Split! – Does it take a village to make a movie ?



Director David Boyd ASC behind the three headed split on “Queen of the South”

While in the middle of production on a remake of Beaches for Lifetime with director Allison Anders, we started talking about the use of video split and she reminded me that the DGA have rules about the use of the video split.

DGA rules about the use of the video split

To quote from the bottom of page 71…

“Use of Video Assist The parties agree that on theatrical motion pictures and on television motion pictures ninety (90) minutes or longer, video assist may not be used without the Director’s permission. When the Director of a theatrical motion picture elects to use video assist, he/she shall determine the number and placement of monitors to be used.”

In other words, those watching a video split do so at the discretion of the director.

A monitor or video split or video assist on set these days showing the “shot” is so ubiquitous, it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t have them.

Considering the 100+ year history of cinema, the video split is a relatively new innovation.  It used to be that a director would simply stand or sit near the camera and simply watch the performance.


One of the first ever narrative film directors Alice Guy-Blaché

One of the first ever narrative film directors Alice Guy-Blaché


There was this seemingly perverse idea that the operator (often the DP) would be entrusted with the framing altogether.

When I first started out in the early 90’s they still weren’t all that common, the camera rental company where I started out used to rent a video tap for the camera as an additional hire.  From memory a super 16 camera was $650 a day and if you wanted a B&W split it was another $450 and if you wanted a colour split it was another $550 on top of the camera body hire.

Fritz Lang

Director Fritz Lang

It wasn’t unusual at all for a shoot to go without a split and the director would just occasionally look in the camera’s viewfinder and generally trust what the DOP / operator was doing.

Times have changed.

Walk onto any set today and you’ll see many many images.  There are sometimes multiple monitors on the cameras themselves, many focus pullers now have their own monitor for camera, then there’s the video village and the gallery village.

The series I’m in pre production on now has 12 monitors including camera on-board monitors.

The first splits I was working with were simple security cameras that were modified to show a grainy image from inside a film camera that could at best approximate the framing of the shot.  You couldn’t really judge lighting and it was even a stretch to really be able to judge performance.


Jerry Lewis operates what appears to be a Mitchell 35mm cameras with an RCA video camera above the viewfinder. Notice he’s not using the split but is still looking through the film camera itself.

According to Wikipedia, Jerry Lewis was the first to really make use of the video split. He has also made claims to being the inventor of the video split.

From the Wikipedia page on Video Assist

“Comedian and director Jerry Lewis is widely credited with inventing the precursor to this system,[1] although some similar systems existed before Lewis first used a video camera to simultaneously record scenes alongside his film camera during production of The Bellboy in 1960.[2] Director Blake Edwards was the first to use the beam-splitter single-camera system invented by engineer Jim Songer in the 1968 film The Party.[2]

I find this story pretty interesting because 1960 is VERY early days for the recording of video.  Video recording had only been demonstrated as being possible in a laboratory in 1953 and the most plausible video recorder that Jerry Lewis would have access to would have probably been an AMPEX QUAD system, which was only introduced as a prototype at NAB in 1956.

It’s possible the first time quad video recording was used for drama in TV was on a few select episodes of a series called “The Twilight Zone” in 1960. Video cameras were still pretty exclusive and expensive items made primarily for Television broadcasters.  Video recording was even more of a unicorn, requiring a lot of infrastructure and equipment just to run.

Early AMPEX QUAD video tape recorder

Early AMPEX QUAD video tape recorder



“In one of his most noted technical achievements, Lewis was the first director-actor to make use of a “closed circuit television preview system” (now commonly referred to as video assist) on an American feature film with “The Bellboy.” Lewis never had a closed set on any of the films he directed, preferring to allow people on the lot to come and watch him at work.”

There’s also this interesting article that would seem to dis-credit the Lewis claim to inventing the video split.

Around the turn of the millennium, that is, the year 2000, things started changing. High Definition cameras started to genuinely compete with film as a medium for narrative drama orgination.

And then something that had never happened before in the history of cinema transpired…Those at the video split had a better picture of the action than those operating the camera.

After nearly 100 years of cinema history where the operator always had the best sense of what was in the frame, we had a reversal.

Now the director would see a high definition and large image while the first electronic EVF’s on those HD cameras were usually crummy black and white images or at best 720p LCD colour images.

And it wasn’t just the director.  Around the same time, the invention of the video village crops up.  And just as the name implies, the “village” means a lot of people.  Script supervisors, make up, wardrobe, standby props, art department.

Even the name “Video Village” implies it’s a village!  It invites democratic opinion.  And going back to my discussion with my director Allison Anders, filmmaking really isn’t a democratic medium.  But when you have a “village” of people back there watching, it seems to give some of those watching permission to make comment or pass judgement.

Which is a long winded way of me getting to the point.

For me the video split is a modern necessity.  At the pace we work at today, especially for Television production it’s the only way to stay on top of production. But I have become very particular about the way I like to have video splits arranged on set.  I usually try to set this up with my directors and almost all of them seem to like doing it this way.

The first one I’m talking about here is what I call the director’s split.


Director Glendyn Ivin at the split behind actor Sophie Lowe on “The Beautiful Lie”

1.  Have the split in the same room

The most important first point for me to is to have this director’s split in the same room as the actors wherever possible.  Or at least be able offer this to the director.  There’s nothing worse than an actor and director yelling at each other across the set or between rooms for notes about a scene. Having the director in the same room shortcuts a lot of discussions about minutiae and again, having the whole crew hear about it !

Now, not all directors like to be in the same room as the actors doing the scene and some will prefer the separation, often because they want the thinking “distance” and prefer to chat to the script supervisor or producers / showrunners between takes and form a view about notes before coming into the actors space with those notes rather than workshopping them with the actors within earshot.   But mostly I find directors prefer to be as close as possible to the actors and will always almost always take the chance to be in the same room. It’s immediate and fast and inherently more collaborative.

Directors are also more situationally-aware when they’re in the same room.  This is something I often see as an operator as the scene evolves, the actors make discoveries about the blovking as they work in the space and through the scene.  If the director is there in the room they’re a part of that journey and choose to incorporate or not, those new discoveries.

The beauty of the directors split in-the-same-room model is that at any point or for differing scenes the director can choose to be in the room, or can also retreat to the larger video village split.

2.  Set this split up first before anything else.

Cameras and focus pullers aside, this should be set up before the Village get’s built.   That way I can be shooting faster and I’m not waiting for a village to be constructed.

3.  Still set it up even if the director doesn’t use it.

As I mentioned, some directors won’t want to use it.  But it should always be there in case they want to use it and be in the same room. Sometimes they can switch between the split in the room and the village.

4.  Keep it small and agile. 

One thing I do for this split is try to keep it small and portable.  I see all these rigs for directors that are somehow meant to sling and carry the split in their hands.

It never works past the first take because no one wants to carry that thing around!

So I try to find a sturdy stand, something with wheels if possible and then fit the monitors to that stand and create a small directors split that the director can watch. And they watch from a standing position.  Again, the key is be mobile and agile.


Split set up from “The Beautiful Lie”


Split Protocol.

Film sets aren’t a democracy.  They are highly hierarchical and for good reason.  Unfortunately, when you stand at a monitor and look over a director’s shoulders, it can sometimes invite a conversation about what’s on the monitor.

Often on long running shows at the big village you find there’s all sorts of conversations about what someone did on the weekend or an upcoming event. Stop!  Don’t stand in someone else’s office and yammer away about something that’s not to do with the scene that’s being shot right now.

Smaller monitors, means only a few can watch and it keeps everything more intimate.  Larger monitors at “the village” mean more feel like they can voice an opinion and because you’re displaced from the set it means you’re less connected to the tone in the room coming off the actors.


For years now I’ve been using the Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q and 7Q+. I bought two and they have paid for themselves many times over. For a long time time for me they’ve been the benchmark for image quality and they have some very customisable exposure tools and the ability to apply LUTs as well.

Only now years after they were launched are others starting to compete with their feature set and screen quality.  One other nifty feature I’ve been relying on is their ability to slave record, that is, to record automatically when the camera connected rolls.  This was a feature likely intended to be used for backup recording from a camera, but I’ve been setting it to the lowest quality ProRes Proxy setting to maximize the record time and I can get many many hours of material recorded for later reference.

These days it’s not that uncommon to use a third or even fourth camera, and the Odyssey has a great feature of being able to display a second input so you can switch between two inputs or display both (and record!) at the same time


Director Glendyn Ivin with his customised frontbox style table fitted. Yes, that’s cheese on the table.

So I go for these small Odyssey monitors on a small wheelable stand.   The directors often wheel it around themselves.  Some even add tables but most all use it standing.

Focus Pullers

These days a lot of focus pullers also have their very own dedicated split.  And there’s nothing first AC’s hate more than someone else peering over their shoulders at THEIR split that they’re trying to pull or check focus from.  And definitely don’t ask them why there’s weird red lines all over their image


I’ve used almost all the wireless systems out there from BOXX down, and I’ve ended up settling on the Teradek 2000 as the most reliable / best value.  (Yes, I’ve tried the 3000).

The BOXX are great but very much larger and very expensive.

Mostly I like the Teradek 2000 because it’s one of the few wireless systems that pass the SDI record flag.  That means the trigger record or slave function of the Odyssey works.  Many other transmitters DO NOT pass the record flag, including some of the lessor Teradek transmitters.  The other big plus is that they work fairly reliably.

Right now the setup I have is 3 x TX units and 10 x RX units.  With that much WiFi floating around, a lot of other systems get hung up.  The Teradek 2000 seems to be pretty resilient in these situations.  By the way, don’t go adding those mushroom polarised antennas to the TX unless you also add them to the receivers.

You’ll notice that I’ve added little noga arms to the RX units.  Teradek themselves say you should always have about a meter or 3 feet of separation between the RX units.  The noga arms help separate them and also to orient them broadside to the TX source, which dramatically improves reception.

So there it is, a long winded piece about the politics of the video split, complete with the way I like to have it run.

I have no commercial relationship with any of the vendors mentioned in this post.  It’s just the gear I use and the way I like to use it.






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Queen Of The South Season 2 – camera tests


Alice Braga plays Teresa Mendoza

I thought it might be interesting to share these tests with you.

I was invited to join the second season of Queen of the South, a successful FOX21/ USA network series which had already had a great first season.  It’s based on a very successful Mexican / Spanish language novel called La Reina del Sur by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

It had already been done as a Spanish language telenovela and this would be the second season of the US version of this epic narco cartel story.

I’d worked with showrunner Natalie Chaidez before on her show for SyFy, Hunters. David Friendly was the other EP who’d been with the show since the beginning.

Natalie originally described this story to me as a kind of cartel version of the classic All About Eve.  In the first season Alice Braga plays Teresa Mendoza who just barely manages to survive a trial by fire as she’s forced to flee from her comfortable and insulated life after her cartel pilot boyfriend Guerro is assassinated by cartel boss Epifanio Vargas (Joaquim de Almeida).  Forced to flee for her life she crosses the border illegally into the US from mexico and comes to the attention of Epifanio’s estranged wife Camilla Vargas (Veronica Falcón) who’s established her own Dallas based cartel stateside.


Joaquim de Almeida plays Epifanio Vargas

Learning the ropes and starting off as a drug mule, Teresa starts her journey to one day becoming a drug queenpin in her own right.

In the first season Teresa was really only barely surviving episode to episode and this season would see a gear change and really begin to explore her rise.  By season end she will start to challenge Camilla herself and we wanted to find ways to offer more of what Natalie describes as the aspirational drug cartel boss lifestyle !


Veronica Falcón plays Camilla Vargas

Our plan and remit was to bring more bling to the second season and to show the trappings of what success in a drug distribution world look like.  Aspirational locations and lifestyle, richer surroundings and more obvious wealth.  We would still have the gritty counterpoint and action that marked the first season as well, hopefully just adding on a layer of wealth and glamour to mask the ugly down and dirty side to her world.

This test was among the first I shot for Queen of the South, using Alice Braga’s stand-in Jamie Buckley.

Along with producing director David Boyd ACS, we tested a few ideas.  One was to shoot the more punk locations and scenes using a Super 16 sized cutout on the Alexa or maybe a RED.  We’d also use super 16 lenses for this to make sure it was a bit rougher and uglier looking, making it a bit more raw and unpolished.   Then we’d use the full sensor width / Super 35 for the richer and more lush locations and we wanted to see how that looked when shot.  You’ll also see a few different ideas for lenses as well.

The first season was shot using Panavision pVintage / Ultraspeeds and I was leaning towards keeping that choice, as I’m already a fan of those lenses.

We also looked at anamorphic lenses with the idea maybe of doing a 1.78 cut out but with the signature anamorphic look and flares on the glitzier locations.

We also came up with a simple idea that we used to do back on the old days on film where you simply stretch the frame by 5%.  This is a simple way to create anamorphic like bokeh.

If you listen to the sound on this, you’ll hear my candid views and discussion as I narrate this test to the show runner Natalie.  Normally we’d watch this together in a grading suite, but she was in LA at the time and David and I were in Dallas.

In the second longer clip here you’ll see me auditioning a few different looks for the show.  One would be the basic dallies look which I’d strike a LUT from for Dallas.  Then we tried a few different looks for whenever the show moves to Mexico.

Season 1 had already established a very heavy tint for scenes in Mexico, the typical yellow brown wash that is almost a cliche these days and I wanted to try and do something a little more sophisticated and subtle.  So you’ll see me auditioning those looks as well.

The second clip also has some practical tests of a few ideas from the first tests.  There’s a couple of “16mm” shots that re executed using a BM micro.  There’s also some auditioning of some techniques for shooting in a car.  I had my patient key grip Kerry Rike go for a drive with me as I tried a few ways of shooting him in motion.

There are some cool tests for an obscure device called an Arri Varicon and a newer version of the same thing made by Panavision, the Panaflasher.  The idea here is that you use a kind of veiling flare on the lens to alter the contrast in the image, or essentially, flare the blacks a little, sometimes with white light, and sometimes using coloured light.  If you watch you can see me adjusting it to eye as we’re shooting.  Let me know what you make of that !

The second season of Queen Of The South is currently airing on USA.


You can also watch the first season on Netflix.




Posted in Equipment, General, Uncategorized | Tagged | 5 Comments

IRND Filters

I recently shot a movie of the week in Vancouver and was lucky enough to get some early samples of the new Panavision IR ND filters.  I tested them here on both the Alexa and the Ursa Mini 4.6K.

You can see the Ursa Mini 4.6K is much more susceptible to IR pollution in this torture test under tungsten lighting.

I also compared the Schneider IR filters and you can see in the above link they really don’t measure up, whereas the Panavision IR’s look really great and were very consistent across their range.  I went onto use the Panavision IR ND filters for the movie and I thought they were great and really consistent.

Up until using them on this film, I’ve pretty much only used the wonderful Mitomo TRUE ND’s, but as some will know these are obscenely expensive and hard to come by.

Well, I recently discovered, much to my pleasant surprise, that you can now BUY the Panavision IRND filters, because they’re made by Lee, and Panavision own Lee.  And they’ve just started to sell them to us the general public !

Lee call these “ProGlass Cine IRND filters”.

Here’s the official page from LEE.

And here’s the official Panavision page.

And just to make sure they’re the same filters I checked by camera testing them!

So here’s a quick exterior IR filter test.  I shot using the Alexa Mini, shooting ProRes 4444 Log C 1920.

I shot the Panavision IR filters, my new LEE IR filters (which should be the same) and some Tiffen IRND’s as a comparison, along with the Alexa Mini’s own internal ND.

Below is a little edit of the 2.1 ND in all situations, so you can compare.  I was surprised how well the Tiffen did actually, as I’ve seen them be a lot worse.  The 2.1 ND is a real test because at that density you generally see lot’s of variation in colour and consistency.  As an extra check I’ve also shot using no filters at all.

Here’s the Digital Pigeon preview file (faster load)

Or watch here on Vimeo.

All I’ve done here is apply the Resolve / Arri default REC 709 LUT and I just used a curve to open the blacks up a little bit more.  I then applied this grade to all the clips.

I used shutter angle / shutter speed to regulate light levels and used false colour on the grey chip to maintain exposure.  It was all shot over about a 40 min period with very little cloud, so it should be consistent.  All the exposures are noted on the slate.

As expected, there are little variations in exposure and most surprising to me was that I found the Arri Alexa Mini internal ND’s to be a little green and differing in density on this default grade.

But if you want to check for yourself, go ahead and download the original camera files here courtesy of my friends at Digital Pigeon.

I’d be really interested to hear if anyone sees anything different, feel free to leave a comment if you do.

There are some tiny differences in the way the edges are finished on the LEE filters compared to the PV filters but the glass is the same, as are the pouches. I really like the little notches on the PV filters to let you know by touch how many stops they are.  I would pay extra to have my filters engraved with my name the way the Panavision ones are, I wonder if that’s hard to do?



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Intrigue – How far will you go ?


I’ve been flat out in pre production on a new Telemovie I’m shooting in Vancouver, but I wanted to share this little short film project from earlier in the year.

Following on from the launch video I did for the Olympus EM-5 Mark II, I thought it was time to put some of the newly updated features to the test on an actual short narrative style shoot.

I’ve been doing a lot of testing of the new FLAT video profile for the Olympus E-M5 Mark II and I was really keen to find out how far I could take the image if it was recorded to a more robust codec using an external recorder.

After the initial launch of the E-M5 Mark II Olympus have been taking feedback from video users and have included some of that feedback into firmware updates to further improve the video capabilities. Most significantly they’ve created a FLAT profile for shooting video and the thinking is to try and squeeze a little more DR into the image by starting with a lower contrast and flatter picture profile. This then allows you to put the colour and contrast back in during the final grade.

About the Shoot

I wanted to see how the camera and new profile would produce in a very minimal environment.  For me, this is when using a mirrorless camera really excells.  I can be very discrete and shoot without any requirement for permits.   With just two crew and the two actors, I was keen to try the camera in a few scenarios where I knew it might shine.

So I had three days.  Luckily I had some friends in LA on a recent trip to California that I was able to rope in for this shoot.

Now who hasn’t thought about driving the open highway in a classic car like a nice ’65 Mustang ?

So I had in mind to shoot some in-car work and also to visit some of the more iconic locations of California.

Starting at a wonderful standing “movie version” of an American gas station, we set the scene between our couple who meet for the first time.

The Story

After some initial frisson over the bowsers he leaves before they can talk, but she eventually finds a little surprise he’s left her.  A ring !

Later she realises that he’s left her a message inside the ring, it’s an Instagram handle.  Looking it up she realises he’s left her a picture clue for where he might be next, so she takes off to track him down.  After arriving at the beautiful Joshua Tree, she again finds another ring.  Checking in on Instagram, he’s left yet another clue, and she’s off again, this time to the snow capped mountains of inspiration point, about 90 mins outside of LA.

Once in the beautiful mountains she finds a third ring and it points her towards Santa Monica Pier where she finally meets up with the mysterious stranger.  They have a dance by the sunset before he finally offers her a final ring.

The Rules

I had no tripod.  This is all shot handheld.  No gimbal, no monopod.  There are a couple of shots where I had the camera mounted using a suction mount when it was on the car, but that’s IT !  So everything you see here is done using the amazing 5 axis image stabiliser.

The Outcome

With a grand total of four people, three days and 600 miles of driving this is what we got done !

The Gear

Everything was recorded on an external recorder over HDMI using the “clean feed function” of the camera.  I used a 5″ Blackmagic Video Assist recorder to record the HDMI signal to 1920 ProRes HQ on it’s internal SD card.

Intrigue was edited and graded using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve (which is available as a free download here)

If you’re interested in what the visual differences are with the flat profile, you can get a sense of where the grade started to where it ended up by looking here. The first image is the final grade and the second is the ungraded shot.


I used a combination of lenses, mostly the outstanding Olympus 12mm F2, and the Olympus 9-18mm F4-5.6.  I love these lenses because they are so lightweight !  For ND I used the SLR Magic Vari ND and in addition to these lenses I had some PL mount Zeiss MK 3 Superspeeds from my friends at Blacklist Digital and an MFT–> PL lens adaptor from Hot Rod Camera.

Thanks to

Special thanks to the awesome Jane Harber,  Armen Taylor on acting duties and especially to Jessica Clarke-Nash, who helped shoot and cut this for me. My good friend Hook did the grade.

I also really want to thank Kristy Galea and Olympus Imaging Australia for her awesome support and making this shoot possible, and Quett Lai for his masterful technical support.

Download your own files

For direct viewing in vimeo go here.

If you want to download some juicy large ProRes files to try editing and grading your own clips then go here.

Very special thanks to my friends at Digital Pidgeon for making these files available for download, it’s not easy doing such fast hosting of large video files.

Posted in Equipment | 35 Comments

In Memory of Morgan

I just learned of the sad news of the passing of a colleague Morgan Evans.

You have probably seen him on your screens and not realised it.  I was lucky enough to know this amazing stunt performer and director and got to work on a few shows with him.  I’ll never forget his boundless enthusiasm and energy and love of life.

I still remember seeing one of his VCA films as a young filmmaker and being so astounded at the audacity of his stunts, humour, production value and the political commentary he managed to combine in one simple film.

Although we hadn’t crossed paths lately, I miss you already and the world is poorer for not having you around.

Morgan Evans (pointing behind camera), Tony D’Aquino and I working on a TVC in Vietnam






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Ursa Mini 4.6 And Alexa side by side

So here’s an interesting one.

I had a chance while shooting some tests recently of the new Olympus firmware upgrade to the Olympus E-M5 Mark II to shoot some tests in a studio under controlled conditions.

I set up a 3200K balanced lighting setup and then also able to shoot the Ursa Mini 4.6K in RAW and then shot the same again with Arri RAW on an Alexa XT.

This was shot using Cooke S4’s and both cameras were exposed for ISO 800.

I designed this scenario to show some contrast and I’ve also added a brightness ramp on the back wall.  You can work out how many stops over and under from the Fc readings here.


Tungsten Set




I think the UM4.6K stacks up very well against an Alexa shooting RAW, but I’d love to hear if you think it does.

The only thing I’ve noticed now that I’ve had some time with these files is that there appears to be a small amount of IR contamination in the blacks around Maddy’s shirt and the fabric on the table on the UM4.6K.  This can be easily corrected but it’s unexpected.

I used a mitomo True ND6 here and these filters have been very reliable for me on other cameras.  I have to admit a lot of the other shooting I’ve been doing for Blackmagic I’ve been using the firecrest ND’s and haven’t seen this problem before.  It may well be that the TRUE NDs are letting in some IR that the UM4.6K is seeing, but I’d have to test further for that and haven’t had a chance to.

In any case please do enjoy these camera original files hosted by my friends at Digital Pigeon.  I’d love any feedback too if you’re finding the files fast to download or not.

Here are the Blackmagic shots.


And then the Arri Alexa RAW



Arri Alexa RAW open gate Cooke S4 32mm




Arri Alexa RAW open gate Cooke S4 75mm











Posted in Equipment, Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Ursa Mini 4.6K Carnival

With the recent shipping news on the much anticipated Ursa Mini 4.6K camera, I wanted to give people a chance to download and grade some more files.  I have a few other more “test” style shots coming, but for now I’m keeping it fun.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around the Santa Monica Pier at sunset and this is a selection of shots I managed to get.

I shot Ursa Mini 4.6K PL and no ND.  These are RAW 4:1.  I had the Angenieux 16-42 and the 80-200 TLS which is a rehoused Nikon lens.  Both are T2.8 lenses.

Because they’re compressed RAW, only the CURRENT version of Resolve will open these files. It’s a free download.

Also, I want to acknowledge my good friends Digital Pigeon for hosting these very large files.   They are hosting these for me for nix so please pay them a visit in return and consider their specialised high volume super fast file sharing options.

They put all the others to shame and I know from personal experience these guys are the best.


And so the files.

I was going to cut a little piece together, but I figure it’s just best if you get to try them for yourself.  I’ve got some little preview shots but best you download to see what they’re really capable of.

I’ve tried to include the darker evening and mixed lighting shots.  Normally a challenge for any camera.

If you grade and share these files online, please remember to acknowledge the source. I’d love to see you post your grades back here in the comments too.


1741 C0016_1.2.1


1741 C0018_1.3.1



1747 C0027_1.3.1



1758 C001_1.5.1



1811 C017_1.6.1


1812 C018_1.7.1


1818 C0024_1.8.1


1819 C026_1.9.1


1823 C031_1.11.1


1826 C35_1.1.1


1748 C0028_1.4.1




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