Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

A New Way Forward For Creatives

A New Way Forward For Creatives ...

Over the last 5-10 years, our industry (film) has undergone a massive change. The tools are cheaper than ever, their quality continues to rise, and it is easier than ever to deliver content directly to specific audiences. On the one hand this makes for an exciting time, as we creatives are no longer beholden to the "big studios" telling us what we can and cannot produce. We have the tools, and we can create!

On the other hand, as I have noted before, this has also resulted in the death of the specialist, and the further abuse of our fellow technicians in our industry. And while I still maintain that it is bad business to be a cinematographer, I am seeing market trends and a societal shifts that are opening up new doors for creatives to not only succeed, but to thrive in this new world.

There is an exciting way forward for those of us who are willing to jump out and take a risk. All it requires is that we abandon our "traditional" thinking and approach.

The Sistine Chapel (Wikimedia Commons)
A Bit Of History
Before we move forward, I think it is important to examine where we've come from. By stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, we can make smarter choices.

In the beginning, it didn't take much to be an artist. All that was required was one individual and a few simple, affordable tools. With some charcoal, pigments, or a sharp knife, and some spare time, anyone could paint a cave drawing, or carve something out of ivory. Distribution of that artwork was  immediate and instantaneous- you showed it to your fellow community members (a.k.a your audience). Those that told stories, and embodied those stories in the visual form, did well in their communities, and were rewarded for their work. However, with small communities, the biggest limitation was the size of the audience.

Over time the scale to complete great art grew exponentially, even though the tools remained affordable and accessible. It was only through the direct funding of governments and religious organizations that great works of art were commissioned. As wealth spread out from those institutions into the aristocratic society, individual patrons began commissioning works of art. To complete the Sistine Chapel required a lot of time and resources. It also took the influence of the government, religious organizations, and aristocrats to draw an audience together that would be large enough to make such an endeavor even worth considering. The artist could now reach a much larger audience than before, but it became more prohibitive than ever to create a work of art.
Andy Warhol "Campbell Soup" Screen Print

Then came the development of the printing press and "mass media." With these developments, the artist could now reach a wider audience. Location of the art, or the artist, were no longer limiting factors. And while the cost to create the original artwork remained low, one problem remained. The keys to the distribution infrastructure to that audience were out of reach to most.

Our film industry has followed this same path. When we began, it took only one filmmaker, and maybe an assistant or two, to shoot a film. They would go from town to town showing their film in local store fronts to reach their audience. Technology was accessible, however reaching a large audience was still problematic.

As the filmmaker grew in their skill and craft, the size of the production also grew. The scale became so big, that it now required direct intervention of the aristocrats (a.k.a the studios) in order to get a film made. However, we experienced a problem in our field that the painter, sculptor, and photographer avoided. Our tools became prohibitively expensive, and physically too large to use on our own. And so the film industry was born. Without the studios, we would have no way to make our films, and get them in front of an audience large enough to make it worth pursuing. So, unlike other creative fields, we couldn't create or distribute our work without a massive infrastructure.

At least until recently...
Where We Are Now
Thanks to the digital revolution, first with DV Cameras, and then again with DSLR Video, technology to create our work is no longer inaccessible to the artist who wants to tell a visual story. And thanks to the ever increasing speed, accessibility, and low cost of the internet, it is more affordable than ever to reach a larger audience than has been possible at any other time in history.

For better or worse, this low cost to entry is turning the film industry on its head. As the barriers to getting into filmmaking are removed, there continues to be a downward pressure on rates, and an expectation that people fulfill more than one role on a production. Our crews are shrinking.

At the same time, our culture (at least here in the U.S.), is rapidly becoming more and more visual. The demand for visual content is on the rise, with no end in site. In fact, according to Robert Kyncl, YouTube's VP of Global Content, video will soon be 90% of online traffic. Even if his claim about video content is not entirely accurate, just take a look at the shift in how content is displayed today. Yahoo, Google+, Twitter, Facebook - they have all reformatted their content to feature images and video content over text. It is the image that is dominating.

So cost is going down, but demand is going up...

The Impact Of The Information Age
Unless you've been living under a rock somewhere, you should be well aware that we live in the information age. Before this age was the industrial age in which those people who controlled industry where the most successful. Well, today, those who have organized information and distributed it in a useful manner are the most successful.

Thanks to information age, the saying "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach" is in the process of being reshaped. I believe it is now turning into "Those who can, do. Those who teach, succeed." Don't believe me? Take a look at all of the content available to us on the internet today.

However, the vast majority of content on the web today is text-based. This is great for a lot of content. But the vast majority of our youth and young adults are being brought up on this "Web 2.0" that is a visual experience. I doubt any of them remember seeing pain text HTML websites... So the saying needs to be refined further to "Those who can, do. Those who teach visually are the most successful."

Well organized, easily accessed, visual content is the way forward...

Creatives Are Uniquely Positioned To Lead The Way
So the key to succeeding today is in reshaping our thinking and understanding of where we are at. If we filmmakers continue to follow what we did in the industrial age, where we needed the big studio system in order to create our art and distribute it to our audience, then at worst we will struggle to survive, or, at best, we will continue to slave away in the sweat shop of an industry that we call film. And neither of those options sound very appealing to me.

Instead, our new way forward is to let go of some of our traditions, and not hold on to tightly to the way things were done. The film industry has taught us a lot about how to efficiently produce content. For example, it is a lot more efficient to block your scene first, then light it, and finally shoot it. But at the same time, we shouldn't hold on to any tradition, approach, or process just because that is the way it has always been done. Does every project need a full sized crew? Are highly trained specialists needed for every position? Does everything have to be shot on Alexa or Red or…? Does everything need to be in RAW/4k?

Instead, if we are willing to question and re-evaluate how we have done things in the past so that we can be more efficient in how we work, we stand to capitalize the most off of this information age that is rapidly making the shift to being primarily based on visual communication. After all, who is better suited than us creatives to not only create visually stunning content, but to deliver that information in a compelling an engaging way?

So what does this look like? To me, this looks like embracing the beginnings of our history, while capitalizing on the unprecedented access to an audience of 7 billion people. Like the early artists and filmmakers, it means finding ways to keep our overhead manageable. Maybe I don't need the latest and greatest camera, the latest computer system, or a crew of 10, when last year's model still delivers, and a crew of 5 will get the job done.

And then it means finding and accessing our audience. Today we have access to 7 billion people. All we have to do is to access 0.0000001% of them in order to create a successful business model for ourselves. Or, even better yet, what if we went out and partnered with people who already have an audience who are paying them for their content/information?

There are tons of brick and mortar businesses, consultants, and people who have been working for years already charging clients for their content/information. What if we visual artists helped to bring that content online in a compelling way? They have the built-in audience; we have the creativity and technical expertise. Do the work once & split the proceeds. Both parties now have a reoccurring revenue stream that generates money night and day regardless of if they "clocked in" or not.

That sounds like a much more sustainable business model over the long term...

Indie Cinema Academy

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is
I am a firm believer in walking the talk, not just spouting off grand ideas. I believe that this information age is quickly becoming a visual information age. And so I am going to adapt now rather than get left standing in the dust as I cry about how things used to be done.

For me, the first step along this path is to dive in and create my own visually based information product. As many of you know, I've been working on the Cinematographer Series for awhile now. Well, I've decided to revamp it from the ground up. I have brought on a partner and I am in the process of launching Indie Cinema Academy. It is our goal to help other filmmakers to make smarter choices in their filmmaking endeavors, and to understand the theory behind those choices so that they can succeed no matter what gear, or technology they are currently using.

And that is where I am going to be putting all of my time and energy going forward. So if you want access to any of the training I'm producing (both free & paid), then come on over and follow me there. I'll be releasing a free series on camera filtration very soon which will cover not only what you need to know about filtration, but I will also be sharing filter recipes that I've used over the years on my own productions.

All of my new content will only be available on Indie Cinema Academy: indiecinemaacademy.com / Twitter / Vimeo / YouTube / Google+

So what do you think- is this the way things are headed, or am I completely crazy? How do you see things changing in our industry?

Hope To See You Over at Indie Cinema Academy, & Until That Time - Get Out There And Shoot!

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