Is Film Dead? Then Why Do People Keep Wishing For It To Return?

11 04 2012

I am a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is that Academy.  The one that gives out the Oscars every year. Though, actually, that’s only one teeny tiny part of what the Academy does.

One other thing that it does is to recognize great student work from around the world — by giving out Student Oscars. I am one of a whole slew of members who watch shorts (defined as 40 minutes or under — which often doesn’t seem so short) from non-U.S. film schools so we can vote on the ones that we think represent filmmakers who we would love to see be nominated for feature films in the future.  It’s a great committee

But something odd happened the other night, and it dovetailed nicely with an annual survey that Harry Miller conducts for A.C.E. every year.

Here’s the odd thing that happened.  One of the committee members got up and noted that fewer and fewer of the films submitted to us are captured on film. This member wondered if there wasn’t some way that we acknowledge and reward films that were actually shot on film. He wasn’t suggesting that we vote with that in mind, he hastened to add. He just felt that the Academy awarded films. And he wanted to acknowledge those that were shot on film.

With that, my jaw nearly dropped to the floor and one of my row-mates asked if I wanted to stand up and kick some butt.  Well, I did want to do that, though it was not the forum for that. So I kept my seat, and put my jaw back in its proper place.

You see, it seems to me that what we really do in the Academy is honor good stories, well told (THE ARTIST notwithstanding). It doesn’t matter if they’re captured on a Flip Cam (well, not anymore, I guess) or 70mm. Entrancing, captivating stories know no format.

This was borne out by a survey that Harry Miller helps to conduct every year among members of A.C.E. who are editing movies and television. Since 2004 he has asked a number of questions. One of them is what format (“camera original” in his survey) the editors’ projects were captured on. Back in 2004, the breakdown went something like this:

16mm film 7.5%
35mm film 72.6%
70mm 0%
DV-HD 0%
HD (24p) 10%
Digital (Drive/Tape/etc.) 0%

Now, let’s jump ahead a mere seven years to last year – 2011.

16mm film 2.48%
35mm film 15.53%
70mm 0.62%
DV-HD 15.53%
Digital (Drive/Tape/etc.) (includes 24p) 62.11%
Other 4.35%

If my math is correct (and I was pretty damned good at simple math back in high school) that is a six-fold increase in Digital acquisition, while 35mm film fell to one-fourth of its 2004 percentage.

Now Harry would be the first to confess that this survey was completely non-scientific. It includes pretty much whoever wanted to respond and doesn’t include anyone who either forgot or didn’t want to respond. But the trend is completely obvious. Kodak isn’t just in bankruptcy, its film side is dead, dead, dead. Labs may be making some decent money making prints worldwide, but more than 50% of U.S. theaters are digital now and the world is fast catching up. Those cinematographers who are still developing film negative are looking at a future in which it will get increasingly more difficult (and, hence, more expensive) to process film neg. Which means that fewer and fewer productions will shoot film. Which means that lab work will get even more expensive.

Which means that film will pretty much die. No, let me take that back.  It won’t “pretty much die,” it will totally absolutely die.

Since all of our theaters will eventually be digital projection (and nearly 100% of our films will go through a digital finish anyway), I defy anyone’s mother or non-industry friend to tell the difference between a digital capture film like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO or the upcoming SPIDERMAN 3, and a film capture. Either subconsciously or consciously.

Wishing that film would come back seems about as pointless to me as pining after those really great lemon cookies that Keebler used to make that I loved so much.  That now are dead, dead, dead.

I think it’s time to reward “good stories, well told” and forget how they were shot. Or, let’s bring those Keebler Lemon Cookies back.

3D Finally Catches A Break

21 02 2012

And So Do The Studios

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the United States government (thank you Joe Biden) and the Chinese government (thank you Xi Jinping) have signed an agreement that allows more American/Hollywood made films to enter the Chinese distribution market.

And makers of big, stereoscopic blockbusters are to thrilled that I can hear their cheers all the way up at my house (which isn’t far from the studios, but still….).

So, what do I mean by this.

I’d be hard pressed to name more than three people over the age of 23 who really care enough about 3D to actually pay the extra money to go see a movie in stereoscopic. Hell, I don’t even think most of my students care that much about it.

Sure, it’s really cool to watch Jar Jar Binks coming straight at you but, honestly, do you know anyone who wasn’t a STAR WARS fan who went to see the re-release of Episode 1?  The second weekend boxoffice dropped off almost 65% from the first weekend.  Hell, it couldn’t even beat the Journey sequel in it’s second week. 3D probably didn’t bring in any more people than a 2D release of it would have.

Ultimately, 3D isn’t that big a selling point here in the U.S., especially when you add in the surcharges, and popcorn, and all of the red wine you’ll need to drink to get through it. And you may soon be charged extra for those fantastic 3D glasses!

In fact, I know more people who will avoid a movie in 3D (not just my wife, though she’s pretty vocal on this topic) because they don’t like the whole experience.  The glasses aren’t comfortable.  It hurts when I move my head around. I get tired more quickly.

Etcetera and etcetera.

So, it’s getting harder to justify the additional expense that a 3D movie costs in production and post production (a flawed white paper, from White Creek Productions, claims an increase of 18%, but fails to take into account the almost doubling of costs in the Digital Intermediate and VFX creation processes).  When COWBOYS & ALIENS investigated the additional costs, additional shooting and re-lensing time, and compared those costs to any added benefits in the storytelling they decided to shoot in 2D.

Now, I don’t want to add any noise to the pointless argument about whether 3D is a fad, or whether it is here to stay.  But I think that it’s fair to say that it’s worrying the hell out of the studios, which was just settling into the idea that they had the next new technology box office enticement, and one that was very difficult to pirate.

And then they got hit with the train that is box office reality.

Which gets me back to the news about China.

I’ve been to China several times.  The last time, in Beijing, I hung out for a few hours at one of the new facilities for posting stereoscopic films.  We chatted about all of the same things that I would chat about at a post facility here in Los Angeles.

In other words, they are just as forward tech savvy as we are here.  And they are doing some really cool things with 3D.  But they are expanding their 3D theaters rapidly — for major theatrical distribution as well as government and other uses. In fact, they’ve got more screens than they’ve got content.

Which is where the major studios come in.

We’d love to get deeper into the Chinese market, but they’ve got this pesky rule that they only take 20 non-Chinese films per year.  20 for the whole world.  That doesn’t leave much room for Mission Impossible, Transformers, Star Wars, and all of those pesky European films that most citizens of the world like to see. And China definitely would like to see their own industry expand.  That isn’t going to happen if Mission Impossible, Transformers, Star Wars, and all of those pesky European films that most citizens of the world like to see, are clogging up the cinemas.

So, they’re sticking to the 20 film limit.

Now, American movie companies have started to expand into the Chinese market by creating co-productions with Chinese companies.  Those films become Chinese films, and don’t fall under the 20 film rule. But American companies can only take 13% of the box office receipts out of China.

That’s a problem too.

So, the awesome news for American companies is that this new deal creates a separate category of films that are less prevalent in China right now — Imax and 3D films — and allows 14 more of them per year. Considering that most 3D films are from the major studios right now, this is a huge boon for them.  And, since the deal also raises the amount of money that the studios can take out of the country to 25%, there is now a huge incentive for American companies to create 3D films.

Only 3D films.

Considering that, according to that article in the New York Times, Chinese box office is now $2.1 billion and expected to more than double that by 2015, this is a great deal for the studios. 25% of a potential boxoffice of $300 or $400 million is $100 million dollars.  And they’ve got the territory sewn up. No pesky Weinstein Company films tripping over their release dates.

So the pressure to make a film in 3D just went up five-fold. If you’re looking at an additional $15 million to make a film in 3D, with an upside of $100 million, that’s pretty much a no brainer.  Take THAT Jon Favreau! Take that Chris Nolan!  We’re talking stereoscopic for your next films — at least if the studio that’s releasing them wants to get into the Chinese market. And, who doesn’t nowadays?

The New York Times says this is a boon for the makers of big budget sci-fi spectaculars.  They’re right, of course (can’t wait to see Baz Luhrman’s GREAT GATSBY in 3D, though.  No wait, I’m lying about that.), but the biggest winners in this are the major studios making those big budget spectaculars.  The mid-level and indie filmmakers are going to have to cede the Chinese market for now.

Why Jobs’ Intro of the new Apple TV is Bull

8 09 2010

Sue Huang USC Presentation conclusion

I’m not saying that the Apple TV is bull, mind you. I’m talking about one or two of the points in the presentation.

But let me backtrack for a second. You’re going to have to bear with me for several paragraphs here, as I meander to my point.

It all started earlier tonight when I was down at USC (the University of Southern  California, for those of you who aren’t sure) watching a fascinating presentation by artist Sue Huang of the collective knifeandfork, which is doing some really fascinating interactive installation pieces which are site and audience specific.

Huang was showing samples of her work and discussing her influences using a PowerPoint (nope, not Keynote, but what are you going  to do?) presentation.  At the end, running out of time, she quickly put up a number of slides which discussed the various roles that different factors played in their work. One of them, at the left, was the “Role of the Audience” which was fascinating and very dense.  I reached for my iPhone (I was taking notes on it) and snapped the picture you see.

Now that I’m back home I can check out what I didn’t have time to read then.

Pretty obvious, right?  Pretty easy, right?

Well, then, why was the woman four people to my left frantically typing away on her iPad, taking the notes so she could read them at home?  My guess is because the freakin’ iPad doesn’t have a camera in it! I’m sure that some day that God-like device will have a camera in it — and then I’ll buy one — but for now, it’s one of the many things that it doesn’t have. Why? Because Apple decided that the public didn’t want a camera on this sleek, incredible, God-given device.

Uh, right. It would  look stupid, holding an iPad up to take pictures of Mom, Dad and your dog. Correct?

So, let’s leap back a few days. Last week, Steve Jobs introduced the new Apple TV (see this MacRumors report, one of about eight zillion stories written about it) by saying that they had listened to what their customers had said they wanted and they didn’t want. They wanted “Hollywood movies and TV shows whenever they want them.” — check!  Makes sense. They wanted “everything in HD” — uh,  okay.  Check, maybe.  My Mom still can’t tell the difference between SD and HD, but let’s give this one to Steve since given a choice, everyone wants something better quality, so long as they don’t have to pay for it.

What else?  “They like to pay lower prices for content.” – check!  Makes sense.  Cheap is better than expensive.  So, score another one for the Steverino.

Next two? “They don’t want a computer on their TV.” and “They don’t want to manage storage.” — check.  We don’t like things that are complex. I get that. (though one could argue that people do rather well managing their music storage on something called iTunes, which Jobs managed to introduce a new version of just twenty minutes earlier). So what did Apple do?  They took out the hard drive and made the device completely streaming. Check!  Makes sense .. uh no. Wait a minute.

Wait a minute.

I get the “no hard drive” part. It makes it too much like a computer. And people don’t want that, right?

Maybe. But let’s phrase the question differently. Would you like to watch anything that you have on your hard drive, whenever you want to? I’ll bet you do. And you’d  like to watch things that might not be available from the few partners that Apple has lined up for the Apple TV, right?  You might like to watch something from the Net that isn’t on YouTube or Netflix, wouldn’t you? I bet you would.  But Steve Jobs doesn’t think so. If it ain’t on Netflix, YouTube, your MobileMe account (hah!) or Flickr, then you’d better stream it over their own proprietary Airplay connection from your computer.

Wait a minute!  Your computer!?  The one with a hard drive in it? Doesn’t that make it hard?

So, what’s my point here?  It’s easy to knock any shipping product for what it doesn’t have.  Almost every product has things missing that would be on your “Must Have” list.  That’s  simply a reality of the design process. You need to compromise. But the desire to dress up these missing items in a ball gown and call them God’s gift to Prince Charming is  laughable.

In fact, it’s almost as laughable as filmmakers that I’ve seen look out at an audience that fails to laugh at a joke that has been planted in a film, and chalk it up to audience stupidity. Just as it’s easy to tell everybody that they should run out and see CATS AND DOGS IV because it’s in 3D!! Because you really really want 3D, don’t you?

It’s very easy in our business (as well as technology, I suppose) to get caught up in our thoughts, reactions and desires and ascribe them to everybody. If we feel that something is necessary, than everybody must feel that way, right?

One of the greatest talents that a filmmaker can possess is the ability to step outside of his or her own reality and question themselves. It’s hard, and it’s rare as a result.

“They don’t want to sync to a computer.”

Rodney Charter, HD-DSLRs and Prep Time

3 04 2010

Rodney Charters shooting using a Canon 5D

The one thing that you can predict with students is that, if there is a cheaper way of getting to an end product (and that way involves a cool new toy) then they will be all over it. At USC, a recent trend has been away from the Red camera (which was all the rage for the last 18 months) and moving towards HD-DSLR cameras, still cameras which have been tricked out to shoot video. Because they have the large image sensor of still cameras, the HD quality they can deliver is amazing, though there are still issues with production and (particularly) post production.

I have no doubt that companies like Adobe, Apple and Avid will eventually work out the post production issues, so it’s important that we all get familiar with the issues involved in HD-DSLR production. But there are much deeper issues here than, simply, the technology. Issues of aesthetics and storytelling aside, shooting with a DSLR camera isn’t the same as either a no-budget or a high-budget shoot and it pays to think about why and how.

Here is an article by Rodney Charters (best known for his work on the show 24 and followable on Twitter with the handle @rodneykiwi) about the shooting of an Indian gangster (post-Sopranos) short. You can get to the article on

What is often left behind on these sorts of low budget shorts, and the article gets into, is how misleading the camera is, in terms of prep. And that is exacerbated on an DSLR shoot. Because it looks like the point and shoot digital still cameras that we’re used to taking out and capturing family picnics with, there is a tendency among many new filmmakers to treat their own projects a bit too informally. Crews aren’t bothering to do camera tests before shooting, and very little concern is given to issues like how lenses affect focus, and how handheld shots on a small camera are differently executed than on a larger one. This leads to beautifully detailed HD images which are slightly out of focus or too bouncy to use (remind me someday to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the Stabilize effect in our NLEs).

But there’s a mention in the article of some of the prep work that Charters did for this short, directed by Snehal Patel,

Working handheld or on a tripod, getting proper focus is a major obstacle for many filmmakers working with the 5D Mark II’s full-frame image sensor, which is closer to the size of 65mm motion-picture film. Because Patel and Charters were predominantly using Panavision zoom and prime lenses rather than DSLR lenses, it made the job of focus pulling a little easier. With cinema lenses, the extra-large lens barrel spins nearly 360 degrees, which makes it possible for a focus puller to hit critical marks within inches rather than feet. Similar to a film shoot, they also employed a first and second AC on each camera like a professional movie production.

Earlier in the piece, it mentions that Charters had one day of testing for a two day shoot. In other words, 1/3 of their production time was spent in testing. I’m not saying that Charters didn’t already know that he was going to using those Panasonic zoom and prime lenses, but I don’t doubt that what he learned in that one day helped the project move more smoothly, build the language with the director, and help the project to look better.

[As a side note, I should also mention that Charters, being the Hollywood DP that he is, had Panasonic build him a special PL lens mount so he could use a 10:1 zoom. Just try that if you’re Mr. or Ms. Indie Cinematographer.]

The piece also mentions that they had a DIT on set, and that they ended up backing up their footage to three locations. That’s professional industry practice on file-based cameras, but there are all too many occasions where crews shooting with HD-DSLR cameras forget that they still need to think professionally. They aren’t operating on a home movie shoot. Unless you can afford to lose your shoot like a home picnic, then you can’t treat it like one.

I’m Not Afraid Of Organization!!

22 02 2010

Shane Hurlbut is known for more than just being the guy on the other end of the Christian Bale shouting match. He is a DP who has been tirelessly touting the value of shooting high-end films using HDSLRs (High DEf still cameras that can also shoot HD video) like the Canon 5D Mark II. In fact, in a recent fxGuide podcast (podcast #56, about half way through) he makes a passionate case for why these cameras will eventually “kill film.” It’s a thought provoking and (frankly) pretty exciting podcast. For those of us who step back from a headlong rush into something new just because it’s new, this will raise some great issues about what earthly use celluloid film really has.

Shane also has an interesting entry on his blog at Hurlbut Visuals, talking about the digital workflow issues that he and his crew dealt with on a recent Navy Seals film (that he also talks extensively about in the podcast). In it he talks about media management, a skill which is sadly lacking in many crews who shoot file based cameras. There is an illusion that, because it’s easy to keep shooting, and because stopping to reload cards “interrupts the creative process” (as if decades worth of shooting 11 minute loads of 35mm couldn’t create good creative films), that media management is an impediment to creative filmmaking. Hurlbut takes the piss out of that one:

The unique skill set that my Elite Team brings is that they all have a film background and are comfortable with certain rituals that accompany being a motion picture film loader and 2nd assistant cameraman.  These include: managing the truck; keeping  track of the gear and specialty pieces of equipment; creating an inventory and log; assessing how many magazines you have to load and color coding it according to the stock; labeling the magazines with the date, job, film stock and amount loaded on the magazine itself; and writing a camera report with the same information.

When I see students of mine with disorganized editing bins, into which they’ve loaded unlabelled takes digitized from tapes that have not been sub-clipped for easy access, it drives me insane. One of the great advantage of digital editing is that it should make it easy to find anything that I need to create a finely edited sequence. If I have to scroll through a ten minute series of takes in order to find the one that I want, it’s going to stop my creativity much quicker than taking the 20 minutes to subclip and label each one of those takes before I edit them.

by the same token, dumping dozens of takes of unslated, unlabelled takes, into my NLE does nothing to help my creativity. And having to hunt through all of the dailies because the production people didn’t bother to create usable camera and sound reports, or script notes, makes the editing process so much more difficult.

One of the things that encouraged me to write my recent book on editing room procedures (THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK) was the awareness that filmmakers were wasting countless hours and brain cells because of lack of organization. And that this organization, which we use quite naturally on higher budget films that have assistant editors by the score, was easily adapted to low budget films with no assistants. A little bit of work at the start, saves a whole boatload of work later. And that work is complicated by the fact that the director will be standing over your shoulder while you’re scrolling through a 25 minute clip, looking for the one 50 second take that has the piece he or she wants to look at. Or that opening and clicking through a dozen badly-named sequences, in order to find the version of the cut that you liked from two months ago, is just a really stupid idea.

There are ways to avoid that nonsense and creative DPs like Shane aren’t afraid of them.

And neither should you.

A Great Example of Crowd Sourcing

24 08 2009

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a great example of a crowd sourced music video which popped up on the web at the beginning of the summer. I meant to mention it then but… I don’t know… life intervened.

Shot for the Japanese band Sour’s song “Hibi no Neiro” (which means something like “Everyday Tone”) this is a great example of how you can make something incredibly creative with very little money and involve your fans in the process. Their fans are much more likely to be involved and support Sour after something like this.

SOUR ‘日々の音色 (Hibi no neiro)’

How Animation is Leading The Way For Our Filmmaking

10 08 2009

I just got back from a week-long conference on teaching media, about which I’d love to talk more and more.  And I will.  You know I will.

You know journalist A.J. Liebling‘s old expression — “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” For a long time the same has been true for much of filmmaking and the cooler aspects of animation, including the sort of motion capture technology previously available only to those who could afford it.

But there is a fascinating project going on in Hungary, called Kitchen Budapest, which is creating a place for a myriad of arts and technology projects spearheaded by Hungarian artists. There is one, called Animata, which (if I understand correctly) will make motion capture much more accessible to the average computer geek (I doubt that Mom and Pop will be using it anytime soon, but that’s probably a good thing all around). Here is how they describe it:

In contrast with the traditional 3D animation programs, creating characters in Animata is quite simple and takes only a few minutes. On the basis of the still images, which serve as the skeleton of the puppets, we produce a network of triangles, some parts of which we link with a bony structure. The bones’ movement is based on a physical model, which allows the characters to be easily moved.

Check out a dancing figure in the following piece, which has an inset of the person who is controlling it.

Reverse Shadow Theatre from gabor papp on Vimeo.

And then, take a look at how you can get much more complex, using multiple figures and musical instruments.

Animata Jazz Pub from gabor papp on Vimeo.

Now, I have no idea how flexible this is. But, if it is as accessible as it looks, this bodes well for projects well behind artsy animation films. Just think how this could work with instructional videos (one of the largest and most successful areas for Internet video) and demo films.

Let me take a little sidetrip here. I remember years ago, there was an incredibly talented post-production sound mixer named Dick Vorisek in New York who created so much mystery about what he did that it seemed like no one could ever mix a film except for him. A little while later, another mixer (named Lee Dichter) started mixing in a much more open way. I began to feel that mixing wasn’t a huge mystery, but that no one could mix quite as well as Lee could.

This paradigm has now moved into the entire filmmaking process. We all can edit and do sound work much more easily than before. We can now afford to shoot as well. And we can color correct and do visual effects. Most of us aren’t doing those things very well but we’re beginning to understand and participate in the process much better than before. Now we’re beginning to see the light in terms of motion capture and bridging animation and live action.

This bodes for a vastly more interesting world out there. Link on over to Animata, and stay tuned for the future.

Brighter hopes for Digital Theaters

22 06 2009

The recent news that Sony and Regal Theaters reached an agreement to install 4K projectors at Regal Theaters, combined with Friday’s item that the German Federal Film Board (FFA) agreed to provide 40 million Euros (that’s over 55 million US type dollars) to help the digitization of German theaters, shows that the feature film world is finally beginning to get its digital film houses in order.

Of course, there is plenty of desperation in these measures, as well as a large dollop of politics (the FFA co-produces films, and Sony is one of the majors and mini-majors that is still standing). But as the panicked move into 3-D and IMAX shows, the distributors and exhibitors — who are often on opposite ends of the interest continuum when it comes to showing films — are both smelling the snapping dog of internet distribution behind them.

It’s not that 4K makes the films look much better than a typical HD projector. Of course, there are those who see the differences, but most filmgoers couldn’t tell the difference if the words “This Is Better” were flashed on screen during the 4K projection. But it’s that 4K fits into the present filmmaking workflow so much better when you start to look at the very gimmicks that could keep recalcitrant filmgoers in theater seats. The high-powered digital effects of Big Tentpole monstrosities like TRANSFORMERS are created in that high res.  Digital Intermediates are increasingly being done in 4K. 3-D begs for higher resolution in order to create lower cost distribution.

In short, 4K finally makes sense as a differentiator between the theater experience and your living room (even if you’ve got a nerdlike sound system and huge-screen television there). If you don’t have the story to bring them in, at least get the high-priced splash and, for now, that looks way better on a big screen with great sound and incredible effects of things blowing up. All things that the smaller-budgeted indie films and web-based projects can’t really deliver.

I’m not sure where this leaves a film like Woody Allen’s latest WHATEVER WORKS, which had a visual effects component that could barely fill up one screen’s worth in the end credits. But, after years of pooh-poohing 4K as a real possibility in theaters, I must say that I’m thinking that it could really happen. In this case, it’s not the audience that is clamoring for it. And it’s not solely the distributors, finally. It’s the entire chain — all the way to the exhibitors.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Will it make the filmgoing experience more awesome? I doubt it. Will it make the filmmaking experience easier? I doubt it. Will it make the transition of films to all sorts of ancillary markets easier? Probably, by a hair’s breadth. I’m waiting to see if it does what the industry clearly wants it to — to bring more butts into the seats, and to make the entire process a little cheaper.

Waiting for the Blu-Ray deluge

15 06 2009

I’ve been down this road before, but a recent announcement by Bruce Nazarian on Larry Jordan’s Digital Production Buzz perked my interest again.

Here’s the set-up:

  1. More than a year ago, Blu-Ray finally (after much payment of money to the various film distributors) triumphed over HD-DVD in the HD Format Wars. However the rush to adopt the format has been conspicuously slow.  We were told at first that this was because people had been holding up on buying players because of the war.
  2. Then the war was over and very few people ran to buy.
  3. Then we were told that it was because of the high price of the players and when they came down, in time for the 2008 Holiday Season, then all would be well.
  4. Then the player prices went down and sales went up — but not ferociously. (As of May 31, Blu-Ray accounts for only 12% of all DVD sales according to the most optimistic figures).  Accoring to the web site Blu-raystats, sales of Blu-Ray disks are up 81% from last year, which seems impressive on the face of it.  But when you consider that the number of Blu-Ray release is up 210%, that figure doesn’t look quite as good.
  5. At the same time, we were told that a huge impediment to adoption of Blu-Ray in the independent market was the high licensing fees for replicatable disks. Once those were licked, that group of content creators would leap onto the bandwagon.

Now the good news is that through Bruce’s (and the International Digital Media Alliance‘s) incredibly hard and diligent work, it appears that the most expensive of the two licensing organization for Blu-Ray — AACS — may finally be relenting. And that is great news for independent producers.  But I’m still not convinced that anyone cares enough to make this the straw that breaks the Standard Def DVD’s back. Even with the growth of large screen TVs.

Ask yourself this question. I’m going to assume that most of you reading this blog are interested in Content Creation in some way — either as filmmakers or film watchers. That puts you in a group of people who are Interested In Content. Now, out of this group, how many of you own a Blu-Ray player and regularaly purchase Blu-Ray disks.

Hell, let’s make the question even broader.  Out of all of you people, how many of you even know of someone who regularly purchases Blu-Ray content?

If that percentage doesn’t approach 50%, then Blu-Ray is dead.  If we can’t even get those of us interested i films to watch them on Blu-Ray, how are we going to convince the rest of the world.

This goes beyond the Current State of the Economy. As I’ve said before, the leap from VHS to DVD made a huge difference in terms of the visual and audio quality.  In fact, it made a big enough difference so that it passed the Mom Test — that is, even My Mom would notice. That, and market factors, eventually drove VHS out the window.

But, even with great big wall televisions, the difference between SD-DVDs and Hi Def Blu-Ray DVDs is just not that huge that my Mom would ever care or notice. Hell, my Mom hasn’t even bothered to use the component video outputs from her DVD player.  (“Nothin’ wrong with those cute red and white plugs, right?”) And it’s a pretty steep curve to get her to upgrade — both the hardware box and all of the movies that she’s accumulated over the years.

In short, the drive to move to Blu-Ray, with my strongest apologies to Bruce, is completely led by the studios — who are looking to give consumers a reason to re-purchase all of their already purchased content. This isn’t coming from the consumers (except for HD sports on television most of us couldn’t give a damn) at all.  It’s not even coming from the producers, directors, and cinematographers of the world. Nope, this is almost completely market driven.

Which means that, for now, those of us who love HD content would rather download it over the Internet then go through the upgrade path. The Future of Blu-Ray may be Broadband.

METal Media Festival

10 06 2009
Taste of METal Media Festival

I’m part of a group of people who get together about every week or so to talk about events in the Media, Entertainment and Technology spaces (don’t you just love when someone uses the term “space”?). The group, which is called METal — for the Media Entertainment Technology Alliance — is run by Ken Rutkowski, who you have heard me talk about in the past.

This Thursday, June 11th, for those of you who will be in the Los Angeles, Ken and Michael Kaliski, will be hosting a very low-cost Media Festival, which will a cross between a film festival and the TED conferences. Excerpts from a large number of films will be shown, and each one will be followed by a short talk by someone representing the film. Here is how the Taste of METal site describes it.

The Media Entertainment Technology Alliance (METal) presents its inaugural media festival on Thursday, June 11th displaying an eclectic selection of meaningful shorts accompanied by speakers who will give brief, insightful presentations following each film. Moderator Ken Rutkowski will be wielding “the hook” to keep things zipping along. It’s speed dating for the mind!

The event will take place at the state-of-the-art 400 seat screening room at Los Angeles Center Studios. 450 S. Bixel Street LA, CA 90017.

Arrivals and refreshments will begin at 7:00PM with the program kicking off at 8PM.

Details can be found at the TASTE OF METal site and you can RSVP at

I am totally going to be there. It looks like it’s going to be a very interesting and provocative evening.