In the documentary world, filmmakers rarely know what they’re making when they start making it. Instead, they move through time, chronicling changing situations, in the hopes that something great might happen. But the best filmmakers are adept, knowing when to raise, when to fold and when to exchange cards, when the game allows it.
All In: The Poker Movie, which begins a theatrical run this month, is one of those documentaries that started one way and ended up a wholly different story.
Directed by Douglas Tirola of 4th Row Films and produced by collaborators Susan Bedusa and Robert Greene, All In started out with a gamble.
The project started in 2008 when poker was in the midst of a boom. “We started making the film so many years ago, it’s hard to remember,” said Bedusa. “But I think we made with the goal of having a profitable film. And Doug had a soft spot for poker — He used to play with his father and grandfather.”
4th Row Films has had a series of documentaries find success recently, including those directed not only by Tirola (An Omar Broadway Film) but by the editor of All In, Robert Greene (Kati With An I, Fake It So Real). The company uses its documentary chops to bring in commercial work, which fuels the business and occasionally leads to a story idea.
“We have the other side of our company that does marketing work for brands,” said Bedusa. “And through that we were covering this big New York City poker tournament. It was run by a Wall Street guy who put on a huge poker tournament every year for his clients, and his celebrity friends. We would go and film it with 10 cameras. We realized how cinematic it was.”
Not only was it cinematic, but the filmmaking team also connected the visual potential to a potential in the online video marketplace. “This was just at the time when people were starting to download stuff to watch,” said Bedusa. “Our feeling was that there are so many poker players out there, and the audience is worldwide. And so many of them playing online that they were already used to signing in, and putting down their credit card number and spending money that way, which is an unusual trait.”
The film is interview-driven, ranging from top poker players, such as the aptly named Chris Moneymaker, to such poker-playing celebrities as former U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato, basketball coach Denny Crum, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, journalist Ira Glass and actor Matt Damon. Most speak in the film of poker as a piece of Americana, but poker fans will also remember Damon as the star of Rounders, a film that’s iconic in that world.
“It’s more of an essay film,” Bedusa says. “It’s not so character-driven. Doug really wanted to explore the why.” Through these revolving interviews and a thread of Moneymaker’s rise to, well, moneymaking, the film tells the story of the rise and fall and rise and fall of poker. The film was scheduled for release in July 2011, after it had won top laurels at Cinevegas in 2009, but then the FBI moved to shut down online poker, which had been fueling the poker movement in the United States, and the game changed.
“We decided not to release it, which was a tough decision,” said Bedusa. “The film had already won awards and been in festivals, so it was already out there, in some sense. Then Black Friday happened.”
The film was re-conceived around the headlines, with the ban on online poker as its frame, and in the time it ultimately took to make All In, 4th Row Films released three other films. A look at the film’s credits highlight its evolving nature. Nine people are listed as cinematographers.
“The number of people who did some work on the film is huge,” said Bedusa. “We shot in 14 states, and while Doug was involved in it all, we didn’t have one director of photography… We have our L.A. guy and our Nashville guy, people we’ve worked with on the marketing side, so they kind of all shot the film.” So, three years after it could have been released, All In is going into theaters this month a different, and better, film. Which makes the point that in documentary, going all in can be a good bet.
The release of the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III has HDSLR filmmakers poring over specs, trying to decide if this release is something incredible, or something disappointing. For $3,500, is it worth the leap from the Mark II? (It should be noted that the Mark II remains in the Canon line and the price of a body has dropped to about $2,000.)
It harkens back to a piece I saw a while back about the “four-times-better rule.”
In a Creative Planet post, Stefan Sargent argued quite convincingly that in this era of new technology hitting the market almost daily, the wise time to upgrade is when the new piece of equipment is four times better than what it’s replacing. As he emphatically puts it, “An upgrade can’t be just twice as good; it’s got to be four times better.”
One example he gives is the question of whether to replace his Sony V1s with Sony EX1s.
I needed to upgrade from SD to HD. Buying the two HVR-V1s was a no brainer. And yes, they were four times better than the PD150/PDX10 combo.
What happens? After a year, Sony brings out the PMW-EX1. I’m very pissed. At least with Apple, you know that next year there’s going to be a new iPhone, but that it’s not an $8,000 upgrade.
I look at the EX-1 specs. The data rate is up to 35Mb/s compared to my V1s’ 25Mb/s. That’s not four times! The chip is bigger, but not four times bigger. Nowhere is anything four times better. I contact my camera guru, Adam Wilt. He says, “In most real-world situations they’re very hard to tell apart.
One of the primary reasons to exercise caution is the fact that the business of filmmaking is based on two factors: cost and revenue. When it comes to cost, the entry level for documentary filmmaking has been lowering. Does spending more cash on equipment create a commensurate rise in the quality of the film? Then, does that measurable rise in video quality have a measurable effect on your story? Or is the audience really not as worried about that as you?
Who noticed that the Ross Brothers’ breakout success 45365 was made on SD, the Danfung Dennis-directed Academy Award nominee Hell And Back Again used a 5D Mark II, or that the 2010 Oscar nominee Restrepo was HDV?
Back in the day, I worked at newspapers where pros looked at equipment very pragmatically. The best photographers often had cameras seemingly held together with duct tape, while the interns came in with the latest gear. I remember going on an assignment with Bob Jackson, the photographer who won a Pulitzer for his photo of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot, and of asking him what kind of camera he’d used for the picture.
“A Nikon,” he said.
“Where do you keep it?” I said.
“In my camera bag,” he said, as if I was an idiot. It was a 40-year-old Nikon S2 rangefinder. “It still works fine.” To him, it was simply a tool.
Digital technology may not allow for a camera to have the longevity of Bob’s Nikon. Be careful about chasing technological tail unless it’s a substantial improvement over what you already have.
World Happy Day was cold and a bit snowy in Newport, RI, when we attended the screening of Happy, Roko Belic’s documentary on the science and practice of being happy.
Didn’t know Feb. 11 was World Happy Day? That’s because Belic made it up, a la Festivus of “Seinfeld” fame. But whereas Festivus included “the airing of grievances” as its holiday tradition, the day and the documentary Belic conceived was about unburdening from the same.
The screening I attended at the Jane Pickens Theater drew 80 people, and I went because I have had the fortune of seeing Belic’s previous documentary, the 1999 Academy Award nominee Genghis Blues. While Belic’s chops as a filmmaker are obvious, Happy‘s savvy way of approaching its audience was likewise notable. The film screened at 600 locations worldwide, including not only dozens of theatrical screenings, but also events in homes and other venues.
Many filmmakers would love to have their premiere become an event, but most don’t. Belic got Happy into dozens of theaters in a variety of countries by creating excitement and a sense of event around the documentary and a holiday that doesn’t exist. Filmmakers have certainly attempted to piggyback on existing events, organizations and movements, while advocacy organizations have become adept at creating “days,” “weeks” and “months” — see my previous post about Black History Month — that heighten awareness (or sales). Belic seems to have nicely combined those two routes. (More February holidays you’ve never heard of are in this list, with today among other things being National Get A Different Name Day.)
Happy is a prescriptive documentary. Not caring to simply sit back and tell its stories, it advocates. It’s an array of tales of people who have found happiness (including an impoverished Indian rickshaw driver and a former debutante scarred by a horrible accident), combined with a panel of scholars who have studied and pondered the question of happiness in human existence.
Happy played an assortment of film festivals, winning laurels at several that include Amsterdam Film Festival, the Arizona International Film Festival and the Mexico International Film Festival. Belic crowdfunded successfully last year on Kickstarter, raising more than $36,000 for shooting that took him to Denmark, India, Japan and Bhutan.
It’s a really nice film, and a Google search of Sunday’s news showed that World Happy Day may have gotten a foothold, with an amount of media coverage that surprised me, including hits with Forbes and local news. With its smart work from funding, to production, to release, Happy is a smile-inducing effort by a resourceful documentary filmmaker.
Some time ago, the book reviewer Sarah Goldstein came up with a term for a type of book which the author sets on a particular mission, the definition being, “Books perpetrated by people who undertook an unusual project with the express purpose of writing about it.”
These types of books, which range from “Walden” to “Eat, Pray, Love,” presume that the author is proactively pursuing a story, and is part of it, rather than observing passively, and in a third-person role. Goldstein called such books “schtick lit“.
And since more and more documentaries are doing this as well, I’ll further coin a sub-genre of “schtick flicks.”
Schtick flicks as successful as Academy Award winners The Cove, Born Into Brothels and Bowling For Columbine have been a counterpoint to more traditional interview-based films, such as Inside Job and Man on Wire.
One documentary I’d put it in the schtick flick category is the entertaining More Than A Month, in which filmmaker Shukree Tilghman sets out to end Black History Month. The film will be seen on PBS in February during Black History Month.
Tilghman says the Byron Hurt documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes influenced him to take on the issue as a cross-country vérité-style journey.
“I decided I could do something like that. The initial idea was not that I’d be in the movie. I would speak to people and other people would take over the story. Marco Williams (of Two Towns of Jasper and Banished, on which Tilghman was a producer) got involved as executive producer and said ‘This film is about you and this issue.’”
Tilghman, whose previous credits have included both documentary and reality television work, has always taken issue with placing black history in the “coldest, shortest month.” And when he saw Morgan Freeman talking about his disdain for Black History Month on “60 Minutes” in 2005, it drove him to do something about it. He drew inspiration from other first-person films — and not all documentaries.
“I thought of films like Sherman’s March, definitely Morgan Spurlock, definitely Michael Moore, and believe it or not, Annie Hall,” he says. The 1977 Woody Allen comedy had been a favorite on Tilghman’s in both the way Allen’s character spoke directly to the audience and also how the film used cut-away moments that might be called “re-creations,” but are more fanciful illustrations of the point, often comic in form.
“When you go to a lecture, people often start with a joke — I thought if we dealt with the issue too seriously and we had all talking heads, it wouldn’t be as good. The re-creations were where Annie Hall came in. I must have watched that film 12 times during pre-production. Because here was the opportunity to break out of the film for a second and either make a joke, or illuminate a point, and to entertain in a little way – to say, ‘Hey, you can laugh.’”
Some such moments that were written but never shot, and some that were shot and weren’t used. “Even some of the stuff that made it in, depending on the audience or the mood I’m in watching it, may be a forced joke. For example, some people may not get the Stanley Kubrick 2001 reference.”
The film took Tilghman to nine cities, and resulted in about 250 hours of footage. He shot with a Sony PMW-EX1 and a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, cameras that gave the film HD quality at a reasonable cost. The film, like so many documentaries, began modestly, but shooting the highest-possible quality for cost was important. Often, interviews were conducted on the street or in busy settings, rather than in a formal and controlled interview mode to give the film a feel of the tapestry of everyday life.
“We wanted it to feel like a journey, in which you’d been somewhere, both in terms of physical space and insights. We could have done this film as talking-head experts. It was intentional to not make it feel like that.”
More Than a Month premieres on PBS during Black History Month on February 16, 2012. For more information, visit the film’s official website.
I’m always leery about documentaries made by celebrities. I’m not talking about people who are celebrities because of the docs — the Moores, Burnses and scant others who have name recognition because of their work — but rather the famous who jump in seemingly out of nowhere to make documentary films.
With Sundance 2012 bringing us the premiere this week of Ice-T’s Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, and Rory Kennedy’s documentary about her also not un-famous mother Ethel, I find myself with that vaguely sickening feeling that celebrities make documentaries because they are burnishing self-image, protecting or enhancing their brand, or sometimes doing a salvage job. Think Al Gore. Or Exit Through Gift Shop, 2010 Sundance pick that a) may not have been factually accurate, and b) did more to build the artist Banksy’s brand than all of his previous work, but, most terribly, c) probably inspired a string of maybe-not-so-true-true-story docs.
Documentary is likewise a marriage between art and something akin to the journalistic. But, and maybe it’s because of my own background in journalism, I lean toward the work of people who don’t make films about themselves, who explore a topic of consequence and who stay behind the camera.
I realize the horse left the barn two decades ago in the substantial form of Michael Moore. Seeing a filmmaker squarely in the frame was not new when Moore first appeared in Roger & Me, but it had never been done so successfully. While that begat people like Morgan Spurlock vomiting McDonald’s out his car window, it also brought the curious Sketches of Frank Gehry, in which the famous architect was profiled by his famous friend, Sydney Pollack. The shots of the longtime feature-film director Pollack (a man with armies of film crews at his beck and call) shooting Gehry handheld, while himself being shot by a presumed film crew, stay with me.
Too many celebrity documentaries are marked by the filmmaker spending more time in front of the camera than behind it, rarely asking very involved questions, instead offering their mediations on a topic, and at times emitting a whiff of rank self-promotion. When I hear of Johnny Depp making a documentary about Keith Richards, I don’t expect any closure on questions left unanswered by Richards’ own generally forthcoming autobiography (although Keith may well repeat his assertions about Mick Jagger’s genitalia).
Beware documentaries that try too nakedly to lure star power. Tabloid fixture Lindsay Lohan signed on for a 2010 BBC documentary on child trafficking, delicately entitled Lindsay Lohan’s Indian Journey, a film that was pitched as Lohan “investigating” the topic. Who could take it seriously? The film was greeted with shock, and disastrous ratings. Lohan, apparently unscathed, was back partying in LA in no time.
Celebrity docs may have hit their most egregious with the comedian Chris Rock’s Good Hair. Rock invited documentarian Regina Kimbell to screen her film about African-American hairstyles, My Nappy Roots. Some time later he came forward with his own documentary, not only on the same topic, but also sharing many elements with Kimbell’s film. She lost a lawsuit against him, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have every right to see his effort as piggybacking on hers. The comparison between the films is, to me, chilling.
Second on my list may be William Shatner’s The Captains, a documentary about playing the captain on TV’s “Star Trek.” The New York Times‘ Mike Hale’s dutiful review of the film is far better than the film itself: “Much of the fun of watching The Captains is waiting to see just how shameless a huckster and self-promoter Mr. Shatner can be. You don’t have to wait long.”
Taking the bronze is a yet-to-be-completed Juliette Lewis documentary, which makes the podium based simply on headlines from September like this one: “Juliette Lewis preps rock documentary on herself.” Exactly! But the articles back in September say she was aiming this film at Sundance 2012, something that has not come to pass, for good or for ill.
And a dishonorable mention must be made for the Casey Affleck-Joaquin Phoenix disaster I’m Still Here, which they first said was true, until it got an awful response, and then they said wasn’t true. When the nonfiction part begins to fade from nonfiction film, I am given pause.
Documentary film has given stars, who might have spent their time trying to get attention in other ways, a new avenue. No one says documentaries have to be completely objective, but can Ethel do anything but forward the Kennedy legacy? Will Something from Nothing, with its roadmap title, tell anything but rags-to-riches stories that positions rap, and rappers, in a favorable light? Maybe we’ll be surprised.
I’m going to LA to shoot two interviews this week, and I’ve been sorting out how to do the best possible setup that is easiest to carry. I decided I’m going to leave my Sony EX1 at home and double a 5DMk2 and a T2i. First I tried them side-by-side, but I find this pictured setup works best. That’s a Manfrotto ballhead that usually would hold the monitor. My main shot will be wide with the 5D: the tight shot will be with the t2i. Here, I have a 50 mm on the 5D, and an 85 on the T2i, which is equivalent to a 135mm on the 5D. I may try a 35/50 combo as well. I’ll use a Zoom H4n and double lavs for audio, and a Flolight 500LED on a light stand.
Curious if anyone’s played with this sort of setup – let me know! I don’t take comments here because of spam fatigue, but email me at documentarytech at gmail and I’ll add any comments at the bottom of the post…
UPDATE: Brent G wrote,
Yeah I’ve stacked two DSLR’s like you’ve got pictured here. It definitely works in a pinch, but IMO the video doesn’t cut together as well as two cameras shooting side-by-side. The eyeline keeps jumping up and down when the cameras aren’t on the same level. But again, when in a pinch stacking can work and is better than many alternatives. Just my two cents. Hope it helps.
Brent, I hear you. I have been playing with eyelines and it seems that the raised camera works if you want a relatively wide difference in how wide the shot it. In the above, you’ll see on the 5D (bottom) I’ve set up a pretty wide shot, whereas I go in tight with the top camera. The 5D, I hope, will be the shot I use most, with the tight one for cutting rather than jumping. I think if the shots were closer in framing, then the side-by-side makes much more sense. Thanks!
I sometimes wonder not only if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences realizes it’s imposing 1930’s sensibilities on a 2012 world, but if in a sense it is pushing a Norma Desmondesque notion that, “I am big — It’s the pictures that got small.”
When it comes to documentaries, they did get small, and I think that’s wonderful. Small, numerous and meaningful – the antithesis of the studio system that created the Oscars as a self-congratulatory big-business exercise.
That silent-movie attitude about the way the Academy decides what’s good is appalling.
According to reporting Sunday by The New York Times, the Academy has decided, in its infinite wisdom, that it would only consider documentaries reviewed in one of the Two Timeses, The New York Times or the Los Angeles Times, as if those two newspapers are the ultimate arbiters of what’s good.
On one coast is a bankrupt newspaper whose owner may not survive. On the other is a city where acclaim is recognized as coming from a panoply of critics, such as the double Davids, Denby and Edelstein. In between is a vast middle of people with names like Chris Vognar, Lisa Kennedy and Roger Ebert, who might as well stop reviewing nonfiction.
The fact that The New York Times posted what I read as a somewhat chagrined article indicates it has taken a “What, me?” approach. Suddenly, A.O. Scott is the go-to guy. Scott politely called the rule change “flattering,” but his tone may have also been one of sadness.
If power becomes concentrated, and publicists rule the game, will documentarians, who are all essentially independent filmmakers, have the money to play?
Look at the numbers. According to the Times article, the Academy considered 124 movies in 2011. That’s it? 2.4 docs a week? What were they watching otherwise? “Desperate Housewives?”
I’d love it if the arbiters were documentary lovers who wanted to see many more than that on a weekly basis. Armchair Joe watches many more hours of football each week, and then he goes to work in the morning.
In its Saul Steinberg view of America, the Academy only thinks a documentary film is real if it plays in New York or Los Angeles – not Park City, not Austin, not Columbia, Missouri. Certainly not Toronto, or Sheffield, or Edinburgh.
There are stunning and meaningful documentaries being produced at an unprecedented rate, which is the most happy outcome of the digital age — amazing work by “outsiders” who lack the speed dial of the L.A. players but who know how to tell a damned good story. They use cheap camcorders and HDSLRs and other DIY tactics to tell sublime and gripping tales. And there have never been so many channels to distribute them, but the Academy has yet to fully support them. It continues to shun screeners for documentary consideration. Though there are hints this might be relaxed, according to its official rules, “the Academy remains firmly committed to the principal that motion pictures competing for Academy Awards should be seen and heard in a theatrical setting.”
You’d have to go back a few decades to see sense in this. Since it wasn’t practical to ship reels to Academy members, documentary producers made sure their films played in NYC or LA for a week so voters could pop in and see them. (Academy voters in those days only lived in New York or LA, but don’t get me going on that.)
The stated policy that The New York Times reviews every film released on a commercial screen for a week in New York or Los Angeles, and reviews some new releases screened by nonprofit groups like the Museum of Modern Art, presumes they always will. Unlikely. Shrinking news holes defy that, and make me wonder why two newspapers suddenly have such cachet.
When I watch a documentary these days, it’s usually on TV or on a DVD, and it’s rare that I can tell what kind of camera was used. That’s a good thing. Technology has become so accessible that the cost of your toys doesn’t necessarily matter, and have decidedly taken a back seat to storytelling acumen.
Independent filmmaking has been a struggle between a tiny percentage of well-funded filmmakers using all the wealth at their disposal and the filmmaking 99 percenters using all the credit lines at their disposal. They may have talent and ambition, but little money. They string together projects from thin funding, or self-funding, or they use their documentary work as a loss leader that serves as a calling card for corporate gigs or work in advertising.
But, it seems, every time the masses find a way into the game, the game changes.
The most significant change to documentary filmmaking in the last decade was the rise of programs, such as Apple’s Final Cut, that brought editing work out of the rented post-production facility and onto one’s desktop, then laptop. But right up there were the development of HDV — the so-called “poor man’s HD” — and the sudden arrival of Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II, which put in the hands of people of modest means a camera they could use to make serious films.
Before those products arrived, most people were shooting on Mini-DV cameras like the Canon XL1 and the Panasonic DVX100. Any viewer could tell the difference.
But as we enter 2012, the gap is widening, with the manufacturers themselves ramping back up to more-costly offerings. In the past year, the long-awaited arrival of big-sensor camcorders that would overtake video-shooting DSLRs came at a disappointingly hefty price. The Canon C300 ($20,000), Sony’s PMW-F3 ($14,000), and the new RED Scarlet-X ($18,000) have not created the answer, but rather a carrot-and-stick conundrum: How far you can stretch your budget for definably better results? All of these camcorders deliver better quality, but in my opinion not so much that it’s readily apparent to most viewers. In the end, the HDSLR was not obsoleted in 2011, and so 2012 begins with rumors of what’s next.
The 2012 product season, highlighted by Photokina and NAB, thrills the equipment freaks but leaves many holding their breath. What’s next that will obsolete the equipment you own, and that you’re still paying off? For what it’s worth:
With the Canon EOS 1DX body announced already at $6,800 (and therefore implausible for most), the biggest talk is of a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, which rumors alternately say will and won’t have a huge leap in megapixels, and which will likely have far better audio capabilities and functions that are already in use by people who’ve downloaded the third-party Magic Lantern hack.
The anticipated update to Canon’s EOS 7D is for upgraded megapixels and improved features such as higher ISO. We’ll see.
A 3-D HDSLR? It seems that may be the way things go. And then add into that the new infatuation with using side-by-side cameras to create High Dynamic Range, and it seems those could work somehow.
Sony may announce a full-frame DSLR, according to some sources. Nikon seems, as always, to lag.
Magic Lantern is readying its “Unified Edition” for the Canon 5D, providing the features already in its 550D/T2i, 60D, 600D/T3i, 500D/T1i and 50D models. This free download vastly improves the ability of the camera, and the unified edition stretches it across all models except the apparently impenetrable 7D, which for that reason is falling out of favor with many DSLR filmmakers.
In short, the rumor mills are not looking at anything remarkably different for the lower-budget documentary filmmaker. And that’s good news in that everyone is not going to have to rush out to do an unwanted upgrade just to stay in the game. With HDSLR and even HDV documentaries having found their place in top festivals, broadcast and even Academy Award considerations, lower-budget filmmakers have not yet been priced out of the game.
Kurt Lancaster, who has contributed on DSLR filmmaking on this site, shot the 99 percenters at Occupy Wall Street:
If you can describe a documentary as a series of moving images telling a true story, then almost anything can apply. From The New Yorker magazine’s iPad-embedded video interviews this week of Russian citizens in the time of Putin, to the insane urban-cycling videos of Lucas Brunelle, the definition of the form is exploding, both in terms of destroying the old definition and expanding into a new one. As Sundance announces its short-doc competition for next month, it almost seems as if what we think of as documentary is suddenly too limited.
When I came across RSA Animate on YouTube, a collaboration of the UK’s Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and Cognitive Media, I was entranced. The videos, which RSA spokesman Luke Robinson says have gotten a collective 40 million views, are simple in their conception: They match “idea speeches” from RSA to the whiteboard drawings of Cognitive Media’s director and “scribe,” Andrew Park.
“They work on the strength of ideas,” Robinson says, and it’s the fascinating mural-like drawings that give visual interest to what could otherwise be a more-typical person-at-the-podium video.
Park began drawing these large-scale works 15 years ago. Cognitive’s media’s website explains the thinking behind “scribing.”
A scribe works on large walls, using markers [and] pens to map conversations live at events, interpreting and drawing ideas quickly, using pictures, diagrams and symbols to make ideas visible and accessible. Over the last 15 years, working with lots of people, groups and individuals within many industries and professional cultures has given me tremendous insight. It has also helped me understand the different languages that these cultures can speak. The role of a Scribe in my view, is to act as a translator within these cultures to allow as many people as possible to understand the information being conversed.
RSA Animates feature deep thinkers often challenging conventional wisdom, such as Sir Ken Robinson’s takedown of conventional education models, which has garnered 6.3 million views. That’s not nearly as good as Can’t Sing Psycho Girl Freaks Out, but the RSA Animate videos have made deep thinking more popular than gift-wrapping a cat.
What makes the Animates work is Park’s intricate drawings, which divert from the speeches as they inform them.
Abi Stephenson, who produces the series at RSA, says the project grew out of a search for how to illuminate what was coming out of the RSA lectures.
We had been looking for an innovative way of disseminating our incredible lecture content for a while, but just couldn’t find quite the right way of doing it. At around the same time we had asked Andrew Park, who was, and is, an RSA Fellow, to do some live ‘scribing’ at one of events. This was the service Cognitive Media were offering at the time – going to conferences and meetings and sketching the ideas that came up, and providing a visual translation of them on a big flip chart. We asked Andrew to come to one of our events and create a visual record of it for our journal, when my colleague Sophie Charles had the bright idea of ‘animating’ it and creating a short film.
The speeches, hand-picked from those delivered at RSA, are edited down from the typical 30 minutes to something on the order of 10 minutes. The audio goes to Cognitive, and Park sets to work visualizing the information.
Stephenson says the series is irregular, because of the time involved in producing them, but continuing “as long as people still want to watch them.” She says the Animates have appealed to a much broader audience than typically attend the speaker series, and includes a lot of young children and teenagers.
“We deliberately wanted the videos to be as democratic and accessible as possible, so that these great ideas weren’t just limited to a restricted group of ‘lecture-going’ people.”
I’m sure this will cause disagreement, but consider that the RSA videos do some of what the best documentaries also do: They enlighten. They challenge. They explain. They entertain. And they are creative. It’s becoming easier to call works like these “documentaries” not just “web videos.”
That’s an interesting question. I wouldn’t have described them in that way – but then maybe my definition of ‘documentary’ is too limited. I think of a documentary as a visual record of multiple real-life scenes and events, mostly with a narrative or personal story at its centre. Because the RSA Animates are taken from keynotes and lectures, they don’t seem to really fit into that mould.
I’d argue they are, or at least made in a documentary tradition. Documentary films such as “What The Bleep Do We Know?” and “Freakonomics” use innovative graphic devices to tell a story over expository narration. Given Cognitive’s growing visibility, I wouldn’t bet against Park’s work popping up in a documentary soon.
Watch a few more of the popular RSA Animate videos below or on the RSA YouTube channel.
[THREE MORE EMBEDDED HERE WITH CPATIONS]
Since it was unveiled after much anticipation, what is being derided as “iMovie Pro” has sent many professional editors shifting to Premiere, Avid and even away from their Macs and to PC-based systems such as Sony Vegas.
This week HDWarrior did a roundup of some of their near-and-dear, describing the “hemorraging” of pro users from FCPX. HDWarrior’s post notes
Apple have made a fundamental mistake bringing FCPX onto a mature professional marketplace by re-writing and changing the game plan way beyond what many of us would accept.
I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s book “Steve Jobs,” and it would lead you to believe it’s all in the design. Jobs was unabashed about pushing users where he thought they should go. They were the first to eliminate the floppy drive, to much chagrin. It seems that with Apple, they view the DVD as on the way out. But film customers often don’t.
As I release my recent documentary on DVD, the orders for the $30 DVD have outnumbered the $4.99 digital download five times over. FCPX eliminating DVD authoring may be a push to a world in which one views films from Jobs’ utopian “digital hub,” but it will, at best, take time.
That there are threads titled “FCPX Or Not: The Debate” underlines the debate.
Earlier this month, Avid Media Composer 6 just began shipping, at $2,499, higher than FCP Studio’s price point, much higher than FCPX’s $299.99. Scott Simmons at ProVideoCoalition kicked the tires and said,
We all know what happened from Final Cut Pro 7 to Final Cut Pro X. Apple thinks they know better than the user base as to what editors need so they made FCP into a totally different application. While it’s a modern application that does modern things, like edit with great speed and allow for background processes, it simplifies the traditional editing interface that FCP users have come to know and removes a number of tools we’ve used for years while trying to simplify others and add new ones entirely. It’s an approach that has been controversial to say the least and there’s a lot of differing opinions on whether Apple has succeeded. The fact is that only Apple could have done such a thing as both Avid and Adobe could never afford to alienate that much of an installed user base.
He finds much to like with MC6, also noting Avid changes are a “smart, cautious move.”
There’s a lot of anticipation of Adobe Premiere CS6, which may be announced at next year’s NAB, according to Simmons. Pro users are hoping for added features such as a native codec and better timecode generator. Adobe has already seen sales rise on its video tools as a reaction to FCPX.
Pros and amateurs are going in different directions, and rumors swirl that Apple will phase out the Mac Pro; the Jobs biography gives attention to Jobs’ notion that even laptops will go the way of the dinosaurs. PCs may see some new attention from formerly Apple-only editors; Sony’s Vegas Pro 10 has found a lot of fans.
So FCPX has created a reassessment in the market.
I remember attending a film festival in Boston in the mid-1990s, where a rep from Avid was demonstrating amazing technology, but the software cost $15,000 and you needed a computer with (gasp!) 3 gigabytes of storage. Within a decade, programs like Premiere and then FCP had given an alternative to would-be filmmakers with at least some money. Now, you can download the open-source Lightworks software, and others like it, and edit for free.
Filmmakers like Robert Greene, who began as an editor, see the wisdom of not rushing to the latest version of anything. He saves money to make money by employing perfectly usable second-gen software. For many editors, it seems that FCP7 will become a held-onto tool for at least a while.