Technology Techno-no & Mainstreaming Video

Directing on the set of “The Cage”

As a young filmmaker in the 90’s I was so excited when digital video (DV) became mainstream because I was able to afford to make high quality films at a fraction of the cost.  I built a massive PC to edit on (using Adobe Premiere) that had multiple internal RAID drives to boast a whopping 115 gigs of hard drive capacity (that was a ton for a personal computer owned by a student in 1996).  Armed with a Sony VX1000, a few Lowell Lights, and a boom mic…I was ready to rock and roll.  In 1998 a few of my fellow peers started buying Apple’s with Final Cut Pro (FCP) which was very affordable but didn’t have the speed I required for my developing comedy show.  Besides, I’d worked for Media 100 and seen non-linear editing software like this come and go.  There were glitches with FCP, it relied on the Apple’s operating system which was not a mainstream product yet, and my money was on Avid reigning supreme in the end.  Then it all started to happen.  Apple computers got better, FCP was improved, and cameras like my VX1000 became old technology…in less than 2 years!  By 2002 I was able to do twice as much on my MacBook Pro with FCP then I could with my homemade PC and Premiere…though it was still the go-to when it came to 3D graphics.  My profession was becoming mainstreamed.

My first films were shot on VHS and edited using a VCR to VCR board with a few effects.  Then I switched to Super8 and I hand spliced my films in dark rooms and glued them together.  16mm came next and I learned to edit on a Flatbed (my favorite)…I still remember the whirring sounds as it rolled though film strips and hummed beneath my fingers.  Next up was 35mm (the big guns) but digital was on the rise so the thing to do was to get digital captures of your shots and then edit those together and keep the film as a master.  Then DV.  Then HDV.  Then HD.  Then hardrive HD…a camera that didn’t use tape or film…it just went right onto a drive!  Now the RED…an even more advanced version of hard drive shooting.

Each step forward my industry took I took with it making sure I was at the forefront of technology.  When DV came out I submitted 7 short films to festivals that year…funny enough…the one shot on Super8 and captured to DV was the one that got recognition.  When hard drives became the rage, there I was with MTV and Ice Breakers Sours producing from behind a P2 camera.  When 3D made a comeback and it all switched to Real-D I was working in the post production crew of the ground breaking Real-D movie “Scar,” the first to ever use this new technology process.  We were pulling computers apart and running optical fiber everywhere and trying to figure out how to make this technology work.  When the RED became the most sought after camera in the world I was right there directing commercials with it.  I stayed on the forefront…during the recession, and emerged profitable by adapting to the needs of corporations by downsizing to old-school technology and techniques…because suddenly the guy next door had a camera, Final Cut Pro, a few lights, a microphone, and was willing to work for close to free…because he was fresh out of college and didn’t have a family to support…just a Big Mac craving.  The tables had turned…it was 1997 all over again, only now I was the aging giant.

Shoots done on a P2:

Shoot done on the RED:

Behind the scene with a pocket camera:

Shoot done in Real-D (first ever)

Today I keep a little Cannon Vixia, some lights, and a microphone on hand for fun side projects.  I had to evolve to survive and for me that meant tying the production to the philosophy.  It was turning into a bloodbath out there getting work in production.  It didn’t matter if we were the best, we weren’t the cheapest…and every pimple-faced film geek with a degree in communications was suddenly vying for my job.  Think about it.  What’s in your pocket right now?  Most likely a smart phone with a 3-8 megapixel lens on it.  My cell phone can do more today that the thousands of dollars worth of gear I had in 1997 could come close to doing.  The internet is killing the newspaper and pocket cameras are killing the independent filmmaker…or giving them an opportunity to thrive…depending on how you look at it.

Shot on a pocket camera and Cannon Vixia:

Newspapers are vital because they report the news with substance, while the internet blurts out what is happening without the “why.”  Maybe the paper edition is near its death (like the phone book) but newspapers must remain.  I fear for them, not because they don’t try to adapt…because we refuse to adapt to them.  We want everything now and free.  Music stores are dying thanks to iTunes and the mp3, phone books are useless thanks to Google, libraries are dying thanks to Kindles and Nooks, and filmmaking…filmmaking is…I don’t know.  There is so much great technology out there that it has to be a good thing for filmmakers and artists to be able to use.  However, when you are using a technology that the guy who works behind the gas station counter has in his pocket to take videos of fireworks blowing up watermelons…who is your audience?  The 4th wall is gone because the audience is sitting there thinking “I could do this.”

Massively popular online commercial:

What do you think of the above commercial?

My wife is an abstract painter and we often sigh in disgust when people talk about abstract art as something “they could do.”  Its as easy as drawing badly right?  No.  Could you do it?  Maybe.  Did you do it?  No.  Did you (and/or could you) conceptualize it?  No.  The ability to point a camera at a moving object vs. telling a story through the art of film/video are two different things.  I can trace a drawing, but does that make my drawing original?  This is my dilemma.  Technology has made my profession accessible to everyone which is both awesome and terrible.  The possibilities are endless…but the audience has changed.  I suppose it’s a bit like cooking; I can make Mac and Cheese but I don’t think I’m a chef.

So now that technology has been compressed onto pocket devices and we’ve lost our attention span…we are all committing technology techno-no-no’s all the time.  It’s awesome that you can download an app from your iPad and do something technomazing with it…but don’t tell the IT guy how to fix your firewall.  He went to school for it, he put it there…hell he might be designing the next thing you desperately want/need from the app store for $0.99!!!  Don’t tell your accountant how finance works because you read an article online.  Technology connects us in ways we never thought possible…but some of us shouldn’t connect that often…and if we do we should do it face to face without the online guise of unreality.  I was accused recently as someone who shouldn’t be on Facebook because I’m immature and “the internet was not made for people like that.”  Immature, yes…but who was it made for?  Everyone.  Not to mention this guy was reacting to a post I posted on my wall (not his)…but that doesn’t matter anymore because we all live in these tiny microcosms of technology egotism where being online is no longer about exploring what is out there…its about sharing what’s going on with ourselves (says the blogger to his readers).

So…Labor Day (for you Americans) is this weekend.  Unplug.  Go outside.  Go look at some art and think about how it makes you feel and what you think the artists is trying to say.  Go see a film and enjoy the story line.  Put the iPad down, turn your phone’s ringer off, and light a fire in a BBQ pit.  Relax.  When the weekend is over and you go back to work, thank the IT guy for what he does because (seriously) you can’t do it.  Thank your co-workers for what they do, because they do it.  Last, thank yourself for what you do…because you do it.  Are you a techy like me?  Are you one of the few people who can do what you do?  Good for you.  Are you an artist like Kate?  Are you someone who does a job that other people think they can do…but they don’t…you do it, and you do it best.  Guess what?  They’re the same.  So just say thank you for being able to do what you do, love your family, and stop messing with my tech gear…I put there for a reason and I know what the @#*& I’m talking about.  😉

Geek Ryan

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