Change Is A Constant

Posted on by Larry

[ This commentary first appeared on the Digital Production Buzz podcast on March 29, 2018. It has been updated for this article. ]

I’ve been thinking…

About 40 years ago, at the start of my video career, I had the pleasure of working at Maryland Public Television near Baltimore; though back then it was called the “Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting.” I was a producer/director, creating programming for education, local broadcast and PBS.

Recently, they sent me a note saying that they were celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year and did I have anything to contribute?

That sent me back to my closet. I tend to hang on to old production books and, there, in the back, covered in dust, were dozens of old marked-up director’s scripts for shows that appeared on PBS, as well as local stations in our regional network. Scripts along with supporting storyboards, set designs, even title cards in a few cases.

Contrasting media in the early 1970’s with media today is an exercise in “how much we’ve changed.” Back then, even the largest cities had, at most, four channels to choose from for programming. There was no time-shifting, digital recording, binge-watching, or even “500 channels with nothing on.” Reruns only happened in the summer.

Even the simplest one-camera live news feed took ten people and tens of thousands of dollars in gear. Communication was via 2-way radio. Lighting was measured in the thousands of watts and required a separate generator with cables the size of garden hoses running everywhere.

All this to create an image that was 0.3 megapixels in size.

It was the state-of-the-art and I loved it. But it was a game that could only be played by companies with deep pockets.

Over the decades, technology marched on. Gear got smaller, digital, and interconnected. Crews got smaller, resolution got bigger and distribution exploded.

In my closet I have a Trinicon tube. It’s the size of a loaf of bread – and we needed three of them in each camera to capture an SD image. Today, a single chip inside a cell phone has 24 TIMES the resolution of one of these tubes, at a size so small that you need a magnifying glass to find it.

The technology of media has evolved so much as to be unrecognizable – typified by the latest gear showcased at NAB each year. But the art of media – telling stories that move audiences – hasn’t changed.

This time of year, as breathless announcements of the latest “game-changing technology” swirl around us, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that stories are at the heart of what we do. And have been doing since film was first invented 126 years ago.

Technology doesn’t stand still – nor should we. It this hyper-competitive world, keeping our skills sharp is a a necessity. But sometimes, it’s fun to look back to see just how far we’ve come.

Just something I’m thinking about.

One Response to Change Is A Constant

  1. Christopher says:

    Larry, this post couldn’t be more timely and is certainly so relevant. I say timely as I was just having this conversation yesterday after wrapping a 3 day corporate shoot where I used so many different types of equipment (old and new) specifically to serve the story or emotion I wanted the audience to feel. As a Cinematographer, one of the first questions I’m asked is, “What camera do you shoot on?” My answer is always, “I shoot on probably a dozen different cameras, I have some I prefer more than others, but it usually doesn’t matter.” My answer usually leaves the person feeling a little bummed as they want to know what will make them better, and to their disappointment I tell them it’s not the equipment, it’s the learning the skill set. There are so many valid reasons we get sucked into the latest tech, you nailed it by mentioning NAB as one of them, but I can confidently say (and I do say often) that my success in this industry has been a direct result of selling my skill set and not the equipment I’m using. I’m never outdated because they aren’t buying what’s in fashion at the moment, they’re buying me. On the shoot we just wrapped we chose to shoot 1970’s spherical glass mixed with current Anamorphic glass. We used numerous filters in matte boxes, went handheld and on sliders/dollies. For different scenes we lit with HMI, Kino, Skypanel, a Parabolic Reflector, prototype fixtures not on the market yet and don’t faint…tungsten fresnels! (Gasp)
    The point is, they were all tools chosen and used to serve specific parts of the story, make the audience feel a specific way, not for the sake of using gear to brag about it. Thanks for writing this Larry, it’s so important for newcomers to understand this concept, I truly believe it’s the key to understanding our value in this industry and to keep clients paying for our skill sets not pixels.

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