“The Good, the Bad, and the Not-So-Ugly”

No matter how much new technology we see every month, and it’s quite a bit, the important thing to remember is that everybody on a Local 600 camera team, whether it’s a Tier One indie or a giant blockbuster, is completely dedicated to one goal: creating images to tell stories. Technology is only there to service that goal.

No doubt, there are multiple facets to the sustained improvements in film and television technology. On the plus side, they’ve allowed our members to push the limits of their abilities to make images. On the downside, as technology improves, it’s getting infinitely more complex for us to harness these tools, in every respect. Of course, you can throw a camera on your shoulder, push the button, and get an image. But that’s not what Local 600 members do. We craft images with the utmost care and experience.

Take the job of first assistant cameraperson: Working with digital capture at very wide apertures, and with very high-speed imaging chips, makes the task of pulling focus that much harder to achieve. The depth of field is less than that of even anamorphic lenses.

On the flip side, advances in digital technology have allowed the director of photography to work closely with the DIT (digital imaging technician) to color dailies on set. New color management software has returned the type of control DPs once had in a traditional film workflow, which was a closed-chain loop with the dailies timer at the lab. Working with our DITs, we can show the director, the producers, the editor, and any other key creative partner how we, as cinematographers, want this image to look, which in turn is pushing producers to recognize the value DITs add to a production.

The downside of this process is two-fold – the layers of complexity with which DITs have to deal are progressing at a tremendous rate, and the transmission of dailies through “the cloud” tends to homogenize (via compression that impacts color space and resolution) the looks DPs instill in their images.

All the way up and down the line we are dealing with great advantages, as well as disadvantages, in the technological realm. And it’s going to take some more time for things to settle into a workflow just as routine as when we used to put a roll of film in the camera, push the button, take the film out, send it to the lab, and go home for the day.

Nowhere is the tech merry-go-round I’ve described more pronounced than at industry-wide symposiums, like this month’s NAB in Las Vegas, or the upcoming Cine Gear Expo in Los Angeles. Local 600’s experience attending these and other industry gatherings provides our members with a first look at the dramatic change technology is having on our working lives. Symposiums like NAB allow Guild members to get our hands on these new tools, as well as meet our colleagues to discuss the rapid changes in our industry. Understanding these new toolsets is a vital part of this membership’s ability to thrive in the workplace.

What do I really think about new technology? There are immeasurable upsides, as well as some downsides, and it’s not always pretty to use. But as long we keep our eyes on the prize – creating images that tell the full range of human stories – the good, the bad, and the not-so-ugly universe of new technology serves at our discretion and not, heaven forbid, the other way around.

 

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