were a few glitches, but they were readily solved.”

Last year, Squyres’ team delivered the 4K pilot for “The Blacklist,” which followed a traditional workflow in which dailies were sent overnight from New York where the pilot was shot to editorial in Los Angeles. When the series was greenlit, however, things had to change. “It turns out the workflow wasn’t ideal due to adjustments in the scripts that required pickups,” said Squyres. “Editorial also wanted all the footage shot each day available the next morning in editorial, just like a local show.”

Since the Sony F55 camera already simultaneously recorded dual formats, Squyres made a simple tweak: the HD proxy was pushed, via Aspera, to the Los Angeles lab for dailies creation. “Now HD footage is color graded for dailies with CDLs generated,” he said. “The Lab SAN pushes it to Colorworks for finishing, and the 4K OCN arrives later to be copied to LTO for archiving.”

A similar workflow was leveraged for two new multi-cam sitcoms. “Bad Teacher,” a half-hour sitcom for CBS due to air soon, was the first series they shot in 4K XAVC (as opposed to 4K Raw). Another pilot, “The McCarthys,” was a re-do of a single-camera shoot that was re-written as a multi-cam shot in front of a live audience.

“We shot with four F55s, configured as a traditional multicam package with remote iris and video control,” said Squyres. “We used a slightly different dual recording approach, shooting in 4K XAVC instead of 4K Raw.” The pilot was completed in HD, he explained, noting that if the show is picked up, it will be re-mastered in 4K with 4K XAVC files. “We’ll likely continue shooting with this approach,” he concluded.

Having shot 4K dramas and sitcoms, Squyres has sized up how to best use the F55’s dual recording options. “4K Raw gives us comfort with challenging exposure issues encountered on drama series,” he said. “Comedies tend to be brighter and are shot in controlled studio environments, so 4K XAVC is safe and gives us 4K for a little less money and more speed.”

He’s also optimistic that a tried-and-true workflow opens the door to more 4K production/post. “We also think the concept can be employed on reality shows, documentaries, live concerts and any event you might want to protect for historical or archival reasons,” he said. “This would be a valid workflow.”