CAT | Random Thought
Shortly after I first arrived in the USA, I was teaching some Final Cut Pro classes for Intelligent Media. It was just before Final Cut Pro 2 was released, which I had been beta testing for some months, but 1.2.5 was the release version we were teaching. At that time it was challenging for new users to get settings right, particularly getting a good match between Capture and Sequence settings, so the first half day was dedicated to teaching settings and making sure they were right. It was personally frustrating because I knew that the about-to-be-releaseed version was much smarter about settings.
As it turns out, Final Cut Pro 2 was released early the next morning, so the first thing I had to do in that second day of class was tell my students that what we had learned the day before was no longer relevant for version 2 because the software had become smarter, and that made it easier for people to use Final Cut Pro and no doubt contributed to its success.
I was have a beer last night with my friend Joe B – @zbutcher on Twitter, follow him and check out his Final Cut Pro X curation site linking to all the stories he can find – and naturally the conversation covered the current Final Cut Pro X release and the consequent debate. In my mind, a good discussion is one I come away from with enlightened or changed thinking. And this was a good conversation. (more…)
Recent conversations – in person and on Twitter – have had me thinking about creativity and art: what are they and how do they apply to film, television and other production?
Most people associate “art” with the fine arts, but I think the term gets used without much real content. Most often “art” is conflated with “creativity”. With the additional complication that most people don’t understand what they mean by “creativity”, once again conflating it with fine art.
After perhaps one tsunami video too many, we got to talking seriously about backup and how “secure we were”. It was a disturbing revelation, particularly for people who live in an earthquake zone where the next “big one” is expected before I die!
Of course we both have dedicated drives for our Time Machine backups (being all OS X based here) but they’re in the same physical space as our computers, so if for some reason that was destroyed, we’d be no better off than having no backup. Ditto the demonstration media and archives of projects. Locally they’re stored on a RAID 1 drive for redundancy.
Having started raising the question, what are the answers? And that leads to the examination of what it is that you would need to get your “life back”, at least close to where it is now. I thought I’d share our thinking to stimulate your thinking, not only about a total disaster, but an immediate smaller one.
Professionalism is for Amateurs http://tinyurl.com/45doktd
After making the case that “professionals” rejected the founders of Google, the founders of Apple and that amateurs created the “much bigger than the pro encyclopedia” Wikipedia, the article finishes with this clincher:
My reluctance to work with so called ‘professionals’ goes so far that whenever someone says “Lets do this the professional way” or “But that doesn’t seems professional” I can’t help but instinctively move in the other direction. If it seems professional to me it sounds boring and unoriginal.
Its the awkward people, the creative thinkers and the unconventional innovators that rule the world. Not the people who act ‘professional’ and follow the beaten path.
Re-invent the world; act unprofessionally!
But what really is a professional?
Was at the Cinerama Dome to view the restored print of Windjammer and it occurred to me that there’s a lot of commonality between Cinerama (the three camera/three projector widescreen of the late 50′s and early 60′s) and 3D.
But first, a little back story. I have been consulting on the restoration of Windjammer as a technical consultant: making sure that the maximum amount of quality we could get from the print was available for the restoration.
I also advised on tools for the job. The Foundry’s Furnace Core featured prominently as did Adobe After Effects and Final Cut Pro. I also helped set workflow and kept everything running smoothly.
Unfortunately the complete negatives for the three panels of Windjammer are not complete. In fact the only place the entire movie is available was in a badly faded composite 35mm Anamorphic print.
David Strohmaier and Greg Kimble did a great job on the restoration – all on Macs with Final Cut Pro and After Effects.
Now this wasn’t a full reconstruction so we worked in HD – 1080p24 – but used the full height during telecine and correction so we didn’t waste any signal area with black. For the DVD, due in early 2011, the aspect ratio is corrected and a “smile box” (TM) treatment to simulate the surround nature of Cinerama.
Because we were working in HD, I was pleasantly impressed by how great it looked at Cinerama size on the Arclight Theater’s Dome Cinema in Hollywood. (Trivia point: the Dome was built for Cinerama it never showed Cinerama until this decade.)
Another point of interest was that the whole show ran off an AJA KiPro as it did in Bradford earlier in the year, and Europe last month. Each Act of the 140+ minute show was contained on one drive pack. Can’t recommend the KiPro highly enough.
So, there we were enjoying the story (and restoration work) and it occurred to me that there were strong similarities in cinematic style between “made for 3D” 3D and Cinerama.
Cinerama seams together three projectors into a very wide screen view that was the precursor of modern widescreen. The very wide lens angles favor the big, panoramic shots and shots that are held rather than rapid cutting. Within this frame the viewer’s eyes are free to wander across multiple areas of interest within the frame.
Similarly, my experience of “made for 3D” 3D movies is that it is most successful when shots are held a little bit longer because each time a 3D movie makes a cut, it takes the audience out of the action for a moment while we re-orient ourselves in space. (Unfortunately there’s nothing analogous to that in the Human Visual System, unlike traditional 2D cutting, which mimics the Human Visual System – eyes and brain together .)
Both Cinerama and 3D work best (in my humble opinion) when the action is allowed to unfold within the frame, rather than the more fluid camera of less grand 2D formats or 3D.
Since 3D had its last heyday around the same time as Cinerama, maybe everything old is new again? Digital Cinerama anyone? (How will we sync three KiPros?)
And one little vanity shot since today was the first (and likely last) time I’ve had my credit up on the big screen in a real cinema:
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?
One way or the other I’ve been thinking of what a “new media studio” would be like; how will people be paid; what would drive consumer demand; and all the rest that goes with a theoretical construct of a “replacement” for what we have now. Practically speaking, it’s more likely to evolve with many ideas in parallel, than come in one sudden upheaval that creates a new greenfield.
Although, as an aside from my main theme, I look ahead two years to when the actors’, writers’ and directors’ contracts come up for renewal. My feeling is that they’ll either have negotiated a settlement before the contract runs out, or we’re in for an apocalypse.
Remember that this a purely theoretical construct so I’m forgiving myself for not having every detail covered. What set me thinking, horrible-though-it-is was Demand Media. Wired’s article The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model is really a nasty kick in the mouth for production skills: essentially “quality” has no place in this (highly profitable) production line, where costs have been driven down by competitive pressure. It is probably the dystopian future we were warned against when the industry became “democratized”.
Fortunately I don’t think it’s feasible for television-like content. (I’ll just call it Television, but I mean the sort of content that people watch on networks, cable channels, or off a satellite or even via Hulu.) For a thousand reasons I’ll bet at a minimum a more complex production process and higher demands for writing skills. Even relatively successful Internet Shows often have underdone production values from lack of quality writing, lighting or sound. (And some are excellent in all three because they have been made by “old school” folk.)
But let’s step back and apply some of the principles and see what might come of it.
Based on audience demand
Instead of basing program ideas on some ‘gut feeling’ of a producer or executive we can take a lesson from the Demand Media case and design shows tailored to specific audience demands. Demand Media have algorithms that watch search terms and derive future “shows” as answers to questions people are asking ‘now’.
I’m sure there are ways of tackling similar challenges for TV shows. Monitor social media interactions for the types of comments being made about shows; use that data to derive algorithms to direct existing shows and find ideas for shows that will have an audience, and the business model for that audience would also be known. (See below, Funding it All)
Everything becomes a production line. It’s going that way now, but the whole process needs to not be recreated anew for each show. In a greenfield model, employment is constant with people moving from show to show as they come and go; moving from one creative grouping to another.
Everything is standardized: production gear, cameras, record formats, etc. Standard workflows, controlled by the studio.
Talent would be mostly staff – from writers, production crew, actors, editors, audio post – paid decent salaries and with good benefits. Everyone would get a decent salary with a flat salary structure (instead of the enormous salaries for some) but would also share in the studio profits. Everyone is motivated to make it work.
Talent (across the board) is nurtured in their craft advancement based on merit. (Implicit in advancement is the concept that people will leave, unless the studio always grows.)
Put production in inexpensive facilities, either purpose built (long term) in inexpensive locales (low cost counties) or in excess facilities from a declining (declined) old industry.
I see a lot of standing sets and green screen, and frankly a lot of synthetic sets.
Again with standardized production gear, all matching grip and common set modules for set construction. Work on the model of Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America: one standard service, in standardized aircraft with much simplified maintenance and costs for spares.
Standardizing on common equipment, workflows, formats and outputs would save production and post huge amounts of money. Equipping with modern gear that has great quality at affordable prices taking advantage of all the cost reduction of the last decade.
Production will require talent. We need it to “look and sound like Television” because that’s where a large market is at (if we’re in a greenfield remember). It will still need to be lit well; recorded well and finished to a high standard, but I would argue that the most profitable approach would be to go to the least expensive “good enough” solution. And by “good enough” I do mean that it has to be good, but maybe for this type of content, shooting with a Viper might be “more quality than we need to pay for”. But AVC-I or direct ProRes acquisition with a KiPro makes for high quality and efficient pipelines that maintain “good enough” quality.
Apply that concept across the range of production departments: good enough, but not luxury.
Promotion and Audience Building
I think there are a lot of lessons from the independent film producers who have learned how to build audiences, and it’s something I’ve presented on before. It will be more building and nurturing fan bases and involving them in the process as much as possible.
Funding it all
Ah yes, the million dollar question. Or multi-billion dollar question if we’re talking an alternative to the current Television industry. Of course, I don’t have any definitive answer because, well frankly, there won’t be one. As was obvious at Distribution U, there are many avenues to funding a program:
- some audiences will want to pay directly, and that’s a viable business model as I’ve demonstrated before, for even quite small audience sizes;
- less expensive productions make it easier for one advertiser (a.k.a. brand in recent discussion here) to sponsor the whole show (Mark Pesce’s Hyperdistribution model)
- use the show to promote merchandise, live performances, or other scarce good.
In one part of my mind I think a model like this could actually work. In fact I’m sure some variation on this is part of Jim Louderback is attempting with Revision3 and Kip McClanahan is attempting with On Networks. I suspect that no-one is going as radical as Demand Media, and I hope no-one ever does.
I have to say I was horrified to read that Ryan Seacrest was getting $15 million a year to host American Idol. To host, not produce, not to book a studio, not to actually produce anything but to host. To read a teleprompter and walk without falling over.
I’ve never met Mr Seacrest and I have no personal animosity but $15 million a year to host a talent show seems just wrong. Way out of balance with anything real. This is a 3x increase in salary over what he’s been getting – $5 million a year – for the same job.
That same amount of money would produce six episodes of Mad Men including paying all the far more talented cast (hey, they can act); paying the crew; locations; editors; facilities and presumably profit for the producers. All instead of paying one person to turn up.
I cannot believe that any one person brings that much value to a show. It just seems way out of balance to anything reasonable and human and really, tells me why the whole industry needs to be made over anew.
Equally stomach churning are the sums paid to the CEOs of the major media companies, even when the results they turn in are “disappointing” to say the least. Disney CEO Robert Iger earned $30.6 million last year while presiding over a 26% drop in profit at Disney? Where is the shareholder revolt? Why are they not demanding an $8 million drop in salary package?
It’s not just Iger; the rest of the crowd of losing value media company heads are all paid outrageous sums of money for the value they (don’t) bring to the companies they head.
Here’s my solution. Set a limit to the maximum ratio the highest and lowest paid employees of a company can earn. You want to increase the CEO salary, then everyone’s salary goes up to share in the (obviously great) results. Set the ratio at 100:1 if you like, but set a ratio that cannot be broken.
Until there’s some sanity I’ll be putting my efforts into demolishing that industry to start over afresh.