Saturday, 31 August, 2013

Film and Digital - a casual Facebook debate

Some days ago I posted on Facebook...

At approx Rs 13,000 per 400ft roll and exposing about 7 rolls (28 mins) a day for 60 days, feature films used to spend about 55 lakhs on film and processing alone.
Now, shooting digitally, and shooting even 60 mins a day for 60 days costs only Rs 6 lakhs for hard disks even if you make copies to two separate hard disks. 
I meet film producers every day who find that costly.

From the very interesting comments I got, I've made up a debate on film vs digital in the movie business

Film-maker friend Nayan Padrai commented...
"Wait till they convert in dollars" 

What he meant, I guess, is that these figures are different in the US. probably because film costs much less there than it does in India, while manpower costs are higher. Digital probably involves more people hence costs more.
Ashoka Holla, founder of Berserk Media and one who's been at the producer end, commented
"How I wish the difference between film vs Digital was so simple.."
My response to Ashoka...
"digital is only as simple as people make it. Or, it can be complicated if they wish it upon themselves. 
For the past year and a half, I run a company that specializes only in providing an adequate workflow for movies shot digitally. Disks, transfers, conversions, conform for DI, long term backup, archiving, Avid/FCP on hire everything digital. 
For a price, of course.
Have worked on over a dozen movies, more in the pipeline."

Sanjay Sami, arguably one of India's finest grips and one who's in the thick of it, has to 'shoulder the burden' of film or digital cameras more than anyone else…
"The most expensive component of a shooting day is time. When we were shooting Life of Pi, the Producer David Womark told me that the cost per MINUTE of production time was 7,000 US$. So ... does shooting time go faster with a film camera or Digital ? My guess is that film is faster …"
Ashoka responded (referring to my new business Post BlackBox)
"Hey congratulations..that sounds like a good business..My only point here is the difference is not only film vs Disks.. Disks, Transfers, Conversions, Image stability across systems and many many other intangibles( Shooting days, Discipline etc) are additional costs. Plus with digital you tend to shoot so much more that it takes more days in post to sort( & select) plus ofcourse Post Blackbox Costs as well. Yes Digital works out cheaper upfront but in totality with all the hidden costs, the gap is much smaller than what it appears"

Ashoka to Sanjay…
"Good point ..I love Digital but I have started loving film more after Digital came through. Content should dictate the choice of origination.. I would be disappointed if film does not exists any more for film makers to make that choice"
"There is no financial reason to shoot digital over film. In many actual comparisons carried out by Fox Searchlight, Digital was found to be more expensive all told, including for some of the reasons mentioned by you. A lot of Producers buy into the hype surrounding the fact that hard drives are cheaper than film stock. If you choose digital over film it should be for other reasons, and there are a few."
My response...
"I've been doing this for a living for the past 18 months. Have done this math over and over again for all sizes of productions - Fukrey to Dhoom 3. And I assure you that if handled correctly, digital movie shooting in India costs a fraction of shooting film. 
As an editor I have exact numbers of cans exposed for the dozen or so films I've edited. Shot film. 
And as a DI supervisor I have the numbers for about 160+ (yes 160+) films whose cans came to me for DI. 
So, trust me, digital costs less to shoot than film even accounting for higher camera rental costs. 
In some movies I've worked on, digital shooting enabled a reduction and sometimes elimination of lights, some or even all of them. 
Since Feb 2012 I've been on digital shoot sets for nearly 300 days in 12 countries and 9 states of India. 

Digital works. But only if you hire the right people."

"With due respect to ur knowledge and experience, I am afraid that is no argument. U can compromise on quality to save costs.Especially ur comment about no lights frightens me becos in the last one year I have seen several films shot digitally which compromised on lights and when u see the result on screen u cringe! Digital works for sure no doubt.But films works too. Both have their place under the sun.."

Sanjay Sami...
"Neil, your calculations are based on material costs. And you are right there. Hard drives are cheaper than film. That was not at all my point. I think there are some good reasons to shoot digital. Cost is not one of them.
"For a movie costing Rs 40-60 crores to the lead actor, film or digital makes little difference. 
For aspiring film makers with Stanley ka Dabba, Ship of Theseus, Fukrey and many such, in their heads, shooting digital is the only possibility. Digital is an enabling medium for many, who, with film would never be able to take the movie out of their head and on to a screen."

My response…
"Editors gave up film over 20 years ago. With Avid and FCP, editing went digital. Sound got recorded and edited digitally too. Then post went digital, then prints gave way to DCPs. Cinematography is the last thing to go digital. 

Let's move on. There's an easier world out there. Let's enjoy film-making. Let's not wish upon our youngsters the drudgery of film. If you were an editor in the 80s film was drudgery.

Like many editors of my age, we have actually held film and lived with it for months on end.  Nothing beats carrying large cans up stairs to a dingy editing room at Dadar. The smell of chemical in your nostrils all day and night like film smells. 
The whirr of the Steenbeck and a small flickering image on a screen. Or standing before a Movieola and watching an even smaller screen. The film was actually in your hand all day. And it was organic. Organic smells, and it's heavy.

White pencil to mark, a splicer to cut, and cello tape to join were editor's tools. Everything was always 'saved', no need to make backups, no worrying about anything getting 'corrupt'.
Then you cut the negative, the exact same film the cinematographer rolled. 
No one called themselves DoP back then. And after pack up they were in your BEST bus to Andheri. Now you're in the same jam outside Oberoi Mall. In separate cars."

Ashoka S Holla…
"how nostalgic? what u call drudgery was actually a lot of fun. Organic negatives were treated with so much care like its ur baby.Yes digital filmmaking presents a whole new opportunity to filmmakers ( see my quote in ET a couple of Weeks back). But filmmakers should be the one making choices and not post houses.

My response...
"about film-makers not post houses deciding, that I will agree with you all the way. About negatives and babies, not sure. I've had both."

Ashoka S Holla linked to an article on new age movie distribution
Content helps small-budget films script big success, 405 such films hit theatres in Jan-Jul

and on new directors working on shoestring budgets possible only because of digital 'filming' 
The YouTube way to fame in filmland

Both are articles on the new wave of film makers and how Digital technology will create the next wave of content creation.However hope you will agree that still film has a huge role to play in storytelling. In some areas like archiving and even data storage Film is making a strong comeback across the globe.

Sanjay Sami on ease of use or lack thereof…
"post may be easier in digital, but that is CERTAINLY not true of the shooting process. Film is faster and simpler in almost all cases."

My response...
"Actually, 'real' film is when you shoot film, cut the neg, make a contact print from the original neg. Watch in a film projector. Like we've done from 1920s till 2000. That's film. 
We began to give that up after about 2003. 
In the world of DI (post 2003), film remained film only in the camera. After that it was all digital anyway. 

Shooting digital need not be a compromise in visual quality. And shooting film need not be all lyrical and poetic. Work on a Bhojpuri film shot on 35mm and see.

About movies shot digitally without lights... I have NDAs. 
So all I can say is wait and see. Actually when you watch it, you won't even know which shots were done without lights. It just looks so natural."

And so the debate goes on

Adobe Creative Cloud

Here's the deal.

Before May 2013, if you wanted to use an Adobe product - Photoshop, After Effects, Illustrator, Premiere Pro,  whatever - you had to buy it, either each one or as a suite of many applications. Or, like many in India, you 'borrowed' it. But 'borrowing' Adobe software is inconvenient and even dangerous. If you were in an organisation, even a small shop in Adarsh Nagar or MHADA, you faced the prospect of a raid and subsequent purchase. 

Many people pointed to the high price of Adobe products, but that is never a good excuse to steal, which is what 'borrowing' software really is.

Recently Adobe announced that its products will now be available online, as a monthly subscription. It's called Adobe Creative Cloud. You need to get a membership to the Creative Cloud. Once you do that, you can use any Adobe product by downloading it. As part of the membership you also get 20 GB of space on Adobe's servers where you can save your work and access it on any machine connected to the Internet.

So, what does that mean to us creative artists in India?

The basic Creative cloud membership is Rs 2,700 per month. And you have to commit to a year's membership at least. During that year you pay 2,700 x 12 = Rs 32,400. If you have any Adobe software after CS 3, you can upgrade for just Rs 1,600 per month, or Rs. 19,200 per year. Students and teachers get it for Rs 1000 per month only.

Even if you only use Photoshop and/or After Effects, getting the Creative Cloud at Rs 2,700 per month is a no-brainer. Pay once and its debited to your card every month. Like buying software with an EMI. You won't even feel it.

And for that you can download and use any (or even all) of these. And you can install on up to two machines belonging to you.

Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Muse
Other apps like 
Acrobat Pro, Adobe Audition, Bridge CC, Encore, Fireworks, Flash Builder, Flash Professional, Adobe InCopy, Lightroom, Media Encoder, Prelude, SpeedGrade
Edge Apps like
Edge Animate, Edge Inspect, Edge Web Fonts, PhoneGap Build, Edge Code, Edge Reflow, 
Services like
Story, Kuler, Business Catalyst, Typekit, Behance, ProSite
Touch Apps like
Photoshop Touch, Kuler for iPhone, Ideas, Behance for iPhone, Creative Portfolio for iPhone.

For all those who crib about FCP 7 being discontinued, remember, FCP 7 costed no less than Rs 50,000 to buy. If you switch to Avid, you're looking at over Rs 80,000 for a new Avid license. 
But for Rs 32,400, Premiere Pro is yours for a year. With Photoshop and After Effects and many other apps free - all this on two machines.

Friday, 23 August, 2013

A new iPhone - Sept 2013

Disclaimer: This post is pure speculation. I have no knowledge of any of Apple's impending plans for any of their products. I doubt if anyone outside of Apple has any such information. And anyone within Apple too is not permitted to relay any such information. So this post is my own imagination and guess-work.

iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c

There's a lot of speculation on various blogs and web sites on exactly what Apple will announce on Sept 10, 2013.
The current MacBook Pros, iMacs and Mac Minis too are old enough from previous versions that new models of these could be announced. And, of course, a retina iPad mini is possible too.

But by and large, people agree it will be a new iPhone. And iOS7, maybe.

On the new iPhone, speculators and rumorists are rooting for an iPhone 5s. Many new features are being touted for the iPhone 5s which some of which are only an evolution of the current iPhone 5. And there's also very rumoured iPhone 5c. The so called iPhone 5c is speculated to be made of plastic in different colours. I doubt a cheap iPhone, but anything is possible.

When Apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007 there was no competition existing for a touch screen phone in which the user could load apps to increase the usefulness of the device. Over the past six years and four models, other manufacturers have caught up with and even surpassed the iPhone's capabilities. So now, Apple needs something revolutionary or there's no point introducing a new iPhone.

iPhone camera improved

I think there is probably at least one revolutionary feature that no one has predicted yet. So here goes my first prediction for the new iPhone. A better camera.

The existing iPhone has a 8 megapixel camera which many believe is one of the best phone cameras. But other phone manufacturers have higher resolution cameras and some have cameras that perform better in low light.

Three factors that can be bettered in the existing iPhone camera. Resolution, stabilization, and low light performance. But, given the thickness of the iPhone, its hard to increase the resolution and light gathering capability of the existing camera. Unless one adds cameras.

So, I predict some kind of a multi lens multi sensor 'super-resolution' camera which combines the output of multiple cameras to increase dynamic range and resolution. And multiple cameras also help in image stabilization and leveling. If not multiple cameras, the new iPhone will probably have vastly improved image processing.

Distributed processing

Improved processing needs a faster processor. And that leads to the next new feature. Some kind of distributed processing with one's other Apple device so that the iPhone gets capabilities of a desktop device by collaborating with, say, a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. Collaboration with external devices needs authentication. What better way to authenticate the user but with fingerprints.

Fingerprint authentication

So, like many other speculators, I think there may be a home button which can read finger prints. This is as good as or better than credit card security. Apple recently acquired a company that specializes in finger print authentication. Finger print authentication also ensures theft-proofing of the iPhone. So the one issue with phones in general is losing them and along with that losing one's valuable data.

Finger print authentication, coupled with some kind of worldwide insurance scheme would ensure that no one with the new iPhone can ever lose data on the iPhone. And, more importantly, the actual property that an iPhone represents. So, if you lose your iPhone, its useless to anyone else, and an insurance company instantly replaces or underwrites the replacement of your iPhone. Worldwide. So, if your iPhone is stolen, you still have a phone.

Drop-proof phone

Another way people lose phones is they drop them. Teenagers especially. Shattered screens, mikes or speakers that don't work, and other such issues, that Apple has a hard time supporting. So I think the new iPhone will be drop-proof. Something about the construction will protect the internals and the front glass.

Back to the future

Whatever features we will eventually see, one thing is certain. There simply has to be some new 'killer feature' in the new iPhone which sets it apart in a very crowded market. Steve Jobs said while launching the first iPhone in 2007, that the iPhone was 5 years ahead of its time. True to that, 5 years later, in 2012, other phone makers finally caught up with the iPhone.

But in 2012 Apple didn't release anything very extraordinary. Instead, they released the iPhone 5 which was a little better than the iPhone 4. And simultaneously went back to the drawing board to design something revolutionary in 2013. Thats the new iPhone, which, whenever it releases, will once again wow the market. Let's see where this goes.