The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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As editor of the upcoming 10th edition of the American Cinematographer Manual, I found myself looking at recent technological changes in the industry with a new perspective. Certainly, the tools we cinematographers use to create our art have always been in a constant state of evolution, but the last five years seemed to spawn more attempts to reinvent the wheel than many decades prior.

For example, when I started the process of deciding what the AC Manual would contain in terms of new information, digital intermediates were still something cinematographers had to fight for because producers were balking at the extra cost. Now, if you try to bypass a DI and do a direct print, you are more likely to catch flak from producers who are convinced that the only way to get the film to look right is to do a DI.

I want the new manual to have more digital information within its pages to reflect our readers’ growing interest in emerging technologies. This is not to suggest that tried-and-true methods and materials are no longer relevant, but, rather, to make the industry aware of devices and workflows that are currently being used on professional productions. Also, because many of these devices were developed from a prosumer approach to end use rather than a professional approach, adjustments had to be made for use in the professional workflow. In the case of some digital cameras, this has led to the old “Frankenstein” syndrome, wherein a small camera has to be retrofitted with an army of wires, metal arms, junction boxes and lens adapters in order to be used effectively because it wasn’t designed to be used on a professional set.

The curious thing about the current rush to adopt new methods of image capture and workflow is that this chaos of experimentation has been condoned by entities eager to save money in a difficult economy. In the past, suggesting that a film be treated with a new processing formula, like bleach bypass, was met with great wariness lest the result not be deemed of sufficient professional quality to pass stringent distribution expectations. Now, if you say you’d like to shoot on some new camera that records on toilet paper for $10 a day, you are looked upon as a maverick who is saving the industry from oblivion.

There are six questions I ask myself when I embark on using any new technology in my work. These questions are especially significant if you work as an independent filmmaker whose work is not governed by studio preservation policies.

If I capture my images on this camera, do I have any assurance that the images will not be accidentally erased or deleted?

Are the captured images a true reflection of what I intended them to be, should I not be around to supervise an output of those images at a later date?

Does this camera actually make my job of filming this particular project easier, or is it making it harder and more expensive?

If I am filming in a remote area and my camera breaks down, will I be able to fix it with my multi-tool knife, or will production have to shut down?

Who is going to be responsible for making sure that all the metadata accumulated during production and post is properly logged and stored?

What is going to be the archival element for this project?

Innovation is valuable if it’s actually an improvement over what has come before. Reinventing the wheel is great, but make sure you have truly created a better wheel before you throw away the old one. And don’t forget to keep your eyes on the prize.

 

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