Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Do the Madison

I need to post these to clear my head from all the techno-babble that has been polluting my brain.



Passion and intellect. Now I feel better.

The Kopple photo hangs in my office for inspiration. It always makes me flash to that moment in Harlan County when the strikebreaker points his gun at the camera, pauses, decides not to shoot, and then keeps on driving. Which side are you on?

Interesting Times

Regardless of how you feel about the Red One as a tool, it certainly seems to have changed the camera marketplace. Camera companies tend to pace the introduction of new technology, both hardware and formats, allowing them to draw out the introduction of innovation in order to milk the maximum profit from it. (Yes, there are other reasons: for example, other companies need time to create products that support both the end formats and the hardware.)

HDV is an example. Originally created for the Japanese wedding market, the camera makers found that it was a marketable format as a step up (quality-wise and cost-wise) from DV. Several years later and many of the companies were still selling this "accidental" format, with Panasonic being an innovator with their P2/DVCPRO HD format. I won't go into HDV at depth, other than to say that it is what it is and it does what it does. I chose not to participate, for the most part sticking with DV and film.

What does Red have to do with HDV? Well, once the Red One was introduced, people started expecting (rightly or wrongly) an accelerated pace of innovation (both in hardware and formats) from the major camera companies. The real bombshell was when Red announced the Scarlet camera, a "3K" camera for "under $3K". What needs to be made clear is that the big camera manufacturers make nearly all of their profits from camcorders, from small-fry like us, and not from their high-end cinema cameras. The high-end cameras serve a role: R&D, prestige and also as an always changing "professional" standard that the prosumer market looks to with desire and dollars.

What has been the result of the Red marketing revolution? To a certain extent it has tied up the prosumer to low-professional level of the marketplace. Why? Because it seems many people are saving to buy their Red One, their Scarlet or an equivalent from one of the major manufacturers. The result is that you are seeing cameras coming out from Sony and Pansonic at a substantially lower price point than initially announced. For example, the HPX-500 has had a $2000 rebate for the past 6 months (the retail list being about $11.5K, with it actually selling at $10K and ending up at $8K with the rebate) and the Sony EX-3 was announced at about a $13K pricepoint at the 2008 NAB, yet is selling at $8300 at your local dealer 4 months later.

Now Red may be doing a little scrambling of their own with DSLR camera makers like Canon (5D MkII) and Nikon (D90) releasing cameras capable of 720p or 1080p. Earlier this month, Red announced that they were going to make a "replacement" for the DSLR market and that it would not be a replacement for the planned Scarlet or Epic. Yesterday, Red announced that, "We have changed everything about Scarlet because the market has changed and we have discovered a lot of things in the process. We have a new vision...." It appears as though they are starting over again with both the Epic and the Scarlet. What will that do to the projected release date of both products and to the seeming army of people waiting to buy them?

If you have any interest in DSLR filmmaking, here is a film that was shot within the past month on the Canon 5D MkII by Vincent Laforet. Remember, this is primarily a still photo camera.

I am not going to go into the technical/aesthetic issues between Red and other digital cameras. That is going on endlessly on boards. I did participate in a shootout last fall involving the Red One, 35mm and an HVX 200 (shooting Lomo anamorphic glass through a RedRock adapter). It is discussed here on and the HD file of the test is available for download here. The best comment on the thread, for me, asked whether the accompanying photo was a still from "Revenge of the Nerds." YES!!

Where is it all headed? Is it the best of times or the worst of times? Will the format you buy into today be acceptable a couple years from now? Here's the best advice that I've received from a couple of pretty smart people: "Get only what you need to reach the quality level necessary for your next show." And, "Why buy when you can rent?" My head is spinning after researching all the cameras and formats out there right now for the documentary I am shooting. All I can say at this point is that I'd like to buy as little as possible and spend more time worrying about telling stories than obsessing about the technology. Or, as my former advanced cinematography teacher put it, "There was a time when DP's didn't worry about data rates." And to stop asking, like kids on the family vacation, "are we there yet?"

If reading this hasn't exhausted or bored you, here's an interesting article written by Rian Johnson on Red hype, resolution, color depth, the Sony F 23, and the Genesis.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Web content strategy

This is an interesting blog post from Norman Hollyn on web content strategy. His blog (Hollyn-wood (Norman, that is)) has included an ongoing discussion of online content that is worth following (Note: he has moved his blog to Professionally, he has done many things, (most importantly for me he was the editor on Heathers), from editing features to new media development and teaching at USC.

His take on video content is pretty level-headed. Why would the essential necessities of visual narrative storytelling (drawing the audience in quickly, well-developed character arcs) be different on the web? He also gets some fairly funny pokes in at the New York Times and big-money producers who don't seem to get the difference between content and how it is delivered. Is it really possible that media experts can't tell the difference between "Don't Tase me, Bro!" and serial narrative content? The people who will be successful will produce content that is not just watered down television or incoherent splatterings (think YouTube). I'd really like to hear more from him on the relationship of business/advertising models to content in the future.