Digital snowflakes

I recently had an opportunity to do a pick-up shot for a friend on a movie shot on film, which is rare these days, albeit not unheard of. I went in and took out my light meter, set the lens, pushed the button and went home!

It was only after that recent experience that I realized just how complex the lives of camera department members have become in recent years. New technologies have radically reshaped straightforward production experiences like the one described above, while at the same time provided sophisticated new ways to visualize a film or television series.

Thankfully (from the perspective of this Guild, whose members are the ultimate guardians of the captured image), several groups were formed along the way to ensure these new technologies would be applied in ways that best serve the needs and goals of our industry, and not the other way around. Because when technology forces filmmakers to work counter-intuitively to how a production should flow, everyone loses.

Entities that have done amazing work in overseeing the implementation of these new technologies include the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI), put together 10 years ago this month by all of the studios to determine how images should be packaged, delivered and exhibited in theaters. The ASC Technology Committee, also formed more than a decade back, has provided an industry-wide forum to make sure digital technology developed in a manner that would best serve the images being created. They’ve had a huge influence on what we see on screen and in our homes these days. StEM (Standardized Evaluation Material) for judging the quality of projection was a major project this group undertook in conjunction with the Producers Guild and DCI. Another landmark was its CDL (color decision list), developed with all of the major studios, lab and postproduction facilities around the world, and scores of Local 600 director of photography members. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, along with the ASC, recently developed the IIF ACES image transform system, which could well be a true starting point for the creation of a device-independent, end-to-end color management system that will bring back the elegant simplicity of a traditional film workflow.

All this change has placed our Guild at one of its most important crossroads in recent memory. While film may not yet be dead, digital capture is very much alive, so we must consider how we work on the set, and in pre- and postproduction, to help shape the outcome without overcomplicating the method.

A few months ago I spoke at a digital summit hosted by Variety and called for an industry-wide ad-hoc committee to sit together and discuss what is the best way to help us achieve our goals. The response was tremendous and indicated there is a groundswell in this industry that truly wants to shape how production workflows will best serve the craftsmen and -women working on sets all over the world.

As my friend Leon Silverman at Walt Disney Studios has told me time and again: every single workflow is unique, and once it’s done it disappears and something brand new has to be invented. Like snowflakes, workflows are singular and ever changing. So it is up to this Union (and our industry partners) to decipher the best way moving forward. Make no mistake. Every Local 600 member is essential to this process – from the director of photography to the digital loader. Without the concept of where we’re going, we will be relegated to the depths of trying to figure it all out before a film ever starts.


Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600