When MTV Networks recently decided to revive Unplugged, producers of the series faced
a double challenge. Not only would it have to live up to the original series,
but the show -- to be shot for the first time in HD -- would be getting a lot
of its exposure online, making it essential that the material work for viewers
on relatively small PC screens as well as on large HDTVs.
The first episode Unplugged:
Adele, debuted simultaneously June 8 online (at www.mtv.com/music/unplugged) and in high-definition TV on MTVN's
Palladia channel, said Space Station Media president and executive producer
Matt Mills, the director of the new Unplugged episodes.
"The folks at MTV.com came to us to do a concert series and
as the conversations developed, we began thinking about Unplugged, which the artists, record labels and fans have wanted to
see return for years," Mills said.
Mills' company, Space Station, had worked on a number of
other award-winning HD and online projects and received an Emmy nomination for
its work on HBO's Fan Life.
To meet the needs of both online and HD viewers, Mills
decided to adopt a relatively simple style that would also complement the
intimate venues and musical performances showcased in the series.
"If you're watching something on the Web -- particularly if
you're watching on a smaller window, as opposed to a whole screen -- I think
close-ups and long, lingering shots work better," he said.
Those techniques, he added, also worked well in HD, which
allowed MTVN to use the same half-hour episode online and the Palladia channel.
"We weren't afraid to be patient," he said. "I'm not afraid
to do a nice, slow pan and I wanted to keep things very languid, very concise,
with very simple lighting.
"When you have a situation like Unplugged, where the songs are stripped down and the sets are kind
of bare in an intimate setting, you also want to have what is in the frame
composed very gently," said Mills. "Close-ups of faces work very well in HD,
and we aimed specifically to get a lot of close-ups on hands on instruments and
eyes and faces."
Mills has completed the second episode, Unplugged: Silversun Pickups,
and they've finished taping or are planning to shoot sessions in HD with such
artists as Paramore, All Time Low and Katy Perry.
New episodes will bow monthly online and on Palladia, Mills
said. Clips, individual songs, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage will
also air on Palladia and other MTV Networks channels.
For the first two episodes, which were shot in a Manhattan
art gallery, Mills used five Sony PMW-EX3 cameras
and Remote Digital Media provided a production flypack with the FOR-A
HVS-300HS portable video switcher for the shoot.
Mills has used Panasonic cameras on a number of HD shoots,
but had high praise for the Sony gear.
"They are very light and easy to operate," he said. "If you
have a technical director who can do the setting, an experienced professional
camera operator who has never used them before can step right in and use them.
"Three of the camera people for Unplugged had not used the Sony EX3, before but after a two-hour
rundown, they were ready to go."