Panasonic Camcorders Capture Recruiting Reality in Ballplayer: Pelotero

Growing up in Baltimore, Guagua Productions co-owner Jon Paley found himself drawn to the minor leagues when his major-league club underperformed. As he followed minor league baseball, Paley was struck by the concentration of Dominican players in MLB farm systems; nearly a quarter of minor leaguers hail from an island nation smaller than West Virginia.

“I started wondering where they come from,” says Paley. “You have two very separate images of Dominican baseball [players]: Big Papi hitting homeruns in Fenway [and] a barefoot kid running through the streets with a broomstick for a bat and a rolled up sock [for a ball]. There was never an explanation, no matter how far I looked, how one becomes the other and why such a small country so effectively produces professional ballplayers.”

Paley, joined by Guagua Productions co-owners Ross Finkel and Trevor Martin, set out to answer those questions, and in doing so, created the highly anticipated documentary Ballplayer: Pelotero, which opens in theatres tomorrow.  In order to provide a glimpse into the world of recruiting in the Dominican Republic, Paley selected Panasonic AG-HVX200 P2 HD handheld camcorders.

“We knew we needed a camera that had a reputation as kind of a workhorse, because we were going to put hundreds of hours onto it in really tough conditions — over 100 degrees most days, lots of dust everywhere,” says Paley, who directed the film alongside Finkel and Martin. “We just knew we wanted something solid that would live up to getting thrown around a little. And from all of our research, that was the HVX200.”

Beginning the Journey
Ballplayer: Pelotero
chronicles Miguel Angel Sano and Jean Carlos Batista, two of the top prospects in the Dominican Republic, as they approach age 16 and become eligible to sign professional baseball contracts.

Paley began production with one HVX200 camcorder, but after several months, decided that it was necessary to add a second camera. The two HVX200 P2 HD handheld camcorders comprised the camera complement for filming in the Dominican Republic, with a Canon 7D used in follow-up trips.

“We were familiar with the color palette of the [HVX200], which we think turned out amazing in the film,” says Paley. “From a sports angle… we did a lot of the variable shutter speeds [to] give it a different high-action look and also did a lot of slow-motion [to] get that slow-mo sports angle [that] you can only do by shooting in slow mo and never quite looks the same when you do it in post. We knew we wanted something with the ability.”

After initially struggling with external recorders, Paley and Co. switched to P2 cards, which enhanced the team’s mobility and allowed them to record and safely store massive amounts of footage. The film was edited in Guagua Productions’ New York headquarters using Final Cut.

Narrated by actor/writer John Leguizamo and Executive Produced by Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine, the documentary will debut in theatres, on-demand and online via iTunes and Amazon July 13 after screening at many national and international film festivals throughout the spring and early summer.

“The film turned into something much more than we ever expected,” says Paley. “We set out to make kind of a feel-good sports stories of kids trying to achieve their dream, and what we discovered when we got there was the reality was much more complicated. The system is extremely nuanced, and has its pluses and its minuses.”

Continuing the Story
As Ballplayer: Pelotero nears its Friday premiere, production of the sequel has already begun. In the sequel, the team continues to follow Miguel Sano, now a prospect in the Minnesota Twins farm system.

Paley’s crew needed an additional camera for the sequel, and decided to amplify their handheld shooting with the Panasonic HPX250, a P2 HD handheld featuring AVC-Intra 4:2:2 10-bit recording.

“It’s a beefed up version of the HVX200 and we love it,” says Paley. “We already knew the ergonomics inside and out, and we love the HPX250’s crisper, longer lens, the better depth of field, and the outstanding color quality.”

In addition to the HPX250, the team increased its arsenal with a Canon 5D. The HDX250 will be used primarily for close-up shots, while the two HVX200s will capture wide-angle shots and the Canon 5D and 7D will follow the action.