The Wave Returns

Post-production was the first Hollywood craft to face the digital revolution. It felt crazy and chaotic at the time, but in hindsight, we did pretty well with it. Just about everybody was able to make the jump to lightspeed, as it were. We worked hard to learn the new tools and, as a result, we were able to continue to do the work we love.

That first big wave of change has now spread out into the rest of the production chain and, today, camera seems to be going through a process similar to what we experienced a decade ago.

The wave has also moved out into the society at large. Not only does every teenager have access to post-production tools that are more sophisticated than what we had access to just a few years ago, but every couch potato can record shows with a DVR that would put our old Avids to shame. And everybody with a bit of internet savvy can get their short videos distributed free via YouTube.

In short, all audiovisual media is becoming digital and everybody can control it in unprecedented ways. Which means the changes have just begun — again.

We’ve been looking one way, at the tools, but the wave is coming from a different direction now, from the society at large. These are some of the issues:

  • The first digital editing rooms were based on monolithic software/hardware combinations that did everything you needed. More and more, today’s cutting rooms rely on a wider range of inexpensive, software-only applications.
  • In the past, entry into our field was limited via an apprenticeship program. Today, the barriers to entrance are much lower. You can learn a great deal not just in college, but in high school.
  • Editing used to mean lots of heavy gear. Now you can set up an adequate cutting room in your spare bedroom.
  • Getting film from one place to another used to mean driving or flying it there. Now it means moving it around on the internet.

How is all this going to affect us? What do we do to prepare for it? How do we shape these forces so they work for us? As I said at the Eddie awards, we have to put our heads together, come up with a picture of the post-production landscape of the future, and start thinking about solutions. And we have to put renewed emphasis on education, not just about the tools, but about that dreaded subject, workflow.

This 2nd wave is coming. When it hits, we need to be prepared.

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3 Comments on “The Wave Returns”

  1. Liam Says:

    I’m not sure if there is going to be another 2nd wave jump to light speed but I think there is going to a definite rapid evolution that will build momentum in the next couple years. It seems to me Avid and FCP seem pretty content with there programs for the mninute.

  2. christopher Says:

    hi steven,

    found your blog via the american cinema editors page. im the colorist at digiscope and laurel and i worked with you on material girls. nice to see you have a blog! i’ve added it to my bloglines. :)

    i absolutely agree about the changes that will come with the democratization of the tools. im definitely one of those people. i shot a short film last june and am just putting the finishing touches on it now. we shot 720p on the panasonic hvx200 using the p2 card system – phenomenal! pull the card out and pop it in your laptop and voila – footage ready to go.

    we edited on my macbookpro with fcp (im currently writing this from my kitchen table where im working on the film), did the color-correction in fcp using it’s color-corrector and magic bullet, and i did all the effects with shake. not only can you have an “adequate cutting room in your spare bedroom,” you can practically contain an entire post-production facility in a laptop on your kitchen table! write out a dvd and watch it on your tv. done.

    interestingly i just today attended the editing oscar nominees panel at the egyptian theatre and they spoke about this. the overall sense seemed to be that the tools are great, but they don’t help you find the story. the physical skill of editing film is going away, but the metaphysical skill of putting together a narrative hasn’t changed.

  3. Steve Says:

    Christopher — glad to see you here! No question, technical skill is the essential prerequisite, not the goal. Knowing the tool doesn’t make you a great editor. There’s plenty of bad editing out there, just as there was plenty of bad graphic design when desktop publishing first took off. But that’s temporary. As the tools become widely available people get the chance to enhance their artistic skills and talent inevitably emerges.

    Best of luck with your short. I’ll be excited to see it.


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