In the video production business, weve traditionally been very impressed with what we pay for our hardware. We have told our clients, employees, competitors, and obnoxious relatives who became successful physicians and lawyers just how much our equipment costs in the course of conversation -- all just to really make the incredible gravity of our profession clear to them.
Suddenly, things are changing. Professional cameras (with recorders attached!) have broken the sub-ten thousand dollar range. On-line quality non-linear video editors can be purchased for less than the cost of a quality lawn tractor and some boxtops. Four strong men with a large, impressive truck are no longer needed to carry the large, impressive equipment to a location. Strange and exotic computers that are totally proprietary and require something just short of a shaman to operate seem slow and unnecessarily complex to use for post production these days.
What ever happened to the days when you could bring your brother-in-law down to the station on the weekends when he would visit and you could show him the wondrous sorcery that was your domain? There was the incredibly cryptic multi-colored keyboard in the CMX suite, the almost eerie power of the ArtStar, the sheer amazing tonnage of the (insert your favorite old, heavy, maintenance-intensive, unattractively painted studio camera here) and the amazing trip hazard of the fire department hose-sized cables required for it to operate.
Those were the days werent they? You could always count on being perceived as at least as skilled as the equipment you worked with was expensive. Equipment was big and complicated. In some places you had to possess the title of engineer to push the buttons on a studio VTR.
Things are different now. Anyone with a mild inheritance or a normal steady income for that matter, can afford to purchase tools that are of a technical quality level to do very professional work. DV camcorders that can be purchased at Appliance Empire Warehouse Club can turn out pictures that even the most cynical professional must admit are very good. Before you leave the big closeout sale, you could spend another three thousand bucks and buy yourself a complete video/audio post suite disguised as a home computer (with digital I/O no less!) and hang out a shingle before supper.
So what is to become of us dinosaurs? Those of us who were taught how to read a waveform monitor and vectorscope and to summon the almost surgeon-like steadiness-of-hand to wield the ever necessary tweaker to subcarrier-phase multiple cameras together? We may feel like questioning our future career path. Are our skills no longer needed? Will the market even pay for them any more?
Ultimately, my personal opinion has been the same all thirteen years Ive spent in this field. Its not the equipment that does good work. It never has been and never will be the equipment that accomplishes the tasks with which we are charged. There is, of course a segment of the high-end post production market that will always be focused on the latest and greatest technology because their clients know enough to be dangerous and pay enough to be deadly should they depart. For a large percentage of the rest of us, the client gives us a job to do after they have seen examples of our work, spoken with a few references, and are confident we can successfully communicate the message required. They do not ask or care about the model number of our camera, or the harddrive space currently tied to our post computers. These clients hire people to do a job, not equipment that comes with an operator included.
Over the next 5-10 years I fear we will be going through our own desktop publishing type evolution (we actually probably have about 3 years under our belt now). Notice the word evolution as opposed to revolution. Everything is always a revolution when were in the middle of it because change is so traumatic to us fragile human beings.
Looking back at the the desktop publishing revolution (I was there, I can call it that for historical perspective), I remember the polarization of the factions. The If you think you can do quality typesetting on that stupid little half-screen computer, youre nuts! folks versus the Laser printing is going to put you ink and roller fossils out of business -- Power to the People! people. All that turmoil. All that really bad layout produced by people who had the money to equip themselves, but not the talent to typeset a grocery list. Im sure most of us have heard the forty different typefaces on a page-because I can scenarios over the years.
Lets look at the actual legacy of that time. Typesetting and layout is easier and more accessible. The people who were bad at layout did what people who are bad at any business do (no, not profit profusely from a dot-com IPO). A bad baker, car dealer, retail store or desktop publisher eventually goes out of business. On the other hand many skilled people had the chance to enter the field or go out on their own because of the advent of desktop publishing and they are flourishing. Printers are busier than ever because its so much easier to create a printed piece that more people are printing stuff. Ive never heard anyone at a printing facility say Boy, life sure was better back in the days of the razor blades and the waxers. Revisions are easier than ever (people with indecisive clients may consider this a rather dubious benefit). It can be asserted that the publishing and printing industries were improved.
So here we are. Some of us are very seasoned professionals coming to terms with the fact that the cost of our gear wont keep the amateurs out anymore. Most of the capabilities of that online non-linear system you shelled out fifty or a hundred-thousand dollars for six years ago are available for three to seven thousand dollars (mail order nontheless!)
I say revel in it! Run your system until you would normally have to upgrade, then smile intensely as the system you replace it with cost less than one nine gigabyte harddrive did back then. Yes, you may end up with the same system that the guy up the street bought to use for editing his home movies. Yes, he (or she) may not have the necessary skill to direct a security camera. Think about how level the field is for comparison. Same equipment. Same results?
Ive never heard a famous chef talk about his skills as being tied to a certain kind of stove.
As the field becomes less mysterious, we may fear that our clients or employers will think of our skills as more of a commodity. As time goes on, once again, the shakeout will benefit the truly talented people and it will finally become clear that the equipment is a commodity.
But then, it always was, no matter what you paid for it.
-- Tim Kolb
Tim Kolb has spent thirteen years in video production including time in television news and ten years at his own company, Kolb Communications. He is a multiple ITVA, Telly, American Advertising, and Emmy Award winner. His business focuses on corporate and commercial projects. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org