Recently premiering on Amazon, the second season of “Woodwalkers” follows a group of students as they take on a grueling 15-week training program to become professional lineworkers, constructing and maintaining electric power lines, at the premier lineman school Southeast Lineman Training Center in Trenton, Ga.
With a lot of the drama occurring in real-time 30 feet up in the air, we spoke exclusively with cinematographer and post supervisor Jonny Ginese, who talked about what it takes to film the show, including shooting during night storm training, intense hours-long climbing sessions, and intense Georgia heat. Shooting with URSA Mini Pro and URSA Mini Pro G2 cameras, Jonny and the crew are put through the same extreme conditions as the students, shooting for eight-to-ten hours a day in high 90s to triple digits with high humidity, and intense nigh time storms that are meant to prepare the students for real-world conditions.
PH: How did you get involved with the docuseries "Woodwalkers"?
Jonny Ginese: When I got involved with Woodwalkers season one I was on the post-production side. As the post-production supervisor, I was able to see all the footage coming through and I learned first hand the challenges that we would be facing when trying to edit and match the multiple different cameras that were being used during the production. After season one launched I was brought on as a DP to try to fix some of these issues for the following seasons by testing and ultimately choosing the cameras and lenses that we would use to achieve the look and feel that the director Adam Dukes and I wanted.
PH: How did you establish the "look"? What shots did you know you wanted to take?
Jonny Ginese: When we were trying to establish a look for Woodwalkers our goal was to have the images look as cinematic and natural as possible. Since this is a docuseries and not everything is in our control while shooting we really needed footage with a lot of dynamic range. Since this show is about the electrical utility industry we knew we would have a lot of shots looking up into the sky with characters 30-100ft in the air in all weather conditions. Without a camera, with a decent amount of dynamic range on overcast days, we would only have a white background, or on sunny days we would only have a silhouetted subject. Those unpredictable situations really made it difficult to choose the right camera.
PH: Did you face any challenges?
Jonny Ginese: Being a docuseries, we had to be shooting on a camera that was reliable, functional, and cost-effective. The characters of the docuseries work rain or shine, cold or hot, dry or humid, and day or night, Which means we had to as well. So, after picking the right gear for the job we’d say battling the elements was the most challenging.
PH: How did you manage to film long hours and in extreme heat?
Jonny Ginese: It’s all part of this type of docuseries. The typical shoot day would be from 6 am till 4 pm on location inside and outside. Then after that, we would head to our characters' homes to interview and get home life. In Georgia, the temperature changes could range from 60 in the morning to 110 at the hottest point of the day with 90% humidity. The URSA Mini Pro G1 and URSA Mini Pro G2 held up extremely well in these elements, and the efficiency of battery usage allowed us to roll all day with 2 HC 90s and a twin charger per camera.
PH: Can you talk about why you chose to use URSA Mini Pro and URSA Mini Pro G2 cameras?
Jonny Ginese: To answer this we really need to talk about season one of Woodwalkers. We had a mixture of cameras when we started shooting, we’re indie so we had to use what we could. We’re lucky enough to own an Alexa SXT Plus, Sony FS700, A7s, URSA Mini 4K, and in the past a Red Epic-M. Even though we were happy visually with the final result of season one, dealing with multiple camera sensors in post was a huge dead ache and we wanted to alleviate that for the next season. We could have stuck with the Alexa SXT plus, but it's really a crew camera. We needed our cam ops to be self-sufficient and to be able to shoot for full days for 15 weeks straight.
We ordered an URSA Mini Pro G1 to try out alongside the Alexa SXT Plus for our commercial shoot and we were pleasantly surprised at the image quality in comparison. It wasn’t long before the URSA Mini Pro became our go-to camera for our smaller projects because of the ease of use and great image quality.
When season two of Woodwalkers was in pre-production we needed to choose a camera that was reliable, had continuous rolling slow motion, great dynamic range, awesome image quality, and a great price point. For us, the URSA Mini Pro G1 and URSA Mini Pro G2 delivered on all of these points.
PH: How did they help you achieve the shots you wanted?
Jonny Ginese: The URSA Mini Pros were a great choice since we could rig them out for one person to use on their own. The campus where we shoot Woodwalkers is about 75 acres, and being able to get around easily was a big part of acquiring the shots and coverage that we needed. So the mobility, battery efficiency, reliability, and image quality made all that possible. Also, having continuous slow motion made capturing beautiful epic moments very easy.
PH: What were the night time storms like?
Jonny Ginese: As part of Woodwalkers, our characters endure a night training simulation. All of the de-energized lines that they have spent all 15 weeks of building are destroyed in about an hour by their instructors. When they return it looks as if a hurricane has come through and the goal is to “fully restore power” in about six hours. To shoot this night is pretty challenging since it's completely dark except some headlamps and lights from the utility trucks. We were able to shoot with the URSA Mini Pros at 800-1600 ISO by using a couple of Dracast LED panels out of frame to light each area while we were filming.
PH: What did the post process look like?
Jonny Ginese: In post, we had three full-time editors, one on logging/assist edits, one lead editor, and me as editing supervisor for finalizing each episode. It was such a pleasure to edit with the URSA Mini Pro footage since it took out the hurdle of matching cameras since they were all the same sensor. We were able to focus more on the story and progression with our allotted time. We filmed Woodwalkers in ProRes 422 HQ 1080p 23.98
PH: How long did it take to wrap everything?
Jonny Ginese: We started production in May of 2019 and the production took about 18 weeks to follow the class and do follow up interviews. The post-production was finished in May 2020, which is when we started the process of publishing the series to Amazon Prime.