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Climate Change, Global Challenges, Cinematic Results: Capturing Showtime’s ‘Years of Living Dangerously’

Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously explores the complex global phenomenon of climate change by sending journalists and celebrities around the world to explore its impact. Stories include the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy, political upheaval caused by droughts in the Middle East and the dangerous level of carbon emissions resulting from deforestation. Documenting these stories required an HD production solution that could deliver a cinematic look with the flexibility the producers needed to capture everything from expert interviews to location footage shot in a wide range of temperature extremes.

 A still from the segment “Fire Line,” featuring correspondent Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Challenged with these requirements, the producers chose Canon EOS C300 digital cinema cameras and a wide variety of Canon optics, including Canon CN-E Cinema prime lenses. Says Joel Bach, an executive producer and creator of Years of Living Dangerously, “We wanted this show to look like something that’s never been done before in terms of documentaries and news in that we’re shooting it to look more like a luscious drama, which will appeal to a broader audience.”

Filming Years of Living Dangerously involved as many as three crews working simultaneously in different locations, and up to six Canon EOS C300 cameras rolling on any given day. One of several DPs working on the series is Wolfgang Held, who used the EOS C300 camera across the country, from the snowy, remote mountains of Utah to suburban New Jersey.

“I loved shooting with it,” Held says. “The EOS C300 camera image quality is beautiful, yet the camera is also travelable and it doesn’t need a big crew to manage it. The combination of the lightweight, ergonomic EOS C300 camera and the compact Canon EF lenses I can use with it lets me shoot one-man cinéma vérité style, and pull my own focus as I follow live events.”

Line producer Jennifer Latham notes that another advantage of the Canon EOS C300 camera is its ability to be used with Canon’s line of more than 60 interchangeable EF Series lenses or Canon’s set of EF-mount Cinema prime lenses and four Cinema zoom lenses. “All of our EOS C300 cameras are EF mount, and this provides great flexibility in the lenses that can be used,” says Latham. “It opens up a lot of creative possibilities.”

“As a line producer, the workflow of the Canon EOS C300 camera is [also] really attractive,” Latham continues. “The camera has great compression in terms of file size.” Additionally, the EOS C300 camera offers the Canon Log recording mode, which helps ensure capture of a full 12 T-stops of exposure latitude, providing a very wide dynamic range for creative postproduction color grading processes.

“Canon Log was very important to us,” Latham adds. “We shot at 50 Mb/s for the biggest, best quality files we can obtain to give our colorist plenty of creative latitude to work with in fashioning the look of the show. From image capture to postproduction workflow, the Canon EOS C300 camera is a convenient and affordable cinema-quality camera, which, for documentary filmmakers and for television, is great.”

“The affordability of the Canon EOS C300 camera for a show like this one means that we can bring a good number of cameras into the field and capture beautiful images of scenes from different angles, which allows for great editing that makes stories come alive,” Bach says. “Years of Living Dangerously isn’t a dry or boring documentary. It’s fun, great TV to watch.”