The present and future of post production business and technology

What if “video” is just another form of literacy?

A long, long time ago (at least 10-12 years back) I started to hypothesize that we were heading for a generation for whom “video production” was just another form of literacy. Eventually the majority of people will have some degree of production skills as a part of their work.

It’s not as wacky idea as it seems.  Go back a couple of  years and you’ll find only a very small elite had the tools and skills to read and write (the classic definition of literacy). Pre Gutenberg it was a very elite skill and definitely not something you’d want the unwashed masses doing. The ability to read and write was a defining skill that separated the “educated leadership” from the masses of followers. The Catholic Church continued the elitist practice of a Latin Mass, in part to continue a “mystique” about the ceremony because only the priesthood understood Latin.

Literacy, or the lack of it, is a way of controlling a population. Then we had the Industrial Era and (relatively) cheap printing and slowly more and more people acquired the ability to read and write. It was no longer “special” and no longer a guarantee of income or career that it once was.  Being able to read or write no longer defined the position.

Now that about 90% of the Western population reads and writes acceptably, we see how important it is to all types of jobs. There are very few jobs where you could fulfill the function of the job without knowing how to read and write.

Business WomanFor some people, their ability to write is their primary skill. Novelists, playwrights, screenplay writers, etc all primarily use their writing skills to make a living. But nearly every business person writes reports or writes PowerPoint presentations. People fill out forms for a living, or correct filled out forms and enter them into an electronic storage system. People (used to) write classified ads before Craigslist  came along. 

If you think about it, there are very few places where you could survive without knowing how to read and write: to be literate.

As I predicted, I think we’ve seen video production and post production skills move from being niche knowledge areas, accessed only by the High Priests (and occasional Priestess) of the Television and Film businesses. The technology was hard to work with, bulky, needed a lot of power and a lot of light. There were genius engineers who kept cameras aligned within themselves and with other cameras.

Today’s young production crews don’t have the joy of recalling the pain of aligning the three tubes in a camera to each other; or the “fun” of 4-Field (NTSC) or 8-Field (PAL) frame sequence in editing. Personally I’m glad those days have gone, along with linear editing and all that went with it.

Now, like the advent of cheap tools in reading and writing like the ball-point pen, electric typewriters and eventually laser printers, means that anyone who has a reason to write, can do so.

That’s where we are, or are heading, for the very broad field of ‘video production and post production’.  It’s not the job any more, it’s just a set of tools almost everyone uses in their life somewhere.

Laptop in classic library

But like classic literacy, only very few will make it their primary means of earning an income. Instead, those skills will be common to most people. Some will use the same basic skills to add some video to a news website along with the article, some will use it to record and present events, some will use it only personally, some will have to use it as part of their work and some will make it the primary means of income generation.

Instead of the latter being the only way to exercise these skills there are now many, many more ways to exercise them. As I say in my seminars on the subject, because of the advent of low cost, high quality production tools, anyone who has an idea and the drive can produce their project.

I don’t think “high end” production is going to go away, any more than widespread literacy forced the novelist out of business. 150 years later there are still highly successful novelists, just not a whole lot. There are a whole lot more (thousands of times more) who use their literacy skills as part of the way they make their living.

And that’s where we’re heading: to a world where there’s nothing special about video production skills, per sé, just different ways of leveraging those skills into an income stream in association with other skills.







11 responses to “What if “video” is just another form of literacy?”

  1. Alberto

    Very nice!

  2. Hey Philip

    The same thought crossed my mind, apparently around the same time that it did yours. There are many kinds of literacy, and I agree that video, or in a larger sense the field of moving images and sound, is one. People learn it like a native language, the basics coming as if by osmosis. With the addition of this rich visual and audio component the exchange of ideas and information can grow richer, more nuanced and complex. I look forward to seeing what’s done once we quit seeing this media just in terms of traditional film and television, what has been, and begin to employ it in previously unconsidered ways.

  3. I think there is some truth in what has been said.. however as stated the guys and girls who make a proper living out of post production will still be in demand and the skill that goes with that will be honed by the individual which will keep us employed.. I hope!!

  4. Zan Shin

    If video production becomes “just another form of literacy” to everyone, we can look forward to video content that is the equivalent of what texting is to comprehensible and intelligent writing. Oh, wait, we already have that in YouTube. Nevermind…the future is only yesterday squared.

  5. Mark B

    We may be entering an age in which visual intelligence becomes as important as verbal intelligence used to be.

    About 20 years ago I was supervising an online edit session. The editor was, I thought, the most visually talented editor in New York, and clearly much, much smarter than me. During a brief lunch break we had some fun with Trivial Pursuit, each person in the room taking turns reading the trivia questions. When our editor took his turn, he had trouble reading anything on the Trivial Pursuit card. He was barely literate.

    It made me realize what a funny thing intelligence is. I thought: If this guy had been born in another era or in another place, he might have been considered some kind of idiot. In fact, he was brilliant. Maybe if he hadn’t been lucky enough to work in video and eventually operate this million dollar online room, he’d have been driving a cab or worse.

    Nowadays, visual intelligence is ever more important, while the tools to make something of one’s visual talent are cheap. Video production skills are becoming, as Philip said, nothing special, which means that a more competitive video meritocracy will be developing.

  6. “We may be entering an age in which visual intelligence becomes as important as verbal intelligence used to be.”

    I like this statement. Gets to the heart of at least part of it. When I first posed Philip’s assertion I phrased it more like: “Are moving images the new literature?”.

    And I like this as well: “Video production skills are becoming, as Philip said, nothing special, which means that a more competitive video meritocracy will be developing.”

    But I don’t think there should be too much emphasis on “competitive”. What we’re discussing has to do with much more then the sanctity of a particular professional group. The situation is more interesting then that.

  7. Rafael

    About 20 years ago I worked as a broadcast designer in an editing facility with three 1″ Ampex (refrigerator size) tape decks, Grass Valley analog switchers, Quantel PaintBox, Betacams…swanky state-of-the-art gear at the time. The star editor and I got chummy and sometimes we’d get into a heated conversations about emerging technology. I was an early computer graphisticator of sorts and experienced how the desktop publishing revolution changed the graphics industry. Many specialized careers vanish because of this (part of my reasoning for migrating toward video). The esoteric process of typesetting and camera-ready art was officially demystified. Need a brochure? Why waste money on a graphic designer when cousin Vinny can do it?

    I was convinced that in the near future anyone would be able to shoot and edit their own video. The editor thought that was ridiculous because if ordinary people wanted to edit they would not only need special training and gear but a “literacy” for cinematic storytelling. I told him that may be so, but it didn’t stop non-designers from using new desktop tools to be creative, especially when it’s easy to use and affordable.

    I think the adoption to the vernacular of emerging technology has a profound effect on all literacy. New digital SLR cameras can shoot true 1080i HDV so photographers will now be HDTV enabled (with an array of lenses – wow!). Anyone that can use a browser and word processor can create a professional-looking Web 2.0 site.

    But with all the new cool tools at our disposal it still comes down to how to express yourself, and technology has a way to go before it can think creatively for us.

  8. Philip,

    When I was teaching an editing class at Pasadena City College, I always started the semester working forward from the first films which were just locked off shots of a train coming towards camera, or a mule train in the mountains, etc.

    Then I would work forward and show how the language of film developed. In a practical sense, your brain shouldn’t understand jumping from a long shot to a medium shot to a close-up. We train our brains to follow the language of cinema just as we train our brains to understand spoken languages.

    Everyone in modern society has the language to understand television. Some instinctively apply the tools of production and editing, just as some folks can naturally write great stories after reading enough books. For the rest of us though, learning the tricks of the trade is essential to creating good work.

    So I agree that there will always be a space for the professional who has learned those tricks through experience. For comparison, anyone can make a web page or make a flyer for their friends birthday. How come a professionally designed flyer or website looks os much better? It isn’t just luck.

  9. This is a great thread, and lots of guys are pegging it.
    Even though technology can help us close lots of gaps, and increase the capabilities of the average Joe, one still has to have something to say, and the drive to learn how to say it. Otherwise, we need professional help.
    Even with technology, no one can do everything, and only a few people can do ‘most’ things. Especially because of technology, there are more and more skills made available; and with the soon advent of the memristor (and even more advanced technology than that) it will only be all the more so.

  10. Well said. Great!

  11. I found this post when I was searching for more material on “video or screen literacy”. I started out reading about this through Kevin Kellys article in the New Yourk Times Magazine, Idea Lab, Nov. 23, 2008: Becoming Screen Literate. Very worthwhile reading.