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DV Gives International News Productions The Edge

by David Fox

When International News Productions started in 1989, its first jobs were undercover in Albania on Hi-8, but its managing director, Sean Curtis-Ward quickly realised that this wouldn't be particularly profitable. However, he noticed that the bigger news agencies couldn't provide the level of customer service that some broadcasters needed, and this is the market it concentrated on.

Today, its biggest client is Germany's SAT.1, which has two people permanently based at INP's London office. "We provide the entire infrastructure, not just camera crews and editing, but also producers," he says. It provides a similar service for Canale 5, Milan, and others.

It is now based in "the heart of British news gathering," the Press Association building in central London, which gives it better telecom links and space for more nonlinear editing. "We'll be expanding our business quite a lot and will be looking to expand broadcast contracts as we'll now have [access to PA's] TV and radio studios, so we can do live production." As part of its expansion plans it is also doubling its staff from 10 to 20 this year (2000).

It also has a US office and camera crews in Japan (who do a lot of feature stories), South Africa and Australia, as well as two staff crews in London and 39 regular freelance crews across the UK.

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Like most news organisations, it traditionally shot on Betacam SP, but when it came to decide on a digital replacement, it chose DVCPRO, rejecting Betacam SX on cost and availability grounds. It now has both the Panasonic AJ-700 and 800 models.

It also has a separate corporate video news release business, for which it bought two JVC DV-500 camcorders (with a Canon lens rather than the standard Fujinon lens offered by JVC), which he says is "absolutely excellent and we occasionally use it as a back-up for broadcast work." Indeed, he claims to have been complimented on the quality of its results by SAT.1. It now often sends two cameras on a shoot, using the DV-500 for locked-off shots, for example.

"When we were first thinking about these cameras, we took dubs up to APTN, and their technicians said there was practically no difference between DVCPRO and JVC's DV," he says.

They chose JVC after senior cameraman, Ian Rhodes, concluded that it had all the features of a camera four times the price "and it has some capabilities that others don't, such as its low-light ability which allows it shoot in almost pitch black. It's also an incredibly well put together piece of kit. In picture terms, it's certainly at least as good as Betacam SP, but it does have some limitations, which is why it is not the first choice for broadcast stories. DVCPRO probably has the edge on it, with slightly better resolution, and as everything is sent by satellite, you have to keep quality high," says Curtis-Ward.

It still keeps a couple of SP camcorders, because some clients still want it. "In an ideal world, everything would be on Digital Betacam, but it's too expensive for news work," he says. It has a library of some 3,000 SP tapes, which takes up a lot of space, so the fact that DV tapes are a third of the size will make a big difference for future storage requirements.

INP also has some small Sony and Panasonic DV camcorders for undercover work, such as in Burma or Kashmir, the latest of which is a tiny Sony DCR-PC5E. "We do tend to cover some very odd feature stories for the German magazines, such as auditions for a knife thrower's assistant recently. We wanted a camera next to the assistant's head as the knife was being thrown at it and were able to bolt [the miniDV camcorder] to the target to get pictures of the knife going in without risking the cameraman's life. In the news and news features business you need to have an array of equipment when you go on a job," he says.

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For editing, it has a Matrox DigiSuite running InCite, which is "absolutely superb. We've never had any problems with it. We're so happy with it we're about to buy another version of it and we've just been commissioned by Carlton Digital to edit a 13-part cooking series for them on it," he says. INP has previously produced a series on regional German cooking for Carlton (shooting and editing it).

It used have a PC-based version of Avid Express, which he disliked and found unreliable. InCite was not only good value, it had a lot more useful features, to which INP has since added a 3D board, and he believes offers Digital Betacam quality with no compression and real-time effects at an affordable price. "For a small company like us, it allows us enter new markets and compete with the big boys in a way we couldn't have previously."

© 2000 - 2010

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