In recent years we’ve heard a lot about how digital filmmaking compares to its traditional counterpart. Filmmaking technologies have completely overhauled the cinematic landscape and have lead film in a different direction, revolutionising every aspect of cinema.
Crossing into digital filmmaking largely means opting for practices that allow filmmakers to produce, edit and finalise their films while saving time, money and energy. Because of the technology behind digital mediums, filmmakers find that they are able to complete more work in less time, managing to complete their projects under or close to budget. Although Hollywood started to capture films digitally in the early 2000s, it wasn’t until 2013 that the majority of commercial films released in the US were shot digitally. The film industry as a whole has therefore been moving towards embracing new technologies, with many pre-established companies reinventing themselves. Although founded a century ago, camera company Arri has adapted to technology and developed cameras, some of which are amongst the most-used in large-scale commercial film production.
Digital technologies have helped filmmakers revolutionise the industry during every step of the filmmaking journey. Post-production is one area which has proven that new digital technologies trump traditional ones. Digital effects can now be seamlessly blended into a film without audiences noticing when they are being used, creating a clean final product. The digital landscape has also allowed film editors to work on long sections of film, piecing together certain takes and scenes after visual effects have been added to the original footage.
With software like FinalDraft, emerging technologies have helped filmmakers behind the scenes for years. Digital technologies have also made their way into revolutionising on set practices, with many hair and makeup departments abandoning polaroid film for digital cameras in order to catalogue their work. The future of film has also changed thanks to digital filmmaking, allowing for more robust film preservation. Although many studios have released re-mastered versions of iconic films, film is highly flammable and deteriorates over time while digital archives are easy to back up and restore.
While the film industry has openly embraced new digital technologies, there are a few areas with untapped potential. Many production companies have turned to websites like YouTube to aide in a film’s promotion and use digital technologies to distribute motion pictures, however this market has yet to reach its full potential with the business side of filmmaking still catching up with what digital distribution can promise.
With the new technologies emerging everyday it truly seems that digital filmmaking has come out on top. The majority of commercial and independent cinema is now filmed digitally and in 2013 almost every UK cinema had turn to digital projection. The future of cinema is digital and emerging filmmakers and their mentors need to work alongside technology to embrace its potential. Without embracing emerging digital technologies, it would be nearly impossible to produce the growing volume of increasingly diverse films released each year – and this is the world your students will all work almost exclusively in. The king is dead, long live the King?
Steven Soderbergh, director of such films as Contagion, Erin Brockovich, and the Ocean’s Trilogy, has a unique take on how much information the audience should be given, and how much they shouldn’t. Soderbergh ignores the classic tropes of filmmaking and strives to present information to the audience in new and exciting ways.
Audiences are getting better at picking up on minute details and inferring outcomes. However, many filmmakers still feel they should lay all of the information out for you. This often makes things drab and predictable for the audience, to be told or shown things that they already know. Soderbergh takes a new approach.
While he strives to show everything in a new unique way, he also cuts out any spoon-feeding. Declan Taaffe from Writing With The Camera uses the example of a character walking into an office and speaking with a character. These shots are so common they are ingrained into our mind. Establishing shot of office building > wide shot of room > over-the-shoulder > close up on face. The dialogue follows the same tropes, with the character behind the desk giving introduction as to who they are followed by the newcomer proposing a question or terms. These little details and shots are effective – we know who everyone is and what they want. However, Soderbergh thinks giving all of this information is unnecessary. Instead, as shown in a similar bank scene in Ocean’s 11, he sets the camera in one spot and that’s it. Character states their business. Done. Soderbergh ignores all of the classic film techniques and shows just what he needs to show to keep the movie going.
As Soderbergh puts it, he tries to “be more adventurous and release information in a way that’s less traditional.” And less traditional he is. Known for cutting out establishing shots, removing unneeded dialogue, and splicing between important scenes with no filler in-between, Soderbergh still manages to showcase what’s most important in a film: the story.
In his efforts to give audiences character and scene information in new ways, Soderbergh has racked up both extremely positive (Behind The Candelabra, 2013) and negative reviews (The Good German, 2006). Bending the traditional way that stories are told doesn’t always work out, and sometimes the audience is looking for just a bit more information to be displayed. Soderbergh’s successes are extraordinary though, showing the necessity to take a risk and break the barriers of traditional storytelling.
The path to becoming a next gen media maker gets easier every year but not necessarily clearer. Gone are the days of sharing VHS tapes and booking public broadcast airtime. The YouTube uprising is in full swing, 13-24 year-olds watch more content on YouTube than they do via their television screens. Nurturing young media makers today means preparing them for the online world but what exactly does that entail?
The Digital Platform Revolution has changed the kind of content people care about. It’s also changed how we want it to be delivered. Traditional media companies are either struggling or drastically altering their business plans. The pending purchase of Time Warner by AT&T will soon pair up 130million+ mobile customers with Time Warner’s large offering of content – including Warner Brothers, CNN, HBO, and more. Meanwhile, YouTube’s partnership program is allowing next gen media makers to become celebrities, and highly paid influencers, all from the comfort of their bedroom – or their local Youtube Space. (If a YouTuber has more than 10,000 subscribers, they have free access to sound stages in nine major cities!)
In 2016, people live on-demand lives. Their schedules don’t allow them to catch their favorite shows at airtime – and why would they when television ad breaks are becoming more and more frequent. This increased advertising is supposed to make up for the loss in viewers but common sense tell us this will have the opposite effect. Cord-cutting is on the rise and there are over 47 million U.S. Netflix subscribers – 87 million worldwide. With the rise in on-demand services, media makers have a wide array of platforms for content distribution, most of which are free to use – and monetizing content has never been easier. Product sponsorships and pre-video advertisements are easy to set up, and if you’re a larger channel the companies will come to you – this is how influential, and widely viewed, online content has become.
The dark side of all this prosperity is that there are instant critics who will shoot down videos the second they are posted. Competition, and the dating of video trends, mean that next gen media makers need to have their fingers firmly on the pulse of the online world. For students whose aims are more towards the traditional TV and Film industries, the Digital Platform Revolution means that it’s never been easier to get noticed. Producers are interested in viral videos and fan campaigns. If you have a following then they will listen.
Alongside the shakeup of video distribution is the revolution in camera technology. Today, most students carry around a smartphone which is well equipped for shooting low budget pilots and shows. These students should still be taught the old ways of doing things but there should also be case studies on the kings of online content, like Casey Neistat (5.8million subscribers, 1.3billion views) whose genre defining vlogs have shown the world that internet video can be serious business. It can’t be long until there’s an Academy Award for best online video. For next gen media makers, learning how to manage digital platforms can be just as important as film theory.