“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Charles Dickens must work in media. These are challenging times for anyone that wants to earn a living in the media industry. Creating high-quality work when you don’t care about income is easy but not when you need to make a living.
No one would dispute that these are challenging times. Challenging in terms of audience viewing behaviors shifting from traditional broadcast and cable to OTT, challenging in terms of generally descending budgets, challenging in terms of technology, challenging in terms of how millennials deal with television, challenging in terms of audience tastes, challenging in terms of deadlines and never-ending competition. I think we abound with challenges.
During December, on my weekly podcast – Digital Production Buzz, I interviewed producers, cinematographers, editors and post-production folks to discuss the state of our industry. At the end of every interview, I asked: “Given all the challenges in our industry today, is there hope?”
There is, in fact, a lot. Here are their Reasons For Hope.
PRODUCER: BOB BAIN
I mean, here’s my position on that. If you’re not optimistic then you shouldn’t be in this business to begin with; or any business for that matter. I think the real winners are the ones who can use that optimism to their advantage.
It’s always going to be challenging, by definition. It’s dynamic. And I believe that if you maintain your optimism and you’re willing to work at it it will work out for you.
POST: TERRENCE CURREN
Let me give you a split answer on that. I think it’s great and I think it’s terrible.
I think that this is great. When I started out back when I was 12 years old, I worked in my neighbor’s yard for six months to earn the money for a wind up 8-millimeter camera. It was so insanely expensive and it cost me three weeks allowance just to shoot one three-minute silent roll of film. If I had the tools now where you have a camera on your phone, you can shoot whatever you want, you can edit it yourself, then distribute it to the world – I would have been in heaven. So from a storyteller’s standpoint this is the best of times possible.
From a business standpoint of post-production, of trying to make money off of that, this is really not that great a time. The pool of people who are willing to, or have, the extra money to spend to pay you for your expertise is shrinking. The large facilities are still doing “Game of Thrones,” but the amount of the other work — that whole middle ground area that we all used to work in — a lot of that is just people going: “Well, it’s good enough if I just do it on the computer myself. It’s not great but it’s “good enough” and that wraps back to the original problem.
So from a business standpoint it’s not great. I wish I was starting out as a storyteller. I’m not happy being a post-house owner now. If that makes sense.
EDITOR: WILLIAM BOODELL
I think what keeps me hopeful is storytelling and loving that. As long as you understand story, characters, themes, ideas, rhythm, you know, the things that are [effective for storytelling].
A lot of people like to focus on the technology, and the technology is fascinating, but there’s a rabbit hole of things that you can dive into and not really pay attention to what is actually central to editing: which is writing with images and sounds and talking to other people with these things.
So what keeps me hopeful is the knowledge that I know that I can do that, seeing other people do it well, knowing that there is an art to it, that it’s not just button-pushing. That people can pay button pushers if they want or they can pay people who tell stories and that keeps me hopeful.
PRODUCER: DAVID TILLMAN
I hope so. I think people still have the appetite to watch stuff, even more than they ever did. I think there is a larger number of people that want to watch things.
I think you’re right that media has certainly changed a lot. First with DVR and now with streaming services; people cutting the cord on cable. But, like I said, people want to watch things. They want an escape from reality. They want to learn about things. Especially with documentary. I think you can to say all these things are changing but in terms of documentary, there’s probably never been a better time.
So I’m hopeful that as the landscape continues to change people in our industry figure out ways to adapt with it and still find the money to make great shows. And so keep going. But, you’re right. It’s certainly something to keep your eye on and have your finger on the pulse and roll with how things are changing.
CINEMATOGRAPHER: NANCY SCHREIBER
What gives me hope is that the younger people are coming up in droves with great stories, [which are] very imaginative. Because of the digital revolution, and because cameras are so accessible, many younger people are able to make shorter content, shorter films and get recognized. These minds are out there helping make our industry more exciting.
Hopefully, though, the older generation will still be embraced in there. There’s nothing like experience. We still have our great minds and passions.
So I still am hopeful that all generations will be able to be relevant and creative. That’s my great hope that we’ll all be able to be thriving and that industry will continue to be as exciting as it’s been in the last few years.
CINEMATOGRAPHER: NED SOLTZ
It’s changed for the better in that there’s diversity. It’s not the province of white Anglo-Saxon males anymore. So the industry is changing with greater representations of minority communities with greater representation of women. And as a result very different perspectives being brought to the whole filmmaking process. Very different life experiences because again part of what’s going to go into any kind of creative process, even if it is to the point of blocking a shot or lighting it, is all going to be influenced in part by that individual’s cultural references, by their own particular biases, if you will, or by their particular life experiences.
So we’re going to see a variety of different life experiences, of different perspectives on the life brought by a greater diversity of people. That is really going to enhance that creative process, and one that might be fortunate enough to be able to work in that more etherial, higher end.
There are much more opportunities for content, as we have not just traditional television and traditional big screen anymore. We have the over the top. We have all of the productions that effectively on our social media and actually through advertising and the like are making money. There are people who make money on YouTube productions. They may not fit your conventional 90 or 120 minute film, but they are going to be episodic. They are going to be well thought out and in turn that’s going to provide an income.
So there are all kinds of venues and I think the availability of equipment too, because we have equipment in all price ranges and it’s all good. That’s key. That’s the kicker.
PRODUCER: JJ KELLEY
I have a lot of reasons for being hopeful. I love my job. I mean I think that if you are passionate and you enjoy what you’re doing there couldn’t be a better purpose for you on this earth.
The demand for media, for video, has never been stronger than right now. There’s more content being produced globally than ever before. I think that we just have to stay fresh. I mean, yes, things have changed in the last five years with the rise of social media and fake news and the #MeToo movement. Yes, it changes. But, you know, things change rapidly. I mean you think 100 years ago we were just in basic cameras and the moving images were starting to happen.
So you have to always stay fresh. You have to have a community of people around you that are keeping up on the latest and greatest. I think it’s really important to work with other companies who are trying different things and don’t get to set your laurels at one institution. See what other people are trying to do.
I think that there’s a ton out there if you stay hungry and you stay fresh.
EDITOR: SUE LAWSON
I’m going to say yes. I certainly think so or else I would be working at Starbucks.
Yeah, I think so. I think that there is definitely hope, because I see the content creation side of things just exploding and because of that, because everybody everywhere is looking for content, I believe that they are always going to need editors. It is finding the right clients who know what they want, can communicate that to you and have a budget for it.
POST: OLIVER PETERS
Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s still a business that’s fun to me and I work with people who go to work every day who enjoy doing what they’re doing. They’re not just doing it for a job, and they care about the product. So, I think that’s probably a lot more important than almost anything else in the business.
When you look at other types of industries I find that very hopeful.
Certainly there are going to be changes. Technology changes. You know people are concerned about AI and other things coming in and doing their job for them in a few years. And I’m sure some of that will come. But it will probably come in different ways than people envision that today. And a lot of that will be helpful not not necessarily hurtful to their careers.
CINEMATOGRAPHER: JODY ELDRED
I do think there’s hope. I do, because there’s always people who care. There’s people who care about the story. There’s the people who care about the audience. There’s people who care about more than just profit. I’m one of those people. And those are the kind of people that I want to work with.
If it’s just about the money, I could probably be doing other things, you know, to make money. But I care about good stories and I care about people and I care about telling stories that can change people’s lives for the better.
It’s one of the great opportunities that we who work in television and film have, that we can actually live lives that matter.
POST: MARK RAUDONIS
Yeah absolutely. I mean I’ve been doing this a long time and this is what I wake up in the morning for. I like the challenge of a new technology. I like the challenge of having to figure out how to do the impossible. And then you wake up again tomorrow and you do it again. So yeah, I’m hopeful.
I would say that the visual media far outweighs printed media. That means nobody’s reading newspapers anymore. Everyone wants to watch it. So there’s going to be an ever increasing need for visual media in what form it takes. I have no clue as to what that will be but I do know that there’s going to be a lot more of it everywhere.
EDITOR: ADAM BEDFORD
Why am I hopeful? Because of the content that’s on the horizon. There’s so many more streaming platforms. There will be no shortage of content to use with, like, Hulu, Netflix, and everybody else.
Sure the tools are important and learning how to use the software but it’s only half of the process. You have to tell a story and if you can’t tell a story, or craft some sort of nuance, or how to tell stories with music as well, then you learn how to do that if you want to get ahead.
I think the work will be there. It’s just a case of navigating yourself and working hard enough to be ready in the right place at the right time for when it’s to go in.
CINEMATOGRAPHER: NED SOLTZ
Oh! There’s absolutely hope. There’s always hope for talented people. And talented people will always find a way both to be creative and, hopefully, from that creativity to be able to make a living. There is a lot of hope.
The main fears that I have are a degradation of quality. And I don’t just mean technical quality, I mean artistic and narrative qualities. But, yes, it’s very hopeful because there are so many opportunities and so much new that is happening that it’s a very exciting change to be a part of.
EDITOR: ALAN EDWARD BELL
I think that, today more than ever, there is more narrative content being made in the world than there ever has been. The biggest challenge is for a narrative editor today, somebody like me who basically focuses on feature films. I only cut things that go to major theaters. I think if I was a young person today that would be a mistake because there’s an awful lot of wonderful content being made specifically for the air or streaming and most of it’s going to streaming.
You now have more opportunity if you want to get into narrative filmmaking because of streaming media. I think for seasoned editors there’s plenty of work out there. There’s always going to be more work out there and the key is really understanding when to say yes and when to say no.
So I’m very, very hopeful about the future because I think there’s a lot of work out there. Even though the tools are incredibly cheap – and you hear this argument a lot where people say oh you know anybody can get a tool and call themselves an editor – the reality is that’s true. Anybody can get a pad of paper and a pen and call themselves the writer; good writers rise to the top. Just so, good editors rise to the top.
I’m not concerned so much about the fact that tools are cheap. I think that that’s one of the great aspects of technology and what’s happening today is that you now can actually afford compositing software, sound design software, editing software; virtually anything you’re interested in doing you can explore and become good at it.
I guess the best way for me to [explain this is that] an editor has to be a generalist. You need to be able to do sound design, visual effects to certain degree, all of this on top of being able to tell stories. If you can focus on telling stories, which will come naturally through experience, read a lot, watch movies, and learn the software, I think that the challenges that are out there today can be overcome.
There’s certainly tons of work out there.
Yes, there are challenges. There have always been challenges. But, we knew that when we first started telling stories with moving images.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the worst thing you can say to a creative person is: “Do whatever you want.” Creativity flourishes best when we are pushing against boundaries. Tell us we can’t do something and we’ll figure out a way to make it happen.
Focus on your unique skills and perspective – don’t define yourself in terms of your tools. When we define ourselves in terms of the tools we use, it becomes easy for someone who also uses the same tools to steal our clients from us. Instead, define yourself by the stories you can tell and your knowledge of the craft of visual storytelling. As Jody Eldred said, just because someone has paper and pencil does not make them a writer.
We also need to focus on clearly defining the benefits that we deliver for our clients. Again, if all we do is compete on price, someone else will always be cheaper. But, when we compete on results, even a lower price won’t steal clients away.
Finally, stay current on technology, because technology is what we use to tell our stories. But, don’t let technology distract you from the greater goal of telling a compelling story.
When we concentrate on our creative ability to tell compelling stories that deliver results on-time and on-budget for audiences and clients, we stand the best possible chance to survive and grow.
All my best wishes for a very successful New Year! And – never give up.
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