April 15th, 2005 | Tags:

You know that Highdef has arrived when the real players in Los Angeles begin to embrace it. What we’re talking about are the producers who do the majority of the work, who constantly put out a great product and work with some of the best in the business. That’s just a little of the description of Jaffe/Braunstein Films, Ltd.

Jaffe/Braunstein was one of the first to experiment with HD for television. Their landmark series 100 Centre Street, created and directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet, was one of the first hour dramas to use HDCam as the capture medium. They also produced the Nero Wolfe series in HD for A&E. Since those early efforts, they have recently lensed four movies for television: The Brooke Ellison Story for A&E; Odd Girl Out for Lifetime; Evel for TNT and the just filmed Faith of My Fathers for A&E.

Michael Jaffe, partner with Howard Braunstein in the company, says: “We would film every project in HD if the buyers would let us.” His experience has been positive from the beginning. Jaffe says that HD saves him an hour to an hour and a half each day so the director can spend more time with the actors – fine tuning performances in a medium (MOW’s) that generally can’t spend the time because of budgetary restraints. In series work, Jaffe says that HD saved the company about $50,000 an episode and the director can let the camera roll because he’s not worried about the film cost.”

Michael was a natural for the Sidney Lumet 100 Centre Street project. He began his career with his father, Henry Jaffe, in 1971. Together they produced 15 television movies and miniseries. Michael also had experience with his father producing multi-camera television programs like The Bell Telephone Hour, and the Dinah Shore Chevy Show. So, when Lumet approached him about a multi-cam series, Michael understood what it would take to put together, and with the quality of HD, give it a film look. Michael remembers the first time he saw the dailies projected. He was immediately won over. And without HD, the series would not have been possible for a network like A&E. The program has not been seen on the air in HD yet, but hopefully we’ll see some re-runs in the future.

At the same time they were producing 100 Centre Street starring Alan Arkin, Jaffe/Braunstein was also producing the A&E series Nero Wolfe with Timothy Hutton in 35mm film. After the success with HD, Michael decided that he’d like to try it on the single camera hour drama. At first Hutton was a little nervous about it, but after Jaffe brought experienced DP John Berrie to the program, Hutton was convinced. The entire second season was shot in HD, with 15 one hour programs and three two-hours. Jaffe says that in addition to saving money, HD also allowed fewer lens changes, no magazine changes, smaller lighting instruments and near instant re-loading of stock. All this added to increased time working with the actors.

Michael Jaffe and Howard Braunstein formed their company in 1992. Together they have produced over 70 movies-of-the-week and mini-series. These projects include the three-hour television musical event Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific, starring Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr.; First Do No Harm, starring Meryl Streep; and Gilda Radner: It’s Always Something, all for ABC; a remake of the family classic Sounder, for ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney franchise; Steve Martini’s The Judge, starring Chris Noth, for NBC; Deliberate Intent, starring Timothy Hutton, the first original film for FX Cable Network; The Rosa Parks Story, the recent winner of the NAACP Image Award for outstanding television movie or dramatic special, featuring Angela Bassett in the title role, who earned both an Emmy nomination and an NAACP Image Award for best actress; and Ice Bound, starring Susan Sarandon, both for CBS; and Martha, Inc. – The Martha Stewart Story, which premiered with record-setting ratings May 19, 2003 on NBC; and an earthquake mini-series for NBC titled 10.5 featuring Kim Delaney, Beau Bridges and Fred Ward. 10.5 was the number 1 and 2 rated TV movie last year. All these projects were shot on film.”

With their success with 100 Centre Street and Nero Wolfe, the next step was to try one of their movies in HD. 2004 was the year. The first project was Evel, the story of daredevil Evel Knievel, produced for TNT starring George Eads from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The next motion picture opportunity came when a Christopher Reeve – directed project came to them titled The Brooke Ellison Story. Again Jaffe received some resistance from the director who was nervous about being an HD pioneer (the kind with arrows in the back). But under the guidance of a great DP and great experience with the format, Christopher Reeve came to love HD. The A&E movie starred Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, John Slattery and Lacey Chabert, and was Christopher Reeve’s last major work prior to his untimely death in October of 2004.

Another HD Movie-of-the-Week is Odd Girl Out for Lifetime starring Alexa Vega, which was scheduled to air April 4 of this year. Currently Jaffe/Braunstein is filming Faith of My Fathers in HD. Director Peter Markle also had reservations about Highdef at the beginning but now as Michael Jaffe says: “is having a great time with it and realizes the advantages in cost and efficiency on the set.” The movie is based on the book of the same name by Senator John McCain and Mark Salter. The story is about Senator McCain’s heritage from his father to grandfathers, and a poignant story of his experience as a POW in North Vietnam. Amazon books reviewer, John J. Miller says the book is “a complete and compelling memoir of individual heroism – one that will interest both political and military history buffs.” Under Jaffe/Braunstein’s watchful care, the movie will most certainly live up to the book’s reputation.

Although Jaffe/Braunstein Films, Ltd., is not always going to be doing their projects in HD (They’re currently filming Elvis, a 4-hour miniseries for CBS in super 16mm), the company has clearly placed HD as their preferred production format. NBC just ordered a sequel to the highly successful 10.5 tentatively entitled Apocalypse which will be shot in HD. Michael says “One of the convincing arguments, in addition to the obvious, is that it has a huge svfx budget and all the specialists think HD is the best medium for the effects work in post.”

Jaffe/Braunstein has shown that HD can save money and give more time to the production to keep the quality high while at the same time balancing demands of budget restraints. One of their biggest obstacles is foreign distribution, still reluctant to take HD delivery. Michael says that they insist on film elements delivered even though television is the only outlet. “As time goes on, this barrier will also come down”, says Michael.

Jaffe/Braunstein prides themselves as being a full service production company from financing and production all the way through distribution. HD has found a good home with Michael and Howard and we are grateful for their leadership.  

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