Why new production
and distribution models?
The role of the Internet
Traditional and new production
What are the obstacles?
What are the new production models?
Real Time Cinema
Hybrid/Production Fusion Techniques
The Collaborative Cube
Note: This article was first published in 2000
The full weight of the digital revolution has arrived in the film
industry. As occurred in other industries, notably music and publishing,
the impact of digital technologies is rapidly being felt on what has been
a somewhat outdated film production environment. While post- production
has gone through the revolution of non-linear editing and digital effects,
the whole process of pre-production, production and theatrical distribution
has, for the most part, remained very much as it has since the early part
of this century.
This is rapidly changing.
The primary drivers of the change are digital video cameras and projection
systems, wireless technologies, and web-based resources. The camera, as
the central production motif for cinema for over 100 years, is shifting
from celluloid to digital video. This shift will be no less than radical
for the film production environment. Roles and responsibilities can and
must be shifted. New methods will arise. New aesthetic choices will become
available. The key challenge of film professionals is to embrace the technology
and understand the inevitability that DV will, in the very least, represent
a large fraction of future film production, even if it does not totally
replace celluloid film production in the near term. To be sure, for aesthetic
or other reasons, filmmakers will continue to choose to shoot in 35mm
and 16mm celluloid. And even digital filmmakers, if they need to move
into a theatrical release, will need to transfer digital video to celluloid
in order to project their films in most theaters for years to come.
What does all this mean? What choices does it bring to the table?
First, the cost of "below the line" filmmaking will come down.
This trend will have more impact on the independent producer than the
Hollywood producer, because so much of Hollywood production is involved
in above the line costs for named talent.
However, once digital projection technology arrives, the cost of delivery
itself will approach zero. This impacts both traditional Hollywood and
Independent Filmmakers dramatically. Barriers to entry - that is, what
made it difficult for the low budget filmmaker to compete with Hollywood
- will be mitigated. What will evolve is a situation where what will primarily
distinguish Hollywood from the world of Independents is mainstream advertising,
name actors, expensive digital effects, and brand recognition.
What will also arise is a hypothetical situation where a digital filmmaker
could produce a low or micro-budget film and push that film out to 3500
theaters at nearly no cost (not including advertising) and market it to
an Internet audience at a fraction of what it costs for traditional mainstream
advertising. Even the costs of digital effects will be greatly reduced
in the future.
So, given that many levels of Hollywood's competitive edge will be mitigated,
what would differentiate an independent filmmaker from Hollywood in a
What has often differentiated the independent filmmaker in the past and
will continue to do so in the future will be avant garde techniques (aka
"alternative"), both in terms of story and technique. To be
avant garde means to bring new ideas and aesthetic choices to films, but
in a way that is not cost prohibitive. The trend can take some filmmakers
to the future and toward alternative experimentation - to continue to
express their unique voice and some filmmakers to revisit the avant
garde techniques of master filmmakers of the past.
Some of the ideas explored here (and in future White Papers) will involve
an intelligent use of avant garde techniques. While Hollywood executives
have used technology to enhance their differences with the competition
(70mm, Dolby, IMAX to compete with television, for example), the independent
digital filmmakers will turn to avant garde methods to distinguish themselves
from traditional independent, genre and big-budget studio films. In addition,
both independent and studio films will co-opt aspects of the independent
digital cinema movement in order to appeal to changing audience tastes.
Why new production and distribution models?
But why new production techniques and models? Why try to innovate?
Why not just continue doing business as usual, and transfer traditional
production techniques to the new world of digital video?
First, the migration from celluloid to DV in the professional feature
film and television production means an opportunity to rethink and re-engineer
what needs to be rethought and reengineered regardless. The question becomes,
if the technology brings change, why not look at the entire process and
see how to leverage technology in new ways? Why not try to streamline
productions to cut costs and save time? In other words, technology is
driving the change.
Second, there is a growing sense that the current situation in film is
not as democratic as it could be. While the independent film movement
has offered some variety of choice, there is an underlying sense that
one elite has arisen to compete with another. Many of the so-called independents
are owned by Hollywood studios. This situation means that to this day
a handful of individuals, often arbitrarily selected, make the aesthetic
choices for millions of people. In this sense, the desire for a new entertainment
economy that offers a wider choice and freedom to consumers and artists
is driving the change.
The role of the Internet
The Internet offers a way to streamline the production process, and
make the kinds of systems and services currently only available to sophisticated
production houses available en masse to a wide audience of independent
filmmakers. It also offers the opportunity to distribute films much more
cheaply and democratically, providing a "pull" mechanism to
consumers (via browsers) rather than a "push" mechanism of broadcast
or theatrical release. "Push" mechanisms imply somebody has
to decide what to push in advance, and that someone is the studio executive,
whether "independent" or studio.
The bottom line is that in the new digital world, a much wider audience
of filmmakers can create more sophisticated content cheaply, and distribute
to an audience that is pull-based rather than push-based. Pull-based audiences
tend to be more niche oriented rather than mass market oriented. The market
will therefore continue to fragment, and filmmakers will look for ways
to make their stories compelling to a more diverse, empowered, democratized
What arises are essentially several new tiers of distribution opportunities
for filmmakers within the Internet. Among those tiers there will certainly
arise a distinction between free, pay-per-view content, and subscription
content. Another tier, while not here in the near term, is theatrical
release to digitally-enabled movie chains that have direct satellite links
at a much lowered cost.
Traditional and new production techniques compared
All phases of production will be impacted by the digital revolution
(several have already seen dramatic change in the last 15 years). Collaboration
will be enhanced by the Internet, which will provide new tools and methods
for artists to communicate ideas and create content - and will allow the
evolution of cyber communities that embrace specific content themes and
interests. Moreover, the traditional and independent filmmaker will be
able to leverage the power of the new digital tools and infrastructure
to bring more product to market quicker.
The following table illustrates a comparison between traditional and new
production techniques enabled by DV. In each case, time is compressed
and budgets reduced.
Table 1: Traditional and New Production Compared
Old world collaboration
via mail and fax
New world collaboration
via teleconferencing, file sharing, e-mail
Must find expert to
budget and package project
use templates to budget and package film
Many more projects
Saves time/money through
Serial editing strategy
Parallel Editing Strategy
Saves time/money, gets
product to market quicker
Real Time takes
Saves time/money, allows
for no editing if desired
Single location shoots
- multiple location serial or done through 2nd unit
Multiple location shoots
in real time
Paper intensive logging
and production scheduling
Automated logging and
Saves time, leverages
automation into post production
Expensive film processing
No film processing
except if prints are distributed to theaters (will change with digital
Saves money, lab processing
Expensive editing suites
and hard drive storage
software and web-based archiving
With digital delivery,
no prints necessary
above is just a sampling of the impact that digital has on the production
process. Some aspects have been used in feature film production (parallel
editing, for example), but usually in expensive productions and not in
low budget or independent films.
As we can see, all phases of production are potentially impacted by the
digital revolution. Some are further along than others; pieces of the
infrastructure exist to make certain elements happen today (automated
logging, high end digital video cameras, digital timecodes, etc.) and
others are years off (digital projection systems in theaters).
What are the obstacles?
The obstacles to realizing truly front-to-back digital film production
at a large scale are daunting. For one, the entrenched film industry (both
technical and executive) will not easily be convinced or changed. To be
sure, the digital revolution portends an economic shift in terms of the
balance of power within Hollywood. New players will inevitably arise that
will threaten the old base, both technically, financially and aesthetically.
Several mainstays of the Hollywood model are currently being assaulted
by the independent film movement - including the star system itself, but
in a sense, new power structures have simply arisen to replace the old.
In many ways, the independent film movement has been co-opted by Hollywood
so that it becomes simply a mechanism for nurturing new talent that is
eventually assimilated into mainstream filmmaking. There remains today
a real gap that makes it difficult for the independent filmmaker and producer
who is interested in making a unique statement to a specific audience
to do so - to do so and make a decent living, that is.
DV allows for a different film economy that is not reliant upon star power
or big budgets to fuel interest, but can instead depend on much lower
cost production and delivery mechanisms that can finally and truly allow
for independence in the film market. Just as a writer in the past could
always pick up a pen and paper, a digital filmmaker can pick up a low
cost digital camera and make a statement and find the mechanism to make
that statement available to an audience.
This is a healthy evolution that is more democratic and will not necessarily
destroy Hollywood. It may in fact make Hollywood stronger. Historically,
technical shifts and revolutions in media have meant that the old media
co-exists with the new quite well. Publishing is alive and well despite
of film; film is alive and well despite of television; television is alive
and well despite of cable, and so on. In all of these revolutions the
old guard has survived if not flourished.
What are the new production models?
There are several potential new production models that we feel arise
as a result of digital technology combined with wireless technologies
and Web-based software. Among these are:
look at each briefly.
Location independence is the ability to collaborate on film production
over the Internet in such as way that the various craft persons and departments
can be geographically dispersed.
For example, a director could hypothetically direct an entire production
from a different location than the crew via a remote, real time DV conference
link over the Internet. The director could see multiple DV camera views
within a single computer workspace and make editing choices on the fly
or after all the source material is compiled.
Location independence also means that it is easier for collaborating artists
to communicate over the Internet. Scripts can be collaboratively discussed
via chat rooms. Edits can be sent for review and acceptance over the Net.
DV "dailies" can be uploaded and downloaded from the Internet.
Real Time Cinema
Real Time Cinema is possible because with DV cameras there is a longer
period of time for a take - hypothetically a take can last for the entire
length of the film. This allows for films that either have minimal or
no edits. Real Time Cinema is a cinema that can be shot quickly and rely
heavily on improvisation. Real Time Cinema is potentially a renegade form
that will allow for the compression of production schedules from weeks
to days or even hours.
Live Cinema is a narrative fiction film that is broadcast live to
theaters. Live Cinema might be a kind of "pay per view" for
theatrical productions, or a one-time event that is then transferred to
celluloid (or re-broadcast via digital projection) for more conventional
theater viewing after the initial "event." The initial event
might also include a live WebCast that allows millions to tap into the
Live Cinema event. Like Real Time Cinema, Live Cinema can greatly compress
a production schedule (outside of rehearsal).
Live Cinema taps into a hybrid mentality and possibilities that arise
from DV. Live Cinema is the film equivalent of live television or the
sports closed-circuit broadcast.
Hybrid/Production Fusion Techniques
Hybrid/Production Fusion Techniques involve combining elements of
television and film production. For example, the multiple camera techniques
commonly found in television can be used more extensively in a DV narrative
feature film production.
For a variety of reasons, film is often still a single camera operation.
The lowered cost of DV allows for multiple cameras on location. For example,
a shot/reverse-shot can be done in one take, as is done in television.
Also, multiple cameras allow for more latitude in terms of aesthetic choices.
An editor has more material to work with, increasing options in the final
quality of the film.
The Collaborative Cube
A Collaborative Cube is a virtual space for collaboration. A cube
implies an extension of a two-dimensional space to a third dimension.
A Collaborative Cube extends the Internet outside of the Net - to the
For example, a Collaborative Cube could become the "control center"
for a digital production. With hybrid production techniques, the "control
center" methods with multiple camera setups found in television could
be taken on location. The director could communicate via wireless technology
to the crew or multiple crews from a Collaborative Cube from which he
or she oversees the production.
The Collaborative Cube can also extend from one location to another in
pre-production. In scriptwriting, an Internet-based script conference
could be done through a Collaborative Cube that includes the producer,
scriptwriters, and others. Further, actors could rehearse over the Internet
in a Collaborative Cube similar to the way that businesspeople teleconference.
Musicians in various locales could compose music in a Collaborative Cube
that would be mixed and used exactly as if they had recorded in the same
A parallel production is one where several sequences, scenes or even entire
films are shot simultaneously. This is accomplished by using multiple
digital video camera technology, often linked through wireless communications,
that pipe the image back to a central workspace. This workspace can consists
of remote monitors or a computer screen or screens that display the visual
information from the remote cameras.
parallel production is distinct from traditional television "three camera"
set ups in the following ways:
multiple DV camera set ups can occur on location, not just on a television
cameras do not necessarily focus on the same action
cameras do not necessarily focus on the same story or narrative
narrative forms can potentially arise within a parallel production. Characters
can interweave from one plot point in one film to another. There are elements
of conjunction, interaction and improvisation that can arise within a
parallel production that haven't been seen in traditional multiple camera
Digital camera and editing technology, when combined with Internet-based
collaborative software and wireless technologies, can revolutionize the
way that films are produced. The technologies offer new aesthetic choices
as well as the opportunity to save time and money when producing digital
content. While traditional production techniques and technologies, including
celluloid film, will be with us for a long time to come, digital video
allows for a rethinking of production techniques and a widening of aesthetic
choices. It will also allow for an empowered and more democratic distribution
environment that provide consumers and artists with a greater variety
of choices and freedom.
All of these trends bode well for independent digital filmmakers.
They indicate that an environment will arise that can allow for alternative
and niche-oriented films that reflect highly individual tastes can be
produced and distributed to a wide audience, and that the economics of
doing so will promote, not stifle, the need to experiment and discover
new alternatives creatively, technically, and aesthetically. Thus, traditional
Hollywood business models are turned on their head, and what is required
is not only an emphasis on the least common denominator of mass appeal,
but as well a return to the primacy of the individual artistic voice that
seeks to speak intimately to an audience - except now that audience is
potentially the world.