Wake-up Call

There’s something remarkable going on in the way our culture now creates and consumes entertainment and media. Through a constant overlay of technologies, we have changed not only our physical surroundings but also the way we react to even the most mundane of everyday events.

A striking recent example occurred while I was driving with a car full of colleagues and friends on our way to a restaurant in another city. We all knew the address of the restaurant, but not the exact location. As I looked up from the map on my smartphone display, I laughed to see everyone else in the car with their heads bowed in silence, carefully tracking our progress on their iPhones! (Thankfully, the driver was using the GPS on the car’s navigation screen.) The restaurant could have been across the street, but, of course, we never would have arrived until Google Maps told us that were so.

That kind of technological overlay is now commonplace and has created a total cultural shift in how Local 600 trains its members to succeed and thrive in the film, television and commercial industries. The most obvious result of this overlay is how many people are involved in the creation of the visual image – on set or on location – and how we, as a Guild, must service a shoot in ways we never have had to before.

A clear example is the many playback monitors now prevalent on set, all of which must be carefully calibrated to render a close, if not near-perfect, approximation of what the captured image is going to look like. Whatever the director, production designer, producer, actors, AD’s and others see on those monitors indelibly colors the creative process in ways large and small. Imagine a post-production team being saddled with imagery that bears no true resemblance to the director’s vision because Production’s HD monitors were not tweaked by Union craftspeople, or worse, not calibrated at all!

This consistency of image support must flow all the way through the pipeline for a project to be successful and accurately reflect creative intent – from the moment of capture and display all the way down through postproduction, previews, and the day things are finalized for whatever exhibition path may lay ahead. And technology, terminology and humanology (don’t try playing that last one on Words With Friends) have all been drastically altered to accomplish a new kind of seamless workflow.

In this world of digital bits (and bytes), Local 600 members play a variety of key roles that go to the very heart of facilitating this new paradigm. In rough chronological order they are: capture, treat, display, record and preserve the image. These are the different domains of the camera crew in the era of new digital workflows.

And this technological overlay I’m talking about has made a century-old process (light meters, film dailies, lab color timing) that was once transparent to everyone but the camera team visible and accessible to virtually anyone involved in making a movie.

It is a loud wake-up call for the entire industry to unify and work closely in concert – producers adequately filling and hiring all of the vital on-set crafts, cinematographers communicating early and often with VFX supervisors and digital colorists, to list just a few examples. And while no one can predict exactly where this new dawn is taking us, one thing is certain: the bigger and more complex a system gets, the more potential there is for things to go wrong. That’s why we need not only to watch each other’s backs as the ground shifts beneath us, but our fronts and sides as well.

Fraternally,

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