Better in filmmaker tips

Technology can only progress so far. It will get better but not at this astounding pace we’ve seen in the last 5 years. Now we are entering a perfect storm of social propaganda that threatens to enslave us in a never ending [camera] consumer cycle and it has nothing to do making films or making films better.

For 95% of video applications, what is currently available on the market and affordable to most people is “good enough”.  For the remainder 5% of projects there are a myriad of options available for rent. And yet I keep reading comments like “I’ve been asking for a camera that does x, y, z” or “This camera is crap because it can’t do 60p” or “Z Camera company is finally listening to their customers.”

Bullshit. No camera is holding you back.

You are holding yourself back.

The digital revolution has ushered in an era of artistic freedom. But freedom is scary. Freedom means we have to take responsibility for our success and our failure. This freedom also means your audience now has the same tools as you and you no longer belong to a special class with privileged access.  Freedom requires you to compete, which means you have to be good. You have to bring something unique to the table. That’s downright terrifying.

The reaction is to build up imaginary walls – Walls to separate you as a REAL Filmmaker from the hobbyist. Walls that reinforce your superiority over the riff raff.

And this is exactly what’s happening with camera discussions and flame wars. And the camera manufacturers love it.

THEY WANT YOUR MONEY.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist. I have no moral issue with companies making money. They build the tools I use to tell my stories and without that exchange for profit I would not be able to do what I want to do. It’s not a zero-sum game where they win and we lose – it’s a win-win. Filmmakers and Manufacturers have different objectives and our relationship is mutually beneficial.

The problem emerges when we as filmmakers lose sight of our objective (to tell stories) and play into imaginary walls vanity and class. The camera manufacturers have product to sell and once everybody has a camera, they need to convince us to buy another one to keep the revenue coming in. That’s when they appeal to our need for vanity, helping us build up our imaginary walls. The result is a constant state of dissatisfaction for sole purpose of selling cameras to replace the perfectly functional cameras we already own.

“I want it now. Give it to me now, or I will scream and scream until I am sick!!!!”

That hissy-fit quote above came from Philip Bloom’s run down on the new Sony F5 and F55 cameras. In context of the article it is clear he is being facetious. The F5 and F55 are studio grade cameras made for professional productions and he’s playing on the juvenile attitude for comedic effect.

But the childish sentiment is not uncommon in the online arena where aspiring (and inexperienced) filmmakers are trying desperately to crawl up the social ladder.

If Hollywood is about the manufacturing of dreams, then the industry of filmmaking is the wide glossy-eyed pursuit of those dreams. As filmmakers, we’re all looking for the golden ticket in.

For some, the camera has become that golden ticket. The camera has become a symbol of filmmaker’s status than a tool of creation. Higher end cameras are perceived as a luxury item catering to the filmmaker who has a “refined taste” or “great eye”.

It is more than just brand loyalty. With the product life cycle of cameras getting shorter and shorter (about 2-3 years before the community deems them “obsolete” even though they’ll function much longer) maintaining the imaginary walls as a filmmaker means you must have access to the latest camera offerings. You can’t be seen with last year’s model. But the cost of cinema-level cameras keeps wanna-be-filmmakers from “buying-in” to the prestigious class.

And it’s here where the dangers of the camera flame wars rears their ugly head. Ownership and Experience are not prerequisites to discussion anymore, all you need to at least waft a scent of filmmaking authority is sound like you know something.

FANBOYS AND SPECULATION

It happens like clockwork. Every time a new camera is announced, even before official press releases are sent out, blogs get filled up with comments from people either in eager excitement or trashing the camera. These debates almost always devolve into flame wars – any discussion on the grey areas quickly posterized into black and white ironically by people who shout the loudest for 12-bit color space.

Almost all “camera news” prior to a release is pure speculation. In the fast paced socially connected online world, information is a valued commodity and being perceived as “first” with any sort of news is key, even if that news is wishful thinking and/or completely made up.

Speculation is so prominent that a cottage industry has sprung up around it. There are sites that contain the word “rumors” for almost every hotly anticipated brand.

Of course fanboys eat it up. Fanboys have identified themselves as lords of the brand and superior to the ignorant masses. Having information on any new camera (even if it’s not their preferred brand) gives them a sense of authority that they can lull over their fellow internet commenter. Being able to say, “This camera sucks, you should wait until my favorite company releases their new camera” makes them feel as though they are speaking with a voice of experience even though that experience does not come from actually making films or making anything useful to society.

But what value to REAL filmmaker does speculation have? – Absolutely nothing.

What serious filmmaker is going to base a hefty buying decision on what amounts to nothing more than gossip?

Why should an aspiring filmmakers put off producing a film in order to wait for a new camera to arrive that’s only talked about by people that have never seen it and never used it? Speculation may be “fun” but it’s taking your energy away from what really matters.

NONE OF THIS CRAP HAS TO DO WITH FILMMAKING

Filmmaking begins with a camera, that fact cannot be skirted around. The Camera defines the art form, but the camera is not defining element of a film.

Having the same type of camera that was used on The Hobbit for example does not mean you have the same screenwriters, the same visionary director, celebrity actors, story rights, production designers, locations, lighting specialists, prop designers, stunt coordinators, editors, digital artists, location managers, producers, office staff, marketing representatives and distribution deals that are the REAL reason The Hobbitwill be successful.

It’s belabored point and so tiresomely cliche: A camera will not make you a better filmmaker. It will not make a great movie.

Thanks to technology, the camera is starting to become the least important element on a set: trumped by things like a fantastic story and extraordinarily talented cast and crew.