Engaging CultureMedia Production

Enough with the RED Camera!

Actually, I have no issue with RED, Alexa, or any other digital camera for that matter – they’re all fantastic tools. What I do have a problem with is how often filmmakers and video producers get hung up on gear. Yes, quality is important, and the right gear can make a big difference. However, the right equipment is only a part (and sometimes a relatively small part) of the equation.

I was in a meeting with a new production company recently about a project they had just finished but all their director would talk about was their RED camera. He must have mentioned “We shoot on RED” at least five times in our conversation. The problem was, while the video looked great, the acting was over the top, the directing was weak, and the editing was worse.

Not once did he mention storytelling, writing, casting, or any of the other critical elements to making a good film. I worry that a new generation of filmmakers has had access to video equipment at an earlier age than ever and has become obsessed with the latest cameras and other gear. But they need to become obsessed with directing technique, their ability to work with actors, and script analysis.

For the record, if you’re a filmmaker, know this: I don’t care about your RED, Alexa or other hot camera. If we’re going to work together, tell me about your storytelling ability and how you plan to translate that story to the screen.

Because a RED camera doesn’t make a great film. The people in front and behind it do.

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12 Comments

  1. It’s a common trap for creatives; Too much time spent on tech and not enough on technique. A great editor will cut a great piece no matter what program he uses because of their talent, skill and instincts. There are limitations; different tools and capabilities, but all things considered it holds true.

    In my world, a good shot is a good shot regardless of the video quality. Sure, I’d rather have a phantom shot (1080p 2000fps) of the Lebron dunk with a bounce pass off the backboard to himself in the NBA finals last year. But it doesn’t exist! So the 1080i 29.97 will have to do. It’s what happens in front of the lens that really matters.

  2. So true. This gear scenario plays out in a parallel universe with churches & ministries too: the pastor or church leaders will grow effusive about their new, expensive gear (plus lights & editing & sound board). But they’ll rarely talk about the program they’re producing (usually with lightly trained volunteers). It’s because gear is tangible; you can point to gear, touch it, brag about it, show it off, tell everyone how much it cost. The same is true of a new studio as well.

    I worked on a major (9x) Emmy-winning network tv series a few years back. We almost NEVER discussed gear until about a month before production. Then rented the latest, best available for the 3 week shoot. Virtually all of our prep time was on casting, creative, logistics, story, pro personnel. Most every waking hour. Goal: Best TV program we could produce, nothing less.

    “I’d rather see average gear run by excellent people, than excellent gear run by average people.” – Phil Cooke

    1. GREAT story. Thanks for sharing that. It’s so true here in Hollywood. Most network TV programs look like a disaster when it comes to gear, because they’re concerned about the casting, storytelling, script, and directing. That’s a good word. Thanks for sharing!

  3. DSLRguide (https://www.youtube.com/user/DSLRguide), last I watched, refuses to buy a nicer camera. He says he doesn’t need one, and he would rather focus on lighting and story telling. I believe he’s using a Canon t3i.

    While I think he should seriously consider upgrading, I must admit that his stuff is better than mine despite my newer camera. Always stuff to learn!

    Thanks for sharing Phil!

  4. So true. This gear scenario plays out in a parallel universe with churches & ministries too: the pastor or church leaders will grow effusive about their new, expensive gear (plus lights & editing & sound board). But they’ll rarely talk about the program they’re producing (usually with lightly trained volunteers). It’s because gear is tangible; you can point to gear, touch it, brag about it, show it off, tell everyone how much it cost. The same is true of a new studio as well.

    I worked on a major (9x) Emmy-winning network tv series a few years back. We almost NEVER discussed gear until about a month before production. Then rented the latest, best available for the 3 week shoot. Virtually all of our prep time was on casting, creative, logistics, story, pro personnel. Most every waking hour. Goal: Best TV program we could produce, nothing less.

    “I’d rather see average gear run by excellent people, than excellent gear run by average people.” – Phil Cooke

  5. It’s a common trap for creatives; Too much time spent on tech and not enough on technique. A great editor will cut a great piece no matter what program he uses because of their talent, skill and instincts. There are limitations; different tools and capabilities, but all things considered it holds true.

    In my world, a good shot is a good shot regardless of the video quality. Sure, I’d rather have a phantom shot (1080p 2000fps) of the Lebron dunk with a bounce pass off the backboard to himself in the NBA finals last year. But it doesn’t exist! So the 1080i 29.97 will have to do. It’s what happens in front of the lens that really matters.

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