This past summer, I worked for The Man, although I think it slightly dishonest to call my feverish mouse clicking “work.” Of my list of new job titles I can add to my resume (and it’s an impressive list – web designer, studio photographer, copy editor, graphic designer) the only one worth a damn was “filmmaker.”

Jess Cox

I was in middle school around the release of Apple’s iMovie, when my friends and I would seek out the kids whose parents were wealthy or gullible enough to own a digital video camera and con them into joining us for school projects.

Even if the project called only for a visual aid (a requirement which most of our classmates were content to satisfy with a macrame collage depicting the Treaty of Versailles), we would crowd around the computer until – gasp! – 11:00 at night, arranging phony interviews and movie parodies into incomprehensible epics, middle-school blockbusters disguised as book reports or argumentative speeches. After the dust settled, we struggled and stayed up late for assignments that didn’t deserve much more than a 3-fold posterboard, and we loved it.

So when my summer boss wanted to make a movie about the launch of the company’s new Preferred Customer Card System, there was no filmmaker more perfect for the job than Jordan Vogt-Roberts. To his great credit, Jord has actually continued making movies beyond the video we did on vectors for precalc together, enrolling in the film program at Columbia College.

But as prestigious as Columbia is, my parent company didn’t want to take the risk of hiring two untested college rookies, so we made a deal: We would make the film for the cost of video equipment. If the company liked our film, we would get a bonus on top of the gear, but if we pulled a “Gigli,” we would foot the equipment bill ourselves.

Sure, it was a gamble, but not nearly as much as it used to be. Our equipment came in the mail in two weeks – a Christmas morning’s worth of microphones, studio lights, boom poles and shock mounts, with the crown jewel being the camera itself. Jord and I both knew that if we had to buy the equipment, enough for a respectable studio, it would cost less than half of what major studios spend on pet-walking and lattes for the stars.

With digital video, gone are the processing and developing costs of processing miles and miles of film negatives. Gone is the era of drastic editing mistakes that could jeopardize an entire shoot; the term “cutting-room floor” has become not much more than nostalgia. Everything is instant, cheap and damn close to being error-proof.

And this is good news to all aspiring filmmakers: The glass ceiling has been shattered, the golden gates have been thrown open (and other such cheesy metaphors), and amateur auteurs rejoice in basement studios and garages across America.

You’ve heard this story before: Any time a new type of new device or media format debuts, you’ll see this same article written by sweaty critics drooling over the conquer of the old and the inconvenient by the new and the digital.

But that’s not the whole story. There’s a new regiment of aspiring filmmakers who are fed up with the nonexistent depth of field and soap-opera-quality video that you get from most digital video cameras. It’s a counterrevolution of sorts, only the revolutionaries want all of the benefits of digital video with none of the compromises of quality.

You see, the telltale mark of film is its framerate – how many individual ‘pictures’ are recorded per second. Soap operas and home movies look harsh and fast because they shoot at 60 frames per second, as opposed to the standard film framerate of 24 fps, which gives film its dreamy realism. We all know this; the video of your toddler-era trip to the zoo doesn’t look quite the same as even the lowest of Hollywood productions – say, “Dunstin Checks In.”

But what really intrigues me is the way that filmmakers are using technology that would have previously been thought obsolete. At least five companies have started to manufacture 35mm lens adapters that fit on the most popular digital video cameras, allowing filmmakers to use the same Nikon and Canon film lenses that have paid for the brick and mortar for every newspaper and magazine photo section in the country.

What do you get when you screw in your f2.8 Nikko zoom lens onto your 24fps digital video camera? What you get is nothing short the second digital revolution, the revolution against the 1s and 0s, the revolution that acknowledges the traditions of the past while not overlooking recent advancements in technology.

It’s been said that in film as in any medium, you can choose two of the following three attributes: good, cheap or fast. The story of digital video was of the latter two; now it’s all three.

 

Forest will be spending the weekend editing home movies from his childhood. He can be reached at fcasey@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *