The Times are a-Changin' (part 1)

So I thought I'd throw together a bit of a segment on my blog to discuss my thoughts on changes that are going on in the cinema-making industry these days. Note most of this will come from an "indie" perspective - after all that's the world I'm currently in and I'd be pretty big pompous turd if I pretended to be making observations from an ivory tower. As per usual, my thoughts are just thoughts and definitely open to critique. But first, a little website business!

FUZZY IDEAS?

For a while now I've been calling this blog "LDLA," an acronym for my personal filmmaking creedo: "Live Digital, Love Analog." Unfortunately I often found myself trying to fit my content into the philisophical context of that ideal. Not working so much for me. The problem with that is that it's just the root of a personal philosophy and that's awfully muddy ground. Sometimes I stopped myself from writing about something because it was hard to be coherent in this context. Somehow, probably through self-criticism, it occurred to me that my ideas are often fuzzy. Well, a great man once said a thing about fuzzy ideas and I use that thought as a filter sometimes - if an idea is fuzzy I might be reluctant to talk about it. But then I thought a little about the Hegelian Dialectic - thesis, antithesis, synthesis - and realized that the only way to overcome fuzzy ideas is to put them through the forge of dialog. Even if that dialog is really just a schitzophrenic inner monolog. To which anyone who's ever read my ramblings can attest is mostly the case. So in the spirit of actually writing a little more often, even if what I have to say is complete and utter bullshit, I have re-christened my blog "Fuzzy Ideas," with much thanks to Jean-Luc Godard for the idea.

And now... On to the meat of this post:

Post-Production Wonderland

Last week was the 2011 NAB Show and there's much to talk about. I've waited a while and weighed my thoughts on what some of the offerings meant, but I think I can say that my initial feelings were true: 2011 is a landmark year for independent filmmakers in terms of post-production. There's a lot to be excited about, but the main thing is that the barrier to entry has been lowered.

The first big piece of news for me was that Adobe is offering a subscription model in CS5.5. If you're an Adobe fan (and I've spoken here before about my Adobe advocacy), this is very cool. Essentially, what cost $1,700 two weeks ago can be had for $85-129 now, depending on the subscription model. You can have Adobe CS5.5 Production Premium for as little as $85 a month with a year-long commitment. If you consider that Adobe has a product cycle of about 18 months this means you're paying $1,530 over that period. Of course, that's where the downside kicks in because if you own the suite outright, then it's only a few hundred dollars to upgrade you and keep you up to date for another year and a half. Or, if you're like some people and upgrade every other release, that gets you even farther. So, to be clear, the subscription model isn't cheaper in the long run; but for a filmmaker starting out $85 a month is a whole lot more digestible than $1,700 outright. And to be honest, Production Premium is the only way to get everything you need in one package (plugins and whatnot notwithstanding).

But there's more! And there may even be a reason here not to get a full subscription to CS5.5.

Another big piece of news was Apple's preview of FCPX (we don't say "X," it's "Final Cut Pro Ten"). Apple finally showed the world the complete, ground-up rebuild of Final Cut, built for 64-bit multiprocessing, etc., etc. It looks beautiful. Like it's made of Jolly Ranchers. I want to lick it. To a lot of people it also looks like it should be called "iMovie Pro" and that's not an unfair assertion. But if there's one thing that Apple does well (and actually there are several), it's user interfaces. OSX 10.7 is borrowing from iOS because there are some very natural things about iOS that translate to a better all-round user experience. Likewise, there are some things about iMovie that can probably be borrowed for an improved user experience. Yes, this means a learning curve, and No, I don't believe in change for change's sake; but evolution as a process is a good thing and sticking with old interfaces, models, and paradigms simply because we understand them is not good. Hopefully some good will come of this and Apple should be applauded for taking a bit of a risk. What is most concerning about FCPX though is how much we don't know. There's still no truly solid information about whether any of the suite survived and if it did not, how much of that functionality is integrated into the core application and how deep is it. Are Apple pandering to enthusiasts at the expense of the Pros? We'll soon find out I suppose, but one thing we know for sure is that the price for the core application is great. $299. Again, assuming - even if it isn't a full suite - that FCPX is a pro-level NLE, the barrier for entry has been lowered. Rejoice!

I love color. I like playing with it. It's one of my favorite things about post. It's one of my favorite things about cinema. I often use After Effects for color grading and recently I've picked up Apple Color. Last year, Black Magic came out with Da Vinci Resolve for the Mac at a cool Grand. That was awesome and I've been wishing I had the resources to use it ever since. Well, now they've come out with Resolve Lite! And it's free. As in free beer. It's limited, of course, but definitely not crippled. You can color SD and HD footage (no 2K or 4K, but if you're shooting on these professional formats be professional enough to fork out a little money for the real thing) and have a maximum of 2 nodes - which takes care of your primaries and secondaries; OR you could always use a 3-way corrector in your NLE for primaries and then use this for the heavy lifting. Anyway, once again on a professional platform, the barrier to entry is lowered.

Now none of these things will make you a master. There are a ton of people calling themselves editors, colorists, or even cinematographers because over the past few years it's been easier to approach parity with the pros in terms of provisioning. (I'm occasionally among these people). But having access to Resolve won't make you a master colorist and a cheap version of FCP won't make you the next Walter Murch. But you can get started on it and that's the point. Will the structure of the industry break down because of things like this? I doubt it. While the barrier to entry is lowered (sorry I keep repeating myself) the shit flows the way it does on a $100M movie for a reason and that won't change any time soon; but the paths into the business, and, more importantly, to expressing your own creativity, are growing.

The Trifecta

So I think there's a great, cheap, post-production suite setup now that can be had for chump change and I want to put it out there and get some feedback on it. Apple is very hard to ignore with their $299 price tag even if that doesn't include everything that's now in the suite. (By the way, the Total Cost of Ownership for a Mac-based editing system just went less than a PC. A $2,000 Mac with $300 of software is cheaper than a $1,000 PC with $1,500 of software). I love Adobe CS but the price tag is a bit hefty in comparison. There are things that you get for that though. For one you get After Effects which is a staple of my workflow. It beats Motion hands down for motion Graphics and is a great all-round compositing app. If you have to worry about anything in those realms that AE can't handle, then this budget filmmaking talk probably doesn't concern you. That said, I personally use After Effects 80% for color work, and not a lot of heavy lifting. It's nice to have when I need it for those things, but it's a big price tag and, as we see, I can do a reasonable amount of that color work for free now.

So my budget post-production suite is FCPX - Resolve Lite - and AE (as needed).

To me that makes so much financial sense. $299 for FCPX, $0 for Resolve Lite, and on the occasion that I really need it, After Effects on a monthly rental for $75 (which, unless it's a personal project, the client should pay for). These products will be out early this summer and I'm looking forward to trying this out. I may end up with a full-Adobe workflow in the end - after all, it is a really great suite - but I think this is a great and workable budget-minded combo. 

Heralds of Armageddon

Even though I don't think that any of this really spells doom for the filmmaking establishment, a lot of people talk as though it is. And honestly, while production is its own world and has a lot to deal with these days, the executive end of this industry really does need to wake up to the 21st Century. There're a lot of things changing that can't be stopped. In this spirit I give you this photo, aptly titled "Heralds of Armageddon."