Story is All We Have Left

Well that’s it folks. A million cinematographers just cried out in terror. Took me a few to collect my thoughts, but here’s the bottom line: what you’re going to see in this video is the end of conventional film-making. After spending hundreds of hours on set, watching them build and light sets, I’m in total shock. This is a total game changer. This is what happens when you disrupt. This is means that in the near-future, story will be the only thing we have left. Watch the video, and then let me explain.

So what you and I just saw represents a complete and total disruption of the film-making industry. Creating new sets, lighting them on the fly with these tools. Say goodbye to the Arri SkyPanels, and miles of gaffer tape. Say good-bye to film, lighting and cinematography as lifelong careers. In the seventies and eighties, you could fully expect to graduate from UCLA Film School, start out as a camera PA and spend forty years going from Camera PA to Cinematographer.

Not any more.┬áThis new technology – maybe not this generation, maybe the next – can wipe that entire career path out. Don’t believe me? Ask practical FX guys what happened after Jurassic Park. When Spielberg told Dennis Muren that ‘animators might be out of a job,’ he replied: “Don’t you mean extinct?” Old-school cinematography just got a kick in the teeth, and nothing will ever be the same.

On one hand, I mourn for what will likely happen next. Progress like this is inevitable. Producers are going to see a set-up like this, realize they can save millions on production costs, an it’ll be a no-brainer for them. Why spend billions on real estate for movie lots? Who needs millions in lighting rigs and camera equipment? You can’t blame them for changing with the times, disruption is a natural part of the industry.

On the other, I’m in mourning. After all, these are the guys who bring our stories to life. Some of of them are my friends. The geeky little weirdos who hung out in the back shop and made interesting little gizmos for the screen. Dumpy little guys who were never pretty enough to be on camera, but gave the camera stuff worth looking at. Guys like Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, Douglas Trumbull, or Charles Lang might go the way of the Dodo. We will lose if they lose.

What this also means is that the barrier of entry for great-looking bad stories just got lower. Red Tails as a movie looks great, but the story was trash. Same goes for Sucker Punch, the movie version of The Phantom of the Opera, and Batman Forever. Hollywood is driven by the returns, and if you’re willing to watch a bad story that looks great, then that is all they care about.

In the end, I fear it’s going to come down to the same ancient game human’s have been playing since it all began: telling a story people want to hear. Some little cave man with the best cave paintings got to stay in the cave and paint rather than go hunt down the mastodons. Gilgamesh made his mark telling stories about Sumerian kings. The sons of Cheops entertained the Pharaoh with stories. There’s one thing that humans will always do better than anyone else, and that’s telling a human story.

So like you, I think this looks totally wicked. I also think it looks totally wicked. In a world where everything looks beautiful, it will become more important than ever to tell a story that feels true.