by Tara Veneruso
Every day we are one step closer to filmmaking being as easy as taking
out the brush and oils for a painting. The tools for making a motion
picture are more versatile and affordable than ever before. As an
independent filmmaker, it is essential to understand the tools in order
to capture the true essence of a story. Evolving technologies are
enabling filmmakers like "Someone To Watch" Award recipient Scott
Saunders ("The Headhunter's Sister") to originate their films on video.
This article is an exploration of a number of the new tools available
to independent filmmakers with limited resources.
Team Next Wave (Peter Broderick, Mark Stolaroff, and myself from Next
Wave Films, the Independent Film Channel's finishing fund for ultra-low
budget features) headed to Las Vegas for NAB '98 (April 4-9). Our
mission was to investigate new digital cameras, non-linear editing
systems, and other technologies that independents can use to make their
National Association of Broadcasters' conventions showcase the latest
high-end equipment that well-financed television networks and stations
can purchase. Our challenge was to find tools that are affordable or
accessible to filmmakers working on very low budgets. It was like trying
to locate your apartment building from the top of the Twin Towers.
Most impressive was the Canon XL1 MiniDV camera. It features
interchangeable lenses (including 35mm still camera lenses), optional
connection for XLR inputs, modular design, Pixel Shift technology, and
the ability to record 4 separate tracks of sound in the camera. It also
takes digital stills. Canon has designed the XL1 so it can be upgraded,
although it is a very good camera in its most basic form (approx. price
Sony's VX1000 is not a dinosaur yet, although it was not on display
since Sony was only promoting their professional models. Sony was
featuring its new DVCam, the DSR300, which appears to be a solid entry
at the next level above MiniDV. Some observers questioned Sony's
decision not to arm it with a firewire output. Representatives of some
other companies selling digital video cameras could not seem to grasp
the concept of shooting features with their equipment.
Adobe's unveiling of Premiere 5.0 generated a lot of excitement.
Designed to be more useful for long form projects (eg. features and
documentaries), Adobe has further refined an editing program which makes
filmmaking accessible to the inexperienced user (although computer
knowledge is essential).
New versions of the Media 100 software (for Mac and Windows NT) are
designed to expand its use by filmmakers. Taz, the no-last name
filmmaker, is currently shooting 2 feature films both of which will be
edited on the Media 100. He was giving demos of Slingshot which provides
the Media 100 with 24fps matchback capabilities. Taz described the
real-time functions now available with the Media 100xr and the upgrades
of audio performance in 4.5. Media 100 is reportedly working on a
firewire input, which would make post less expensive by allowing footage
shot on digital cameras to be downloaded directly into the computer,
without having to first convert to analog.
The Avid booth was so packed that it was difficult to find the least
expensive version, the Avid Xpress 2.0 for Mac. If the $30,000 price tag
for a full system (monitors and all) doesn't scare you, the Xpress
features significant audio enhancements and an integrated matchback to
your negative. An Avid representative said that director James Boyd used
Avid Xpress to edit "The New Gods".
Other interesting products included equipment that utilizes Iomega's
Jaz2 technology. Sony Pictures had ADSG create a machine which has two
Jaz2 drives for recording A/V material. You can record up to 4 hours of
mono sound onto a Jaz2 (hardware necessary). It holds up to 10 minutes
of Hi-res A/V material. Some uses could be trailers, demos, and
recording field sound. Sony also demonstrated its new digital video
editing system the Sony ES-3, which is expected to cost between $20,000
and $30,000. Digital projectors from companies including Digital
Projection were on display utilizing the Texas Instruments new DLP
technology which will open up theatrical options.
Collin Brown, Kodak's head of Cinesite in London, believes that all the
new technologies available will give filmmakers the freedom to be as
creative as they can dare imagine. But we were reminded that even if
making films is easier, getting them seen may not be. As we moved
between vast exhibit halls, we walked past a dozen protestors decrying
the limits on micro broadcasting for radio. Inside FCC chairman William
Kennard warned about the growing concentration of station ownership.
While these voices seemed to be drowned out by the buzz about new
technologies, the question of how independents will be able to reach
audiences in the dawning Digital Age is an extremely important one.
We left NAB '98 convinced that many more resourceful filmmakers will
start making movies with digital video equipment. DV cameras and
improving nonlinear editing software will make filmmaking more
affordable and accessible to a new generation of filmmakers. But before
buying or renting this new equipment, they will have to carefully
research these ever evolving options to avoid ending up on the bleeding
edge of these new technologies.
[Filmmaker Tara Veneruso is the Director of Film Evaluation & Outreach
for Next Wave Films. An NYU Film Grad, Veneruso directed her first feature
documentary at the age of 20, the award-winning "Janis Joplin Slept
Here". Tara has produced, directed, and edited many music videos,
documentaries, and shorts such as the Super-8 wonder "Johnny Rock. The
life. The legend". Tara also co-organized the highly successful AIVF
Salons in Austin, Texas and CONDUIT, an unofficial sidebar of SXSW
focusing on digital video based projects. Her multimedia roots began on
the early BBS systems and she was the first person to utilize the CUCMe
technology for a live broadcast interview for Much Music Canada with
Toad the Wet Sprocket. Additionally, Veneruso is currently directing her
second web series for InterneTV.com, "Chemical Generation," shooting this