Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Happy Place

Go to a bbq or organize/label my gels and diffusion? This is why I have a very limited social life. For the non-filmmakers, gels are used to color light, sometimes for aesthetic reasons or to match the wavelength of light to the film stock being used (daylight or tungsten). In practice, it usually ends up being a combination of both necessity and aesthetics. Diffusion is material that is used to make light softer by spreading the light source and breaking up the parallel rays from a direct light source. It also cuts down on the intensity of a light.

Whatever the use, these stinkers are expensive, about $6/sheet and over $100/roll, so they get used and reused.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Content is King. Long live the King?

Ah, the eternal debate. What is content worth? I remember those idealistic days in the 1990's, prior to the first internet bubble collapsing, when the mantra was "content is king." That concept, like the business model accompanying that first wave of utopian euphoria, is a nostalgic memory now.

Last weekend, I attended a workshop on "alternative" fund-raising and distribution. The idea that, in the digital age, content is rapidly being devalued has taken root at the grassroot level. Mind you, presenters included people who had screened films at Sundance and a very well-regarded documentary filmmaker. What were the underlying messages of the day for me? The film industry is potentially heading for a disaster similar to what happened to the recording industry as digital bandwidth increases. Markets will continue to fragment, leaving smaller and smaller economic rewards (however, people willing to serve these smaller markets will be able to make money off of them, if they know what they're doing). We are heading for a world where the content will be less valuable than all the ancillary materials surrounding the content.

What? That's right, the stuff around content will be what earns the content producer money, not the actual content itself. O.K., I am just reporting, so please don't scream at me. I am way too feeble minded to make such sweeping predictions. However, once you get past the shock of the idea of relatively valueless content, it's not such a revolutionary idea. All the way back in the 1970's George Lucas understood the concept of ancillary materials being more valuable than the actual content. In the original deal for Star Wars, Lucas gave up the right to profits from the actual films in exchange for exclusive ownership of all the ancillary products related to the films. Love him or hate him, I think it's safe to say that given studio accounting, he did quite a bit better peddling action figures than working under a traditional deal.

According to what I heard at the conference, small content producers are going to have to get used to the idea of giving away content and learning how to create and (I hate this word) monetize their content through creating an experience to accompany the content. Find, or create, a community (rather than an audience), serve it, and then rely on it for financial support. A poster child for one model using this approach is Jill Sobule, who raised the funds to make her last album from her fans prior to recording it.

Anyway, here are two groups that sponsored the conference: The Workbook Project and Current TV. Here is a link to the conference itself, DIY Days.

I do know that things are getting painfully tight for smaller content producers who are trying to produce content of substance. What can a consumer of media do? Be mindful of all your purchases, including web clicks and when you give your personal information away (that is ultimately what is most valuable to the people with the stuff to sell). How many cable channels do you need? Are you willing to watch content that is essentially one long commercial because of product placements (which seems to be one potential scenario as far as content delivered on the web)?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trip to Panavision

Today was a fantastic day because I got to go to Panavision. It's hard to explain what it's like to be there. I love almost all cameras but Panavision is a special place. A legendary cinematographer could be in the stall next to you, doing camera tests for their next feature. Plus, they treat you well there, even if you aren't a famous cinematographer. A couple of weeks ago I was there for an event and Joe Dunton gave a talk. He provided lenses and cameras for Stanley Kubrick (and many others) for much of his career. What I really appreciated was that his presentation focused entirely on motion picture artistry, not technical details. He also pulled out an f/0.7 prime lens. Geeks and Kubrick fans will know of what I speak.

I practiced loading film mags and operating the Panahead geared camera heads. Unfortunately, I still have a way to go, as far as operating the heads. For the non-film people, the magazine is on top of the camera (the part that says Panavision) and holds the film. The head is a geared support device for moving the camera smoothly. You can see them both here.

You know that you're crazy enough to work in film when you're happy to spend 4 hours moving a laser pointer on a camera head, trying to keep it in a series of thin white lines on a chart. You spin the wheels on the head and it turns the gears that move the head and the camera. It's kind of like rubbing your head and stomach at the same time with your hands moving in opposite directions.

There was a 5.4 earthquake while I was there. Everyone looked up for a second and then went back to work.