Guest blogger Bart Weiss is the Artistic Director of VideoFest.
This time of year, we’re deluged with best-of-the-year and best-of-the-decade lists. And while those things are interesting to read, think about and jog our memories, most of it is just stuff to fill the empty spaces of the pages and our lives, which around this time of year are working about half speed.
I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about what has happened to video in the decade. I’m someone who loves to follow and use new technology and loves to be deceived that whatever this new technology is, it will be the best and will change us forever in great ways. For me, this decade had some great stuff. Affordable hi-def cameras, YouTube and iPhone video has changed and has changed us. When we think about the decade, we mostly remember video images. The events we remember were lensed and processed through a shooter, shaped through an editor and somehow make it on a screen someplace, where it makes an impression and a memory in our brain.
In looking at film and video, there have always been three paths: the consumer/amateur path, the network/studio path and the independent path. All have had changes in production, post-production, distribution and exhibition. And all changes in technology lead to changes in aesthetics.
So let’s start with consumer media. Kodak developed 16 mm film originally as a consumer format (it had acetate backing rather than nitrate so consumers would not blow themselves up). That led to 8 mm, Super 8, various types of video, 8 mm SVHS, hi8, and then in the 90s, Min Dv that allowed consumers to have good quality. Up until Min Dv, all these consumer formats were not designed to make copies – they were meant to be seen by the people who make them, thus distribution and exhibition was limited. When the flip HD came out, we had HD video for under $200 that allowed you to post your material immediately to YouTube. This was a sea change. No longer were you limited by where you could travel for the world to see your cat do something cute.
The other end of the spectrum – the studio/network model – had its own problems. Some of the innovations this decade have been the reemergence of 3D, the reality of digital projection, the reduction of film as an originating medium and the over usage of CGI.
While digital media has had a major impact on professional production, the larger changes I think are still coming. When actors are digitized, things will change. Also, when producers realize that you can zoom in on the medium shot to create a close up, shooting schedules will be truncated, just as digital editing has shrunken the time it takes to edit a film. This is all great for the producer but really bad for the crew who work on films. You don’t get paid any more, but you work fewer days. In fact, many are being paid less because there are more and more kids who are willing to do it for less. But these are great times for producers. There are more ways we watch things on screens, so there are more opportunities. At the same time, the consumer/amateur world is colliding with the studio. The old studio/network role as the gatekeeper who decides which shows and movies get made and distributed is breaking down.
They are still trying to serve that role, but they’re not doing it very well. Aside from getting the material to the screens, these gatekeepers are responsible for creating desire to consume the media and for drumming up advertising. But social media has changed some of these roles, and indeed many people consume as much YouTube as they do traditional media. The TV networks first lost their audience and their guts to cable. Now they are loosing audience to Hulu, which at least they partially own. A lot of kids watch more TV on computers then on a TV.
The studios, of course, are freaked out that their game might be getting to the end game. But movies will always, in my opinion, be around. They just change a bit. The real question is what will happen to home viewing? A long time ago, VHS sales made more money for the studios then ticket sales. If that same cash flow can’t be replicated with digital downloads, then the studios will be in trouble. This decade saw the battle between Blu ray and HDVD. I do think some other kind of media will emerge that will replace the Blu ray pretty soon. Lots of folks have HD TVs, and not so many have Blu ray players. Very few have Blu ray burners.
So if all this is happening on two poles of this tripod, what’s happening on the third one occupied by the independent film/videomaker? The indi has been using consumer gear to attempt professional results, with improving technology leading to improved results. And now days, it is amazing what kind of quality you can get for your cat trick video or your feature film idea. The barrier for production of anybody’s first film is gone for documentary or narrative. If you really want to make it you can. Which means, of course, there are lots and lots of films being made. The ratio of good to bad is the same in all media. So the bad news is: If there is lots more of anything being made, there is also lots more of that thing being made poorly. The upside, of course, is that there are lots of great films that otherwise could never have been made being made. The catch now is distribution. The maker has to decide: Do I care more about getting my film seen, or do I care more about making money. Is having a million hits on YouTube or Vimeo or archive.org as good as making some bucks and having fewer people watch it.
I believe that in the 00’s, independent films and videos have been where the great art has happened. And I hope that you’ve been able to see many of the advancements in technology that I wrote about above at VideoFest this decade. It’s too early to say what advancements the coming decade will bring, but I know we will show it to you.