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  "Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and The Story of Smile." From left to right, James Mathers, DP; Brian Wilson; and Noah Mathers, Sound Recordist.DOCUMENTARY SHOT WITH PANASONIC AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO CINEMA™ CAMCORDERS

SECAUCUS, NJ (October 5, 2004) – Two of the most alluring myths in popular culture are those of the reclusive artist and the lost masterpiece. These narratives coincide in this evening’s world premiere of "Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and The Story of Smile," a feature-length documentary chronicling the most famous unreleased album in music history, the legendary work of Beach Boys' co-founder and composer, arranger and producer Brian Wilson.

Directed by award-winning writer David Leaf and produced by LSL Productions (David Leaf, Steve Ligerman and John Scheinfeld) in association with Richard Waltzer's Chautauqua Entertainment, the film will air on SHOWTIME October 5th at 9:00 PM (ET/PT) and features dozens of candid interviews, including an unprecedented one with Wilson himself, exclusive "behind-the-scenes" footage of this past winter's tour rehearsals and the first ever Smile concert taped in London this past February. Director of Photography James Mathers shot major portions of the documentary with Panasonic’s AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO Cinema camcorders.

Wilson intended for Smile to be his magnum opus, in his own words: "a teenage symphony to God." The highly-anticipated record was scheduled to be Wilson's follow-up to the Beach Boys' masterpiece Pet Sounds, considered by many to be the greatest album in the history of rock 'n' roll.
However, in 1967, Smile was abandoned after nearly a year of work when internal and external conflict and Wilson's growing depression caused him to bring recording sessions to a halt. The news sent shock waves through the world of pop music, but the album's legend never stopped growing.

In May of 2003, Wilson startled everybody when he announced that he would be performing Smile and then re-teamed with his original Smile collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, to complete the album. More than 37 years after Smile was conceived, Wilson was finally ready to officially share the work in its entirety, and on February 20, 2004, he and his ten-piece band performed the entire long-lost album at London's Royal Festival Hall. Wilson is debuting Smile in America on a U.S. tour that began last month, and just last week Nonesuch Records released a brand-new studio recording of Smile, produced by Wilson.

According to DP Mathers,"The portion of the program shot during the premiere concert at Royal Festival Hall was recorded using a six-camera remote truck with 24P HD cameras.  The producers needed a more economical and portable camera to shoot the more than 100 hours of interview and background documentary footage, but the footage needed to cut up against HD.  I researched and shot extensive tests with the SDX900, even cutting it together with HD footage at Sunset Digital in Burbank.  With its high-quality 24P recording and native 16x9, even the facility’s engineers were hard pressed to tell the difference, and of course, the SDX900 was a much more economical alternative. I found it to have many of attributes of Panasonic’s VariCam® HD Cinema camera at a significantly lower cost and decided to buy one SDX900 and rent another. I got a hold of ‘Goodman’s Guide to the SDX900,’ a fantastic aftermarket guide to this camera, and gave myself a crash course in its operation."

He continued, "We traveled the U.S. and followed the group to London for the premiere, recording interviews (including the Wilson exclusive), rehearsals, and documenting the backstage activity along the way. The producers could only afford a six-camera truck for two of the six nights of performance in London, so it was decided to use the more portable SDX900 cameras to shoot all reverses of the audience, effectively giving us eight-camera coverage and keeping our SDX900 cameras available for the other four nights of the concert, where we picked up shots that were hard for the tethered cameras to achieve.  We were also available to shoot audience coverage of luminaries, such as Sir Paul McCartney, who didn't happen to attend when the HD cameras were present. 

"The audience was also not lit at all, making the challenge for the SDX900 cameras all the greater, but I think they performed magnificently."

Mathers rented additional SDX900 cameras alternately from Birns & Sawyer and Bexel, both in Los Angeles.

Panasonic’s AJ-SDX900 offers filmmakers the ultimate in acquisition flexibility, expressed in the operator-controllable selection of EFP-quality 4:2:2 sampled DVCPRO50 or classic 4:1:1 sampled DVCPRO recording, with support for native 16:9 wide-screen. The AJ-SDX900 combines in one camera the "look" and "feel" of electronic film, high-performance 525-line field production, and low-cost NTSC compatible news. It is also the first 50Mbps 4:2:2 sampled standard definition camcorder to offer 24 frames-per-second progressive scan (480/24p) acquisition, in addition to 30 frames-per-second progressive (480/30p) and 60-fields-per-second interlace scan (480/60i) capture.

James Mathers has served as Director of Photography on more than 25 feature films and movies-of-the-week, and has seen six TV series from inception thru their first season.  While still active as a Cinematographer, he also regularly produces, writes, and directs a variety of projects.  He is a co-founder of the nonprofit educational cooperative, The Digital Cinema Society. Contact him at or by phone at (818) 762-2214.

(Photo by: Merrilyn Herrera)