“Progressive Progress”

I was fortunate enough to recently attend a seminar in Los Angeles on digital communications in the arts. One of the speakers was Rich Mintz, executive vice president of Blue State Digital (the company that helped to elect President Barack Obama via data collection on voter profiles and donors), who talked about how, as communication technology develops and more people use digital tools, the overall population is impacted in what could be considered some negative ways.

Citing research from MIT Media Labs, Mintz noted that in 2000 the average attention span of a media consumer was 12 seconds; in 2016 that average had gone down to eight seconds. He talked about a measureable effect, especially among the 18-and-under demographic, called “anxiety of disconnection.” What is this, exactly? Well, an example would be if a website takes more than three seconds to load, there is a feeling of being overwhelmingly disconnected from the world. Moreover, teenagers have become physically addicted to content appearing on their digital devices, and 50 percent of actually believe a virtual reality experience is real just one week after viewing.

I’ve spoken in the past about Moore’s Law, derived from Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s correct prediction (way back in 1965) that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit would double every two years. Moore’s Law has since come to be synonymous with the overall rate of computing power, i.e., chip performance, doubling in speed and complexity every 18 months in a progression that grows exponentially. Moore’s Law stands as a totem for all of digital technology, as does the concept that the cost of new technology outpaces revenue. We are experiencing a voracious worldwide market for media; as demand rises so do production costs, while value (and price points) dramatically are lowered.

This is certainly exemplified in the cost of new camera technology. The first disruptive digital camera system in our industry was the RED, and there have been so many advances in imaging technology since that have brought pricing ever lower – Canon, Blackmagic, even a system like GoPro that can produce 4K professional images for a fraction of the cost of what a 35-mm system once cost. We’ve even seen at least one successful independent feature shot entirely on an iPhone. (See ICG April 2015, Sundance section on Tangerine, shot by Guild DP Radium Cheung.) Further evidence of how much media has changed is that the prime demographic for Facebook is now 40–60-year-olds, while the under-25 set has migrated to the social-media sites Snapchat, Vine, and Instagram, all of which are so far beyond (technologically) what Facebook was upon its introduction more than a decade ago.

So what does this mean for our community? Simply that artistic ability – writing, directing, acting, cinematography, and all the other production crafts – are skills, while technology, no matter how sophisticated or progressive, remains a tool. And skills command tools, not the other way around. That means that producing media for commercial use must originate through a set of skill sets possessed by Local 600 members – from the loader to the director of photography. And in order to break through the constant din of media that now surrounds us 24-7, the skill sets of Guild unit publicists and unit still photographers are more valuable than ever. Whatever new technology we’re talking about – virtual or augmented reality, 3D, HDR, HFR, light field photography, or even connecting directly into the consumer’s brain (as in William Gibson’s prescient 1984 cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer), it’s still going to take a set of skills by this membership to create the kind of media the public demands.

It’s true there have been many disruptive upheavals in traditional production workflows in the last few years. But it remains a very optimistic time for us, as the market continues to fully harness the skills Local 600 members present. (I can confirm this firsthand after having walked the floor at NAB this past April.) I’m hoping, in the coming months, to see an ongoing discussion amongst the National Executive Board, Staff, and membership, to discover ways of using new technology tools to leverage our organizational culture and continue to support the kind of whirlwind of innovation that is driving media creation today and for many years to come.

 

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