Thursday, October 16, 2014

5 Predictions for the Future of Filmmaking

Being obsessed with the movie making process I often speculate as to where the technology is headed.  Here are 5 predictions I think we'll see in implemented or invented in the coming years.

1.  We'll start with Video Literacy.  Educational institutions teach reading and writing as a basic curriculum.  Soon it will be necessary to teach at least some level of to make movies as well.  I'm not sure who coined the term "video literacy" but I do know George Lucas, among others, has often talked about it.  I envision a future where businesses will not rely on video production companies to produce everything and will start doing it themselves.  And I'm not just talking about a dedicated department.  I believe everyone, from the CEO to the new intern, will have to at least have some basic video production skills.  Employers will come to expect it on applicants resumes.  It seems obvious to me that because the tools are so accessible and affordable today it's only natural for more people to begin how to use them.  Video is the best way that I now of to communicate and idea, so why wouldn't we take advantage of that?

2.  Recently I delivered my first DCP (Digital Cinema Package), which is the digital equivalent of a film print, for a limited theatrical release.  It was exciting but it was also an intimidating challenge.  I read as much as I could online and asked a lot of questions to local projectionists as I could.  In the end it passed Deluxe Digital Cinema's quality control so I guess I did alright.  But during this whole process I couldn't help but think there must be an easier way.  The software plugins to make DCPs can be expensive and the servers to play them back at the theater have outrageous price tags.  I believe a company, perhaps Blackmagic Design or AJA, will develop an affordable digital cinema server that will not only play DCPs but more common formats like Apple ProRes files.  And this may by naive, but I'm hoping they'll find a way to do it for under $5,000.

3.  If you've seen my previous blog posts you may know that I'm a huge fan of Apple's editing software, Final Cut Pro X.  I've used it to edit 4 feature films now as well as many hundreds of other projects.  For years I've been dreaming of the day when I will be editing on a giant iPad.  Already we have iMovie on iOS devices, so I'm sure it's going to happen at some point.  I imagine myself moving clips around, trimming edits, playing with the color, and adjusting audio levels all in a multi-touch environment.  Someday soon I hope....

4.  A company that I've been very fascinated with is Lytro.  They make really cool cameras that are the next leap forward in photography. At a time when DSLRs have stagnated for years, Lytro has leaped into the future.  Their images allow you to adjust focus and perspective after you've taken the photo.  Plus you can even extract a 3D image.  So it's only a matter of time until this technology gets implemented into moving pictures as well.  Someday I believe we'll be ditching the lenses and heavy tripods and flying around with touch screen tablets.  In a virtual interface you'll be able to chose your field of view and depth of field to any custom setting.  And for those who liked how certain lenses looked I'm sure they'll have packages you can rent or buy from an app store to emulate a specific lens package.  It'll all be simple metadata that software will allow you to alter at any point down the road.  Further more we'll eliminate the need for chroma keying because the depth information of objects in front of this next generation camera will be stored digitally making it easy to cleanly replace backgrounds and objects.  This will require a lot of emerging technologies to be combined, not just Lytro, but I just got carried away describing my vision.

5.  This final idea I've had for over 10 years now.  I was playing Indiana Jones and the Emperors Tomb when I noticed a bit of cool sound design in the game.  As I got closer to these torches they got louder.  I started to think about how they may have programmed that and came up with an idea I hope to see implemented in the games and movies of the future.  Part of this idea is already in place with Dolby Atmos.  But I'd like to see it taken a step further.  So first think about how 3D modeling and animation tools work today.  You can assign textures and light objects in a virtual environment with a lot of detail and photorealism.  What if you could do the same thing for sound?  Imagine creating or reconstructing a movie set in the computer and then assigning properties to the objects and placing sound effects and dialog into this world.  Then you could place virtual microphones to capture it all in a very realistic way.  You could even create new sounds virtually.  It all comes down to accurate mathematical equations in this physics driven software.  I'd love to help develop a tool like this if anybody reading this has an idea of where to start development.

So there's a glimpse into the inner workings of my brain.  It all might be impractical or things could take a completely unforeseen turn.  But speculating on this kind of stuff helps me wake up in the morning.

Monday, May 26, 2014

What Star Wars means to me

Even though it can upset me, I don't blame anybody for asking, "Hey Brad, what do you think about them making more Star Wars movies?"  I am a huge fan, have been since I was a kid, and Star Wars is a big deal to me.

Like countless others, Star Wars inspired me to pursue my movie making career.  Before seeing the behind-the-scenes TV specials and making of documentaries for Star Wars I had no clue that movie making was even a legitimate career choice.  I began making videos by helping my brother and his friends with school projects and continued doing it with my own friends.  By the time I was 12 years old I was determined to become a movie director.  My parents were less thrilled, it didn't seem like a practical or realistic career goal to them.  But Star Wars ignited a passion in me and it has not stopped.

There is a whole other type of Star Wars fan, one that still loves the visuals, the stories, and characters as much as I do, but has no interest in knowing how it was all put together.  I have shelves dedicated to the making of books and all things George Lucas.  I can't get enough of it.  The immediate impact Star Wars had on the world is obvious, there were huge technical advances made in cinema for the first time in decades and "blockbuster" became a regular word in our vocabulary.  But George Lucas' digital revolution had more far reaching implications than just the way Hollywood movies were produced.

Anybody starting out in filmmaking today owes a great deal to George Lucas' original vision for the future of cinema.  The tools I use everyday were envisioned decades ago by Lucas and he stood out from the crowd by pursuing their development.  I am not just talking about big visual effects.  As a direct result of Star Wars we have ultra high definition camcorders, computer editing software, and surround sound in our homes.  Before Star Wars no one really cared to realize any of these technologies.  Now anybody has access to the tools to tell a great story, even with limited means.  The far reaching affects of this cannot be understated and it should not be taken for granted.

That is why I am so upset that JJ Abrams is so adamant that the production of the new Star Wars movie ignore all of these advancements and go back to shooting on celluloid film.  It's a technology that is over 100 years old.  It's expensive.  It deteriorates.  It isn't good in low light.  It scratches easily.  It has a lot of noisy grain.  It requires a lot of processing time and extra work.  Plain and simple it is not the most ideal way to capture an image.  I don't understand why anybody would ever want to shoot on it today other than for nostalgia or because they think they're too good for newer technology.

Is digital cinema perfect?  No.  Is film better?  Maybe in a few ways, but not even close when you go down a check list of every consideration.  Overall I'd pick many digital cameras over any film camera regardless of my movie's budget.

The decision to shoot a new Star Wars movie on film is a blasphemous statement that George Lucas got it wrong.  Everything he invested in and developed was a waste of time, money, and effort.  They're openly stating that the Prequel Trilogy was a failure and that it's time to go back to the way things were done over 3 decades ago.  I agree that the Original Trilogy is better than the Prequels.  But I don't believe it's because George Lucas was too caught up in pushing digital cinema further.  In fact, I would say that advancing digital cinema was the Prequels greatest strength.  To say that the Prequels were failures because they had computer generated characters and were shot on HD tape instead of film is as ill-informed as saying that Pixar movies are always number one at the box office because they are 3D animated instead of 2D hand drawn.

So what were the shortcomings of the Prequels?  It can be boiled down to one word, story.  I hope that doesn't sound like an oversimplification.  In fact story is the culmination of thousands and thousands of decisions, big and small, made by hundreds of people.  In the end one man was at the helm and the final decisions were his alone.  There are redemptive qualities that the Prequels possess, in spite of their shortcomings.  I still enjoy watching them and am happy that those new movies were made in my lifetime.  Likewise, I am thrilled that Star Wars gets to continue for the foreseeable future.  Currently I am most looking forward to the series "Star Wars Rebels."

What about Episode VII?  Sure, I'm jealous that I don't get to be the one to make it (as are many others).  But it's more than that.  Star Wars means so much to so many of us and I have my reservations.  Part of the magic of Star Wars is giving us something new in a way that we haven't seen before.  So I am highly suspicious of the Episode VII crew's idea that shooting in London on traditional film cameras with the original cast will somehow recapture the nostalgia of the originals.  Lightning seldom strikes in the same place twice.  So instead of looking back, why don't they look forward?

I admire filmmakers like Peter Jackson who are bold enough to experiment and try something new.  I didn't originally agree with his decision to shoot the Hobbit in 3D HFR, but I respect him for doing it.  Setting my own biases and personal tastes aside, I sincerely believe that new Star Wars movies should be done with a similar approach.  There is an entire generation of Star Wars fans that have spent more time in the Star Wars Universe playing video games than watching the movies.  And looking to the future, many movie goers will see traditional 24fps film much like we look at 16fps silent black and white film today.  The technology already exists to please the audience of the future as well as audiences right now.  So why not take the risk?

Whether it's old technology or new technology, it is still technology and therefor requires a technical process.  The advances that have been made in digital cinema are there to benefit us as filmmakers by removing unnecessary difficulties and allowing us to stay focused on more important things like story.  Digital is not a distraction, it enables artists to do better work than ever could before.  Thank you George Lucas for making movies better.

About Me

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Sandy, Utah, United States
I make movies with my friends. I like to find humor in just about anything. I live in a dark cave similar to Batman's as far as cool computer equipment goes. But my cave lacks the gym, car, and suit...