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Hit Television Show MythBusters Goes Out with a Bang with Help from Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras

By Scott Sorensen
After 15 seasons, more than 280 episodes and countless explosions, the hit television show MythBusters aired its grand finale episode on March 5, 2016. For many years, the show had been answering questions and debunking myths and urban legends by putting them to the test, helping viewers find out which myths are true and which are not. And as with any grand finale, the show wanted to go out with a bang.

"In the series finale, the goal was to send the show off with a bang. It's rare that a television show gets the opportunity to film a farewell season. But, because of that, we were able to create a finale that would be satisfying for the fans of the show," explained Scott Sorensen, DP. "In the finale episode, we filmed some of the largest spectacles in the show's history. We laid waste to the Alameda Runway, set off the show's largest explosion ever and we retired Buster (the resident crash test dummy) in a means befitting his station in life."

As the show's DP for the final two seasons, Scott is no stranger to filming massive explosions, speeding, flipping and jumping cars or swimming with sharks. The team was always as prepared as possible going into every shoot, but they could never exactly predict what was going to happen during an experiment. It's why the secondary cameras were so important for capturing every angle and all the action, and why the team relied on numerous Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras. Originally chosen to improve the image quality of the secondary footage, the team quickly found the Pocket Cinema Camera's codecs, size, flexibility and versatility beneficial as well.

Go Big or Go Home
The scale of the finale episode was many times larger than anything MythBusters had done previously. One shoot in particular required the greatest number of cameras Scott and his team had ever before used on the show.

"We were in Alameda, California at the old Naval Runway. Over the years, we've filmed dozens of episodes there - raced cars, fired a steam powered machine gun, drove a car on two wheels, jumped a city bus off a ramp, crashed semi trucks head on and attempted to bifurcate a boat, just to name a few," said Scott.

"In the finale episode, we filmed our largest event yet at the runway spanning almost a mile long. The objective was a literal drive down memory lane as Adam (Savage, one of the hosts) drove a massive truck with a cow catcher welded onto the front bumper through 14 years' worth of experiments and props," Scott added. "I think the whole crew was excited about the wedge truck stunt, and watching the truck barrel down the runway causing mayhem and destruction was very satisfying. The list of sacrificial props quickly grew beyond anything that was feasible for us to get coverage of."

Worried about camera coverage, Scott doubled the compliment of Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras to an even 20. "When it came to filming a mile-long path of destruction, adding additional Pocket cameras was an easy decision," he noted. "The Pocket cameras have become the backbone of our second camera arsenal over the last few years for this specific reason."
When it came time for the shoot, Scott had cameras running the full length of the mile-long runway, as well as cameras in the truck with Adam, cameras spread throughout the course in harm's way, a virtual reality rig on the truck, two drones in the air and a camera chase vehicle.

"The majority of our 20 Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras were around the course in areas of varying risk. My favorite Blackmagic shot of the day was from a Pocket camera rigged on a pair of Magic Arms inside of a vehicle that Adam smashes into. The way the vehicle spins around after impact, it actually pans the camera with Adam's truck, keeping him nicely framed through the vehicle's window," explained Scott.

Cinematic Explosions
"We originally chose the Blackmagic Pocket cameras for the image quality and form factor. Our goal was to give our second camera footage a more cinematic look, and I feel like the Pockets helped us achieve that, especially in the final season," said Scott.

According to Scott, the very last MythBusters explosion was filmed on a beautiful, partly cloudy day in New Mexico. The clouds made for gorgeous skies, but wreaked havoc with exposure. Scott explained, "When we rolled cameras, it was bright and sunny, but when it came time to ignite the largest ever blast in MythBusters' history, the clouds came out and knocked the exposure down several stops.

"After the dust had settled, we played back some of the footage from the Pockets. With the drop in exposure, it looked as though we'd been filming day for night. We were crestfallen that our last ever explosion was so underexposed," noted Scott. "Fortunately, because the footage from the Pocket cameras is so workable in post, our team in Sydney was able to bring the exposure up in post. When I saw the final cut of the episode, it was as if the exposure had been perfect. I'm very pleased with the end product."

Tough Form Factor
Aside from the look of the footage, the Pocket Cinema Cameras also delivered on a purely practical level given the explosiveness and how dangerous some of the experiments could be.

"The Pocket cameras are reasonably inexpensive should a fiery piece of shrapnel or an out of control wedge truck decide to demolish a camera or two," said Scott. "MythBusters is rough on cameras, and the experiments often times have unforeseen results, which may or may not lead to the untimely end of camera equipment. We could never shoot MythBusters with cameras too expensive to put in harm's way.

"That being said, in the entire time we shot with the Pocket cameras, we never lost one. In filming the final season, one camera took a shockwave blast of rocks to the lens and another was nearly drowned filming a bunch of sharks. Both cameras survive to this day," he concluded.

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Scott Sorensen is a San Francisco DP living in Los Angeles. His hobbies include jazz flute and writing little biographies for himself.
Related Keywords:Blackmagic Design, Digital Cinematography, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera


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