The present and future of post production business and technology | Philip Hodgetts

Archive for January 2010

On October 31 last year Edo Segal wrote an article on TechCrunch with the title For The Future Of The Media Industry, Look In The App Store. The article is definitely worth a read but this jumped out at me:

But the entertainment industry has a vested interest in the success of this new type of convergence, as within it lies the secret to its continuing prosperity. The only way to block the incredible ease of pirating any content a media company can generate is to couple said experiences with extensions that live in the cloud and enhance that experience for consumers. Not just for some fancy DRM but for real value creation. They must begin to create a product that is not simply a static digital file that can be easily copied and distributed, but rather view media as a dynamic “application” with extensions via the web. This howl is the future evolution of the media industry.

It brings together some of the thinking I’ve been doing on how to challenge the loss of revenue from direct consumption or from advertising revenue when digital files of programming and music are so easily shared and copied. Techdirt.com like to summarize their approach as CwF + RtB = financial success: Connect with Fans and give them a Reason to Buy some scarce goods. Many musicians are already doing this and the results are summarized in the article The Future of Music Business Models (and those who are already there).

I agree that CwF + RtB is part of the future: we can’t charge for infinitely distributable digital goods but we can charge for scare goods (or services) promoted by the music.

But I’m not as sure that will work in the same way for the “television” business, which I define as being “television style programming professionally produced” even if it’s never broadcast on a network on cable. Certainly it will be possible to sell merchandising around programming, and everyone is encouraged to do that.

I’ve also written and presented – as long ago as my Nov 2006 keynote presentation for the Academy of Television ArtsSciences – that producers and viewers have to be more connected, even to the extent of allowing fan contributions.

Well, last night I had something of an epiphany that bought together Edo Segal’s thoughts and my own as I contemplated the implications of the recently announced Apple iPad.

As a brief aside, I find the iPad to be pretty much exactly what I was expecting (although I thought maybe a webcam for video chat) and interesting. Although I don’t see where it would fit in an iPhone/Laptop world, I can see plenty of uses particularly for media consumption. (For example a family shares an iMac but each of the older children have their own iPad for general computing, only using the iMac for essays etc.)

But the iPad doesn’t really lend itself to static media consumption as it has been: where the producer sends stories fully finished and complete to viewers who passively consume. That’s when the import of Edo’s comment struck: there is more of a future in media consumption for those producers who create the whole environment.  This has definitely been done by many movies and shows but usually with more of a consumption-of-information about the show, rather than a rich interactive experience where fans of the show are as important as the producers.

The future of independent production and media consumption is an immersive environment (website, or better yet and iPad app) with:

  • Content
  • Community (forums, competitions)
  • Access to the wider story, side stories or “back story” in various media formats
  • Character blogs
  • Cast and crew blogs
  • Fan contributions and remixes.

Such an experience would be almost a cross between a typical television program and a video game environment. Sure programming is part of what can be consumed on the site; but there are competitions, games, back stories; additional visual material edited out of the program source, with additional shooting, using technologies like Assisted Editing.

Any unauthorized distribution of content will only be distribution the content, not the experience of the program in its full glory.

Now, there’s no particular reason why this couldn’t be largely done on a website, but it is as an immersive iPad app that I think it will really be fantastic. The iPad is very immersive and tactile. It presents no “border” (i.e. browser window and other computer screen elements) to distract from the programming. It begs to be interacted with because holding it in place to watch a 22 or 44 minute show doesn’t appear to be going to be all that great.

There’s one more selling point for the iPad: it allows in-app sales, so some of the “reasons to buy” can be sold very transparently without even leaving the app’s environment. Avatars, screen savers, certain games or activities might carry a small charge. Yes, even the media itself (or some of it) could carry a small transaction charge. Smooth, frictionless sales in an environment optimized to engage people in the story of the show.

Apple’s iTunesLP format is a very small start in this direction by building a micro-site for the album artwork. This is very powerful because it supports most modern web technologies in a tight package and interactive features (all, b.t.w., without Flash but looking a lot like Flash).

Edo has some further good ideas and I recommend reading the article at the top of this post.

In my experience few productions – be they film or television – are well planned from a workflow perspective. It seems that people do what’s apparently cheapest, or what they have done in the past. This is both dangerous – because the production workflow hasn’t been tested – and inefficient.

In a perfect world (oh *that* again!) the workflow would be thoroughly tested: shoot with the proposed camera, test the digital lab if involved; test the edit all the way through to the actual output of the project. Once the proposed workflow is tested it can be checked for improved efficiency at every step. Perhaps there are software solutions for automating parts of the process that require only small changes to the process to be extremely valuable. Perhaps there are alternatives that would save a lot of time and money if they were known about.

Instead of tested and efficient workflows, people tend to do “what they’ve done before”. When there are large amounts of money at stake on a film or TV series it’s understandable that people opt for the tried and true, even if it’s not particularly efficient because “it will work”.

Part of the problem is that people simply do not test their workflows. I’ve been involved with “film projects” (both direct to DVD and back out to cinematic release) where the workflow for post was not set until shooting had started. In one example the shoot format wasn’t known until less than a week before shooting started.

Maybe there was a time when you could simply rely on “what went before” for a workflow, but with the proliferation of formats and distribution outputs, there are more choices than ever to be made.

Which brings me to the other part of the problem. Most people making workflow decisions are producers, with input from their chosen editor. Chances are, unfortunately, that neither group are very likely to truly understand the technology that underpins the workflow – or even why the workflow “works”. They know enough of what they need to know to get by but my experience has been that most working producers and editors do not actively invest time into learning the technology and improving their own value.

And when they’re not working, they’re working on getting more work. Again, not surprising.

But somewhere along the way, we need producers to research and listen to advisors (like myself) who do understand the workflow and do have a working knowledge of changing technology that can be make a particular project much more efficient to produce, but I have no idea how to connect those producers with the people who can help.

We’ve seen, in just a little under two years, how technology can improve workflows, just with our relatively minor contributions:

Rent a couple of LockIt boxes (or equivalent) on set and save days and days synchronizing audio and video from dual system shoots;

Log your documentary material in a specific way, and take weeks off post production finding the stories in the material (Producers can even do a pre-edit);

Understand how to build a spreadsheet of your titles and how to make a Motion Template and automate the production of titles (and changes to same).

If you know you can recut a self contained file into it’s scene components, how does that change color correction for your project;

Import music with full metadata.

These are all examples of currently-available software tools from my company and others that are working to make post production more efficiently. I wrote more about this in my Filling in the NLE Gaps for DV Magazine.

My question though, is how do we encourage producers to “look around and see what’s available” and open up their workflows to a little modern technology. To this end, Intelligent Assistance is looking to work closely with a limited group of producers in 2010 to find ways to streamline, automate and make-more-robust postproduction workflows. So, if you’re a producer and want to save time and money in post, email me or post in the comments.

If you’ve got ideas on how encourage producers move toward more metadata-based workflows? How do we get the message out?

So apparently some author comes up with a figure that online unauthorized distribution is costing the book publishing business $3 billion a year. (Once again repeating the totally bogus argument that each download is a lost sale but that’s for another post.) One has to question the independence of the study when the writer works for a company presenting a “solution” to the problem they identify, but let’s leave it for the moment.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s another industry that costs the book publishing business $100 billion a year in lost sales: libraries. Using the same methodology as the study in the cited publisher’s weekly article above, this blogger calculates that libraries have cost publishers $1 Trillion dollars in the last decade.

So, if we’re going to solve the book “piracy” problem in a way that really helps publishers, we’ll have to close all the libraries. After all they’re costing publishers more than 30x more than any unauthorized distribution does: even if you calculate that unauthorized distribution with totally bogus methodologies.

In fact, photocopying also costs the print publishing industry billions of dollars a year, so we should regulate their use. In fact, if the RIAA/MPAA want a “three strikes” rule, then it should be applied to everything.

A three-strikes rule (as introduced in France) would mean that if an unsubstantiated assertion from a record-company-appointed “watchdog” is made against an IP address, the account would be cancelled and the user taken off the Internet. (Note: this is without judicial process; without any proof that the account holder did the download; with a system that has accused dead people of “piracy” or any other legal process we normally hold as being important before issuing punishment. At least there has to be a trial!)

So, if this is a good idea for music or movies (like they’re some “special” category) then it obviously should be carried through to protect print publishers as well.  According to “Freedom to Tinker” it would work like this:

The government sets up a registry of accused infringers. Anybody can send a complaint to the registry, asserting that someone is infringing their copyright in the print medium. If the government registry receives three complaints about a person, that person is banned for a year from using print.
As in the Internet case, the ban applies to both reading and writing, and to all uses of print, including informal ones. In short, a banned person may not write or read anything for a year.
A few naysayers may argue that print bans might be hard to enforce, and that banning communication based on mere accusations of wrongdoing raises some minor issues of due process and free speech. But if those issues don’t trouble us in the Internet setting, why should they trouble us here?
Yes, if banned from using print, some students will be unable to do their school work, some adults will face minor inconvenience in their daily lives, and a few troublemakers will not be allowed to participate in — or even listen to — political debate. Maybe they’ll think more carefully the next time, before allowing themselves to be accused of copyright infringement.
In short, a three-strikes system is just as good an idea for print as it is for the Internet. Which country will be the first to adopt it?

After all, if it’s fair to have people cut off the Internet (and their life) based on three unsupported, unproven assertions from anyone, it should apply to everything. Right? It should apply to the children of Record Company executives (who apparently only got a “talking to” from their father -wish I could find a link to that story).

This is, of course, after the RIAA and MPAA have totally failed to establish that they have had any loss from piracy. (The biggest grossing movies were mostly pirated before release from within the studio.) Study after study (sorry Adage login required) after study shows that those who download music are the biggest buyers of music, but facts have never gotten in the way of idiot assertions from these organizations.

So, either we apply “three strikes” under some reasonable regime that would require the record company or movie studio to actually do what the law requires and identify the person at the account and prove that they uploaded a file as “making available” is not established legal precedent in any jurisdiction; or we’ll allow a regime where anyone can be accused of “piracy” by any other person without proof or the need to follow established law.

Which are you going to support?

On the Yahoo-based Final Cut Pro list MarkB posted this just a few minutes ago:

Gave my kids (14 & 16) a green screen kit from Cowboy Studio for Xmas. The older one does a sports video blog, the younger one shoots and edits it (Canon HV20 camera, Final Cut Express, 4-year old iMac).
They used their new chroma key trickery today. I helped them set up the green screen, gave the younger one a 5-minute lesson in how to use my DV Garage plugin, then stayed out of it except for a tip or two. This is what a 14-year old kid can do first time:
http://www.youtube.com/user/JLBsportsTV

Watch the video or at least the first couple of minutes. (I’m not that into football/soccer so it doesn’t mean much to me) but look at the work.Not only is the 16 year old good talent, but the way it’s put together is damned nice too. (In this style of presentation I’ll overlook my long-standing distrust of jump-cuts and live with fact that it’s become an acceptable style: heck in this example I think it works fine.)

Mark mentions that the keyer they used was DV Matte Pro, which I’ve also had a lot of success with: using it on A Musical Journey with Richard Sherman, on the 40th and 45th Anniversary Edition Mary Poppins DVD. After testing all that were available that’s what gave us the best results (although it does have a different approach to fine tuning edges than most keyers, which threw me at first).

I’ve long argued that we have to constantly be improving our skills, because those coming up behind us are staring with a whole lot better craft/technical skills that we did. In fact, we have to keep learning to keep up and make sure our experience and people skills are a whole lot better.

But it does make you wonder what these guys will do with their Christmas “green screen kit” if ever they discover 3D. (I suspect that would be the 14 year old’s realm.) Does easy, accessible keying technology really change production forever?

You can get a great deal on the AVP Conference for either the whole conference or any single days, by using my discount code: BIGBRAIN when you register.

I’m talking about the Association of Video Professionals Conference Jan 28-30 at the Radisson Hotel, 6225 W. Century Bld, Los Angeles (just near LAX). This year the conference has some of the best trainers in the industry, including myself, Larry Jordan, Frank Rohmer, Mark Spencer, and Bruce Nazarian.

My session, on Thursday 28th is:  Awesome Titling

How to use all the Titling tools available in Final Cut Studio to create Awesome Titles: choose the right font; better typgraphic design; when to use Calligraphy, Motion or LiveType; and animating fonts and glyphs.   Be prepared to experiment, be inspired and be exposed to new possibilities with titles in the Final Cut Studio ecosystem.

Register and use my discount code BIGBRAIN and you’ll get a 10% discount on the full conference or any single day. That’s $20 off a day and $50 off the three day Conference package. But wait there’s more! Anyone that signs up for the conference using my promo code will also receive a free one year Gold Listing on the FindAVideoProfessional.com site (a $149 value).

It’s going to be a great conference. Come along if you want to learn how to make awesome titles and I’ll see you there.

In Apple’s latest release of Logic 9.1, Apple have turned on 64 bit support. Now, I’m not privvy to the internal workings of the Logic code – I don’t even own a copy as I’m not a musician or post-audio guy – it is my understanding that 64 bit support requires the App to be written in Cocoa, the more modern of the underlying coding languages for OS X.

Logic was originally released on OS 9 and Windows by eMagic, long before the advent of OS X. (Apple purchased eMagic in mid 2002, less than a year after the first release of OS X 10.0, and Logic was well established before that.) Logic was therefore almost certainly written in the older language and used Carbon (the older language) for OS X compatibility.

As I’ve written before Apple initially announced that Carbon APIs (Programming interfaces) were going to be released in 64 bit; and then at WWDC 2007 announced that the Carbon APIs were NOT going to 64 bit after all. Basically meaning that, if you want 64 bit support (and you do with RAM hungry applications) then you have to rewrite to Cocoa.

This release of Logic would suggest that work has been completed on making Logic a Cocoa application supporting 64 bit.

That is good news because Apple have another piece of Carbon-heavy “legacy” code that they need to rewrite to Cocoa if it’s to go to 64 bit. That application is Final Cut Pro. The action on Logic is another data point that Apple is very keen to get its applications to 64 bit as soon as possible. Of course, the Final Cut Pro team are also dependent on QuickTime to also support a 64 bit Cocoa API through the QTkit framework.

Right now, the QTKit Framework lacks support for QuickTime features that Final Cut Pro needs: like the ability to read and write QuickTime Metadata through QTKit. (This is currently handled by the older “deprecated” C API from the Carbon days. A deprecated Framework can still be used but Apple are giving notice that you shouldn’t use it. Unfortunately, there’s no current alternative to the C API for that functionality.) So, it’s not as easy for the FCP engineers as it might have been for Logic because this example is only one place where the more modern API does not yet support essential functionality FCP needs.

Still, I’m encouraged by the Logic announcement.

As regular readers will know, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future of production: how we will produce, fund, build audiences and get paid. One of the four questions we must answer is how to produce less expensively while maintaining the quality.

It’s becoming obvious to me that one solution is to use more blue and green screen. (Green is typically used for electronic production while blue is usually the choice for film acquisition.) I have been in the mindset that keying was “just for when it can’t be done live” situations: to create scenes that don’t exist; to put people into a scene that would be too dangerous real (like adjacent to live wild animals) but a recent viewing of Stargate Studios’ Virtual Back Lot reel set me thinking. The reel is definitely worth the viewing, but to realize that “regular” street shots and building exteriors were all being done with green screen in studios instead of  going on location is revealing.

Of course, smart shooting isn’t limited to keying – I understand that co-executive producer on Mad Men Scott Hornbacher suggested a combination of a sheet of glass and some black drapery to simulate the view from inside a train, instead of heading out to Travel Town for the shoot. The shot took minutes without the expense of setting up for an outdoor shoot. However, keying is more broadly applicable and such ingenuity, combined with some use of green screen, is demonstrated in the Stargate Studios’ reel: check the shot on (I think) the Warner lot of a “newstand” that was little more than a lean-to on the side of a convenient studio exterior.

Technologies that are going to dramatically reduce in price and complexity over the next couple of years will be improved green screen keying and virtual sets. A series could develop many of its sets as virtual sets, shooting in green screen most of the time and building a million dollar look for a lot less than that.

[Update] Thanks to Rob Shaver from the comments. Sanctuary did, indeed, shoot 70% green screen to reduce cost.

Over recent months Larry and I have spoken regularly on a variety of topics, so I thought I’d post some of the interviews here.

RED Digital Cinema’s latest announcements and more on how we’re going to fund entertainment

http://www.digitalproductionbuzz.com/BuZZ_Audio/Hodgetts_BuZZ_091105.mp3

More of my thoughts on the Democratization of production

http://www.digitalproductionbuzz.com/BuZZ_Audio/Hodgetts_BuZZ_091126.mp3

My Look Back on 2009

http://www.digitalproductionbuzz.com/BuZZ_Audio/Hodgetts_091224.mp3

My thoughts on what to expect in 2010

http://www.digitalproductionbuzz.com/BuZZ_Audio/Hodgetts_091231.mp3

January 2010
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