It was not your normal day.
Before the doors to MacWorld opened, I had the chance to sit down with Gary Adcock, founder of Studio 37, who lives somewhere beyond the high-end of today’s market.
“So, Gary,” I asked, “is the world really going to 4K?”
“Absolutely,” he replied,
And we launched into a wonderful conversation about 4K images, quad-HD, monitors, codecs, camera formats, and an eclectic discussion of the challenges of working with $100,000 cameras and lenses.
I loved it. Gary is a gifted story-teller and I’ll write about our discussion once I understand it better. I left convinced that the march toward higher resolution was inevitable.
Then, the doors to MacWorld 2012 opened and the first booth I saw was i4Software extolling the virtues of editing video on an iPhone.
Talk about mental whiplash…!
Last night, I presented a demo on Final Cut Pro X at the San Francisco Apple Store to about 70 people. Over half the people there had not edited video before. And less than 10% (because I asked for a show of hands) had ever been paid to edit video.
This got me reflecting on who is a professional and the future of video editing.
If video is your hobby, you can view the tumult our industry is going through with a bemused smile, as you watch an industry reinvent itself from the inside out.
However, if your livelihood depends upon trying to figure out what the heck is going on, that bemused smile turns into a terrified grin because all this industry change makes you feel like you are riding in a little red wagon while traveling at breakneck speed down a foggy mountain road.
Terrifying is a good way to describe today’s professional video environment.
MacWorld made an interesting shift this year. The last time I attended, three years ago, it was all iPod covers and iPhone cases. It was in danger of become Walmart.
This year, I felt like I was in Best Buy. Something intriguing lurked around each corner. There were the obligatory covers and cases – including, yes, an iPhone case that doubled as a bottle opener – but there were interesting vendors hidden in plain sight.
MacWorld showcased the world of mobile devices. I was reminded of the photographer’s credo: “The camera in your hand is better than the camera you left at home.”
As I walked the show floor I saw crowds in the i4Software booth learning how to shoot and edit video on an iPhone using their Video Camera app.
Cinefy showed its app for video editing on the iPhone.
Blue showcased their family of professional mics that plugged directly into an iPhone or iPad.
MicW Audio highlighted some amazing small mics – both lavaliere and condenser that plugged directly into an iPhone or iPad.
iPro Lens presented its wide angle and fish-eye lenses for the iPhone.
Audio Engine devoted their booth to wirelessly streaming 24-bit audio from a computer to a personal or professional sound system.
And, probably my favorite booth was IndiSystem. This was run by a long-time grip with an infectious smile, who, in addition to a wealth of ideas, has access to 3D modeling tools, aluminum extruders, precision lathes, and a plastic model shop. He runs a hardware-creation toy store! Out of this, he created iSupport: incredible camera accessories – like jibs, camera sliders, and grips – for the iPhone. Perfect tools for photographing miniatures!
After walking MacWorld, I was reminded of Wayne Gretzke’s famous quote: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
The high-end of the market is not going away; the world of Gary Adcock attests to that.
But the tools are changing. And I think MacWorld is showing us where the puck is going to be. Not for the high-end, perhaps, but for the rest of us.
Last night, at the SuperMeet, Alex Buono, the head of the Film Unit for Saturday Night Live, explained that he gets a script on Thursday, shoots on Friday, and airs on Saturday. Speed and workflow are everything to him. He shoots on a variety of cameras, with emphasis on the Canon 5D, 7D, and 1D. (And the new Canon C300.)
With budgets continually shrinking, camera technology morphing on a daily basis, and deadlines ridiculously short, I think we need to redefine “professional.”
There is a time and place for “heavy iron.” Some shows require all the equipment we can throw at them… (I was told recently that the SuperBowl will have 43 robotically controlled cameras this year.)
But all too often we define ourselves in terms of the tools we use. As soon as we do that, however, we limit our opportunities.
At the SuperMeet lounge last night, I was hanging around the Peachpit Press booth when an editor walked up and told me that when he first saw a demo of Adobe Premiere in 1997, he was busy editing linear tape and laughed when Adobe showed how to do a DVE move in software.
“Shoot,” he said, “with our equipment we pressed a few buttons on the switcher, recorded it live, and we were done.”
“Yes,” I said, “but it took you three-quarters of a million dollars of equipment to do it.”
“Ah,” he replied, laughing, “but it wasn’t my money!”
Today, it’s our money. And our time. And this affects our ability to feed our families. Technology this year is in a whirlwind of evolution, constrained only by the sluggishness of the economy.
Philip Hodgetts presented three ideas last night at the SuperMeet that can help us grow our business. He suggested we:
Just as the DV revolution undermined film, the new mobile revolution threatens a lot of what we used to believe in. But it also provides us a lot of opportunities if we recognize that people coming new to video on mobile devices can benefit from what we know.
Forcing the story to fit the technology you know is a trap. It will work for the short-term, but longer term you get pigeon-holed in a backwater with no clients. Don’t let old habits prevent you from learning new techniques.
All of us are story-tellers at heart. Focus on the story and your creative approach to it. When you let the story guide you to the technology it needs to be told, you will always be in demand.
People pay money to hear good stories well told. They could care less about the gear you use to tell them.
Let me know what you think,
12 Responses to Thoughts on What MacWorld Means to Us
What’s interesting is to deal w/ angst from other video pros re 4K.
To date, most corporations & a lot of content creators don’t fully use 2K & 90% of what we create is dumbed down from 2K for the web.
Our clients or the projects will tell us when we need it. In the meantime we spend our money on great glass & ante up our storytelling techniques to prepare for that 4K day & slick cam that will use the primes we own.
Interesting topic & conclusions.
It is plain to see that more & more of us “hobbyists” are messing about with video in a way that recalls what evolved with audio. For those of us who are musicians, it was an incredible time when affordable 4 track audio recorders were born.
The fulcrum of technical evolution is not just “can we do it”, but also “can it be made affordable to enlarge market size”. The reality is only so many can afford the high end and that slice of the pie will always be there. As general education levels increase and fewer people live in the sphere of subsistence life styles, the greater the opportunity to pursue activities of interest literally explodes. In other words, the pie gets bigger real fast.
One thing about human nature in general that is unchanging is the desire to communicate with others. If you have something interesting to say, others will listen, if you don’t, they won’t.
Larry, you’re absolutely correct, the audience doesn’t pay just to see the thing shot with the RED one. It definitely is the story & not the gear that makes the point.
I’m reminded of a similar shift in technology that I experienced back in the late 1970s. I was a graphic designer and type setter (typesetting is an industry that died overnight). With the introduction of the personal computer and programs like PageMaker, businesses suddenly thought they all had an in-house designer in the form of their secretary. They thought they could save money on flyers, posters and and other printed materials because they had the tools to create them. Anyone could do it, right?
The result was a lot of really bad graphic design, and you still see that today in small businesses. Cheap doesn’t mean good. In other words, just because you have the tool doesn’t mean you have the talent.
An iPhone is capable of capturing a great looking video clip, but it is in the storytelling that we separate the pros from the amateur. No longer are expensive cameras and gear necessary to make a professional video; what is required is the ability to use whatever gear is at hand, well.
I remember those days – “ransom-note design” we called it.
Your point is very true.
I am one of those video hobbyists Larry talks about in his article. I’ve spent the vast majority of my professional career writing ads and brochures – inventing ways for words to bounce off each other in an attempt to sell even the most mundane business-to-business products and services.
When I first started in the industry in London in the mid-1980s, none of our clients would consider TV (too expensive) or video – too exotic and only (they thought) usable at trade shows where, on a stand staffed by personnel already wasted from 2-3 days of freebie booze-ups, it could be used to fill in the gaps in their near unintelligible sales pitches.
(I remember watching one particularly hard drinking-executive who, after a lunch spent propping up a rival’s hospitality bar, was trying to explain to a potential customer how his company’s vehicle tracking system worked. Unable to form even the most simple of sentences, he gave up, pointed at the TV screen above his head and said: “Jez wash that”.)
In my world then, for nearly two decades, the written word was king – first in print and then on the web. Words demand narrative structure and clients knew that advertising copy had to have a beginning, a middle and an end. When video did become more available, and partly because of its linear format, it was treated pretty much the same way. When people thought video, they thought about single subject presentations with a beginning, a middle and an end. Great for training and infomercials but not much else.
That approach is, even now, detectable in the big multi-nationals I work for. They’ll employ video but very conservatively. It is nearly always commissioned as stand-alone, self-contained pieces or as quasi-TV current affairs programmes – even on the company intranet channels where they could be more adventurous.
Now consider my teenage nephews. Unlike some of my clients, they are not overawed by video – they don’t put it on a pedestal. To them it’s just another communication tool but they use it completely differently. They’ll start by recording messages to their friends on web-cams and i-phones; they’ll mash-up and edit in segments from favourite TV programmes and You Tube memes then add words to fill the gaps. The opposite in fact of the old-time sales reps I mentioned earlier.
They think far more visually than my generation – I think they prefer video to the written word. Yet they don’t necessarily treat video as needing a beginning, a middle and an end. It forms part of a communication mosaic that also includes text, still images and feedback from their respondents. That’s what they are used to and, since they are the next generation of consumers, that might well be where you industry is heading.
I can see advantages to this. Corporate internal comms people, for example, love running news stories about successful award-wining project teams. I duly interview them and they get published in downloadable pdf newsletters. However, while the written word can convey the scope and factual detail of the project, it can’t really do justice to the passion and enthusiasm the project team show when they are actually talking about that work. A two minute segment of i-phone shot video linked to the text could though. Providing the client is prepared to take video off the pedestal they’ve put it on.
So you’ll still be shooting video. And clients with any sense will still be able to discern an advantage to having video that is shot and edited professionally. But it’s possible that, increasingly, more of you will be asked to shoot a series of beginnings and ends or a group of middles. But not necessarily all three.
With that thought, I’ll go back to editing my mother-in-law’s 75th birthday party video in FCP X. I have big decision to make. Whether, in the final edit, to keep the part where she and her eighth glass of wine fall off her chair. I feel like living dangerously – I’ll keep it in.
The director of a publication I was talking to had some video shot by one of his employees and asked me how long it would take to produce a 60 sec. spot for his website.
I said; “a couple of hours”. His shoulders slumped as he said; “that stuff takes a long time doesn’t it”. Translation: No budget for video.
Which brings us to Philip’s advise #3 “Own a piece of the of the action”.
Create something yourself and sell it.
Expensive gear is fast becoming passe for the small company such as ours. Example: we shot a biography using our older Sony tape camera. But I ways backup a camera failure. To do this I used the “Flip” Camera and placed it next to the subject.
There is a God above. The Sony taped failed (for the 1st time ever) which left only the “Flip” Camera footage. From this one $139 camera we completed the project complete with audio, etc. It was augmented by iPhone clips and once put together was rather remarkable.
The client generally speaking doesn’t know quality vs: poor quality. All they care about is getting the shot, and providing them a video.
Anyone wanting to view the “Flip” camera footage (after editing just send me a e-mail http://email@example.com with the subject: Dorothy’s Footage.) Upon receipt I’ll send the vimeo catalog number and the password for you to use.
We are now using the iPhone more than ever together with our Canon 7D, etc..
I particularly resonate with Philip’s point #3. Having spent over 30 years producing how-to and special interest videos for the purpose of selling them, I am big on “owning a piece of the action.” The first video I made when VHS machines became available to schools was “The Elements of Pruning.” That was in 1981 and it is still selling today. It will probably sell for many more years as pruning isn’t likely to change and there aren’t many competing products. Same is true for my video “The Properties of Soil,” which won a Telly Award about 10 years ago and is a consistent seller. I do not own either of those titles.
I produced a simple entertainment/doc on my father, Patrick Smith, a popular writer in Florida. I shot it on a budget of $0 and in the past 7 years it has sold well over $150,000 and continues to sell. I own it 100%. Lesson learned.
When we shot The Elements of Pruning it was on 3/4″ tape with a separate camera/recorder and edited on an A/B roll editing system. PITA Today you could do it with a sub-$500 camera or iPhone and iMovie and it would look far better. This is a great time to be in this kind of video business.
I’m doing most of my shooting these days with a Canon Vixia G10 that fits in the palm of my hand… and my iPhone.
Great news! Sounds like one might take “Mac is back” to include Macworld is back. Larry leads the pack as usual. Thanks for keepin on top of it all. Bill
thanks for starting the commentary.
I always like reading the replies. I started just like everyone else, as a hobbiest. I shoot video on my iPhone and i carry a point and shoot camera too.
I’m lucky, Larry can attest to that. Yet even though I started as a hobiest like rest of us, I have never settled for being “good enough” at what choose to do. Art does not evole from your tools, but from your vision, and never forget that.
You may not be able to show your work anywhere but the highly compressed version published on the web, but that does not mean you should not think there is more to what you can do, look at justin bieber? Settling for anything less than your very best lessens you more than the work. I have never met someone lensing a feature that thought that way, and after all who has not dreamed of that job.
Striving to be your best with the best tools is not passe, and yes I get to work on “Ferrari ” level cameras and accessories, but that does not mean I forgot that I can still drive the Ford that is parked out back.
An excellent point – a Ferrari gives all of us a goal to strive toward.
Some great comments…
This is a really very interesting video sponsored by Adobe at Sundance.
“How technology is influencing storytelling and film”
If you have a spare hour well worth viewing.
I am constantly amazed what my daughter is being taught at University.
After reading what will be quite soon a years worth of gripes about Final Cut 10 she does not care what she edits on…
Technology just does not seem to scare these kids, they just want to get on with it.
Thanks to Jon Swift a “fellow Londoner” and a great post.