Over the weekend, I attended the Createasphere Post Production Master Class, a summit that brings together leaders and innovators in the entertainment business to discuss trends and share insight and knowledge within an intimate setting. Developed by industry organizations such as The Hollywood Post Alliance and American Cinema Editors, the Master Class is an interactive dialog between peers on topics that directly affect the working relationship between creative people and technologists in the industry today.
Held at the Burbank Marriott over the course of two days, the Master Class is a more focused version of Createasphere’s Entertainment Technology Expo, differentiating itself as primarily an educational event, with limited attendance to encourage dynamic and personal exchange. I attended Day One that included three thoughtful panels: a Keynote Conversation with Carol Littleton, ACE and John Bailey, ASC titled “The Critical Collaboration Between Cinematographer and Editor,” “The State of On-Set,” and “The State of Color,” the latter of which I was invited to moderate.
One of the issues that kept coming up throughout the day is the need for standardization of workflow during this revolutionary time of rapid technological change. Carol Littleton, prolific editor of numerous classic and contemporary films who has been working in the editorial field for decades, gently reminded us that we had a period of 70 years working on film, with very set standardization. With camera and post production technology constantly evolving, Littleton points out that it’s ultimately redefining and blending roles, resulting in editors performing tasks that are beyond their traditionally hired craft. “One of the things that I’ve noticed in editing is the more tools that we have, the more we are expected to do. It used to be that we were just primarily the custodians of the image in cutting the story and the performances, but now, if the machine can do it, we are expected to do it, and that can be color correction, temporary titles, music cutting, FX cutting… we’ve become the fast, quick trick version of editing.”
Director of Photography John Bailey, spoke from a cinematographer’s point of view, “Because today’s editor has so much put on the plate for them, and has essentially become so much more involved with manipulating and changing the image during the post production process, sometimes by the time a cinematographer is called in, so much of the work has already been done, and the cinematographer — especially younger cinematographers — are fighting like crazy to get into the DI suite. One of the things that happened with the technology, is that there has been a slight antagonistic situation accidentally set up between editors and cinematographers. In the celluloid era, where we were actually editing motion picture film, the editor was constantly aware of the fact that these are photographic images. That created a certain kind of sensibility. In a purely digital era, that has disappeared. The editors are now working with zeros and ones, it’s essentially very abstract. It’s very easy to understand how the editor has been incorporated to become more and more the guardians of the image and that there’s been an accidental possibility of cinematographers of being closed out. Cinematographers need to become increasing more aware of this unfortunate situation that editors have been put in, and editors need to be aware that, especially younger cinematographers that created the images, are starting to feel excluded too.”
Littleton and Bailey acknowledged that technology has also enabled creativity, citing a feature, “La Casa Muda,” a horror film that was recently made on the Canon 5D in one house location with a total of 5 continuous shots, as well as the use of the Canon 7D for the film “Like Crazy,” primarily chosen for its improvisational approach, low budget restrictions, and to go undercover at high-profile locations. “Many times the decision on what format a film going to be shot, is not the director’s decision, and that’s the problem,” says Littleton. ”The fact is that the creative needs are not addressed but rather either just someone’s whim or a financial consideration only. (“Like Crazy”) was a very happy circumstance and it worked out very, very well, but that is not the case most of the time.”
But what is driving technology and the decisions that are being made on productions today? For the most part, the control is coming from studio pressures, producers and the bottom line, dictating to everyone involved to do more with less, ultimately at the cost of both image and story quality. It’s not about wanting creative control as much as it’s about distribution and exhibition and the race to get rid of film prints to save the studios big bucks. But Bailey reminds us that filmmakers need to hold on to the collaborative aspect of filmmaking and to tell real stories. “We are all struggling to try to get back to storytelling. It’s ultimately about storytelling, not the technology. And one of the unfortunate things is, that we Americans have always had the proclivity, since the founding of the country, to embed ourselves in technology rather that in content.”
Littleton agreed, but was more cautionary, “We always race ahead of ourselves in technology, and it’s really hard to have ideas and to write a script. It’s really, really hard to have something that exists in the realm of the imagination and it’s a hell of a lot easier to work around fancy equipment and say this is ‘creative.’ You’ve got to really watch that.”