The Changing Face of Post-Production for Movie Makers

“YouTube is mine and your best friend.” — Tiffany Hwang

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

An amazing 300 hours of video are being uploaded to YouTube every minute. Though not all is being created new, this is still an astounding quantity of video. (For example some, like the George & Ringo video I shared yesterday, is previously created content from the television era. My aim here will explain how this has become possible.

In 1987–88, when I became in-house ad agency for The Chromaline Corporation in Duluth, one of my first projects was to produce a training video for their decorative sandblasting product called SBX. For this I hired Parthe Film & Video Productions, a local videographer. (EdNote: Lance Parthe grew up in Hollywood and at age 17 was one of the four cameramen Steven Spielberg relied on to film his mega-hit Jaws.)

After the footage was shot, I travelled to Minneapolis with Lance for final post-production at Northwest Teleproductions. I was told (warned) that however long this takes, we will stay till it’s done.

Northwest Teleproductions was essentially a complex of editing rooms. My recollection is that the size of the room was roughly that of a high school classroom, though much more posh. A large glass window separated the equipment from the editing team and the client (me). The reason this equipment had been placed behind the glass was to keep all dust out, much like a clean room for imprinting circuit boards.

The system we worked on was a Tape-Based Linear System. What this meant was explained to me like this. It was essential that the client be present because all decisions were being made in a linear fashion and you couldn’t change your mind afterwards. Should the logo be on a black background or a blue one? Should the logo be at the top of the screen or the bottom? Should the credits be at the beginning or the end?

Each decision was stitched together in a linear fashion, and whatever decisions were made became permanent. You could not cut and re-arrange anything after it had been laid down.

Photo courtesy Cirina Catania.

The piece of equipment in this editing/post-production room was valued at $4,000,000. That is four million. And this facility seemed to have dozens of such rooms. I do not recall exact number, but in light of the costs it was a pretty high bar to get in the game.

A few years later a Non-Linear machine improved the post-production process. It gave a rough cut and gave you numbers.

Off-Line editing followed, and eventually Online editing. Each iteration gave the production team more versatility and I remember when ten years later Lance acquired some new computerized technology that enabled him to do non-linear post-production with more far more power and versatility at a fraction of the cost. This new Finishing Suite was only $100K.

In other words, the cost to produce a video dropped significantly. It was expensive in 1988 because the people who invested in those four million dollar production suites needed to charge enough money to pay for it and make a profit themselves.

When I called Lance yesterday to get my facts straight (memory is a funny animal) he told me that today you can download DaVinci Resolve 16 for free and accomplish more (and better) than that four million dollar dinosaur from the 80’s. You only need a laptop now. (The full suite is $299.)

This is highly empowering, but is also a challenge because suddenly everyone can be a cinematographer.

Just as print-on-demand publishing opened the doors to tens of thousand of writers, it has also resulted in a glut of books of uneven quality.

When Pagemaker and personal computers came out, everyone could suddenly become a designer and do page layouts, make signs and the like. A lot of bad design ensued. (EdNote: I am not dissing this empowerment.)

Just as there are rules of design, there are all kinds of matters that a professional cameraman and cinematographer has learned over a period of decades. For example, there are rules surrounding lighting, lenses, depth of field, messaging and how the brain interprets visual information. One doesn’t instantly understand all this just because they know how to push the red button and record.

Last month, when Sundance co-founder Cirina Catania flew in to conduct a two-day master class in film making, each team produced a short film using only an iPhone and their editing tools. In other words, the financial barriers to entry have been practically eliminated.

Catalyst Content Fest

The times have certainly been a-changing. Do you have a story to tell? The ball is in your court.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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