Sony XDCAM Helps Tell War Veterans’ Stories

For Eric Christiansen, his latest video project was more than just another documentary.
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For Eric Christiansen, his latest video project was more than just another documentary. It was a personal journey to help others deal with very real emotional issues.

The recently trailer teaser film, “Searching for Home: Coming Back From War” takes a personal look at veterans returning from war and their search for the “home” they left behind, chronicling their trials of assimilating back into civilian life and dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Christiansen, an award-winning filmmaker, knew this would be a challenging project, not only emotionally, but technically as well. For that aspect, he chose to shoot with Sony’s XDCAM HD optical disc camcorder, the PDW-F350. Christiansen wanted to work in an HD tapeless environment, and also wanted a camcorder that would be able to shoot and capture high-quality images in a range of conditions—interiors, exteriors, interviews, B-roll and more. The interview segments were especially critical, since he didn’t want to disturb a scene or a mood with too many extra lights or cumbersome tape changes. He needed a camera that could perform well in just natural light. The camcorder’s features, in addition to the immediate random access capabilities of the system and its Professional Disc media, were extremely beneficial to his project.

“In a documentary environment, being able to roll when I need to roll and not have to worry about cueing tape is a tremendous benefit,” Christiansen said. “It was a tremendous time-saver to be able to just search through the thumbnails and know what I have. That gave me piece of mind. I also like the fact the XDCAM system archives wonderfully.” Since Christiansen was essentially operating with a two-man documentary crew, the XDCAM system let him focus more on the story he was telling, without having to spend time worrying about the technology.

“I was dealing with an extremely emotional subject,” he said. “I didn’t have time to fiddle too much, because in addition to being the cameraman, I was also the director trying to making a major emotional connect with these people. It was very comforting knowing I could just put a disc in and be ready to go.”

The flexibility of the XDCAM system helped Christiansen get the most out of his interviews. For example, a key part of the movie is the commentary from Dr. Jeremy Crosby, psychologist, preeminent expert in the field of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and author of the book, “A Mind Frozen in Time: A PTSD Recovery Guide.”

Prior to interviewing Crosby, Christiansen was able to quickly search through the thumbnails and play back for him comments from other veterans, so the doctor would have the proper context to frame his thoughts. With tape-based systems, searching for the right clip and then having to get back to the next free spot on the tape to begin recording would have taken several costly minutes and caused a disruption in the creative process.

Using the XDCAM media’s random access capability, that time was cut down to mere seconds.

“The doctor was able to quickly see what was said and then reference that to give a more informed answer,” Christiansen said. “This camcorder was so comfortable to use, especially in the interviews. To be able to access material in a random, immediate way is a great time saver.”

The XDCAM camcorder was also able to easily adapt to changing environments, from shooting interior interviews to dynamic car scenes to motorcycle traveling shots through the field of Kansas, for example, with no set-up time required for each scene, he said.

“We were often shooting directly into the sunlight, and when the footage got to my colorist, he was blown away,” Christiansen said of the color correction session at Filmlook in Burbank, Calif., on their Da Vinci system.

“There was a ton of colorspace that he was able to work with,” he said. “The exposure latitude was incredible. He had everything he needed to make the shot look exactly like I wanted.”

Once principal photography was completed and it was time to begin the post process, Christiansen again realized the benefits of the XDCAM technology, saying “The tapeless workflow was awesome. Dealing with digitized files is tremendous, and the transfer was so easy. It changed my whole paradigm. I was so impressed.”

A few scenes in “Searching for Home,” particularly the Iraq footage shot by Sean Fairburn, were shot with a Sony HDW-F900R camcorder, with that footage converted to XDCAM files via a serial digital transfer. “That was really cool because I could take selects of that HDCAM footage, turn them into thumbnails, bring it into my Final Cut Pro system and output a final XDCAM copy,” Christiansen said. Christiansen is currently working with American Public TV, and distribution plans include airing the movie as a one-hour documentary on PBS for Veteran’s Day 2010. He is also currently in the process of seeking underwriters.

One of Christiansen’s close friends, Anthony Edwards, star of TV shows and movies such as “E.R.” and “Top Gun,” is working as executive producer on “Searching for Home,” helping to bring the movie to an even wider audience.

"Eric is a filmmaker whose work I have known for many years,” Edwards said. “He tells stories from his heart using the tools that come from his intelligence and his great abilities with the craft. This film has the potential to reach millions, enable many to heal and provide a catalyst for hope and change.”

For more information on the project, or to contact Eric Christiansen, visit


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