Modern Apocalypse – The Revolution is Post

So here is the thing, about the modern media world. None of it would have changed, if not for Post.

Think about it. The first wave of the “Prosumer” mini DV cameras didn’t show up until well after post production became readily available to any one with a computer and a capture card. In ’96/’97 I had a Miro DC 20 running in a Mac clone – Yes Virginia once upon a time there were Mac clones, licensed and legal. However lets pause for a moment to remember the past – insert wavy video effect.

Post for theatrical release was either on Film, with a photochemical finish, or electronic with a photochemical finish.

Post for video was electronic with a Tape to Tape On Line.

The “video” edit systems in the beginning¬† were: Montage, Edit droid, Avid, D-Vision, Media 100 and others? Way back in 1996? And oh yeah – The Miro DC-20 running Adobe Premiere for 4.2. – There was no Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas, iMovie.

Things changed quickly back then – I paid $900 for a 9 gig hard drive for editing. $900 for 9 GIGS, you got to be kidding me. Imagine what I could get for $900 now.

So if you couldn’t afford to shoot film, you could probably afford video, although the price difference wasn’t really all that much.

Oh the cheap camera of the day – The Sony UVW-100 – A barely broadcast acceptable camera for $10,000 dollars. It shot in Beta Sp – For anyone who doesn’t know – Beta/Beta SP, and Betamax are different – Betamax being a consumer home display format. Beta and then Beta Sp ( The SP stood for Superior performance – and referred to Audio – just as the “Hi” in Hi-8 was for improved audio performance.) The UVW-100 was pretty much a full sized shoulder mounted camera (you put it on your shoulder to use, you didn’t hold it out in front of your body.)

So way back when, you could buy a Beta SP camera and shoot, for much cheaper than before – but you still had to edit it. In the olden days of video editing, you would do an offline, on two 3/4 inch decks ( 3/4 also known as U-matic). The Sony 5800 and 5850 with an RM 450 control was a popular choice. By the way, decks were expensive. The Cheap Beta SP deck in the early days of the year 2000, was about $6,000. So 3/4 inch decks for the off line made a lot of sense.

Off Line – For anyone now reading this blog who is under the age of 30. It meant two decks with a simple non computer controller to sync the decks up (The set-up pictured pre-dates the Sony machines mentioned above, but the principle is the same.)

On-Line – meant a very expensive room, with all sorts of color correction, tools, and computer controlled devices that really allowed you to polish and finish your piece. Generally the room would be charged at $1,000 an hour, sometimes the operator would be included, sometimes the operator would be additional. If you wanted anything special like something to de-focus part of an image – that was an additional $250 an hour (I believe it was called a “K-Scope”)

So it was much much cheaper to Off-line your edit, creating an EDL (Edit decision list) based on the time codes of your edits. Hey spend as much time as you want doing your off line. Lots of people transferred to VHS and did their off-lines on that. The cost there was really minimal per hour. But to finish, to put titles on, oh boy, into nose bleed territory.

Post progressed, and computer based editing advanced, EVENTUALLY you could digitize from tape in real time – it used to take twice as long to get your video into the computer. So if you had an hour worth of material, it would take 2 hours to get it into the computer to edit. Oh and your editing window, tiny, smaller than standard def. BUT, once it hit mainstream, and for a thousand dollars you had a whole edt system that could do moves on the footage, make the image look like it was turning the page, “flying” in and out, and do titles that could be animated. Bam that was the tipping point. Soon after that came the “prosumer” cameras because now you could shoot, and transfer to the computer. In fact Panasonic brought out the first DV camera, only it wasn’t called DV, it was called digital 6 (as in 6mm the width of the tape.) Soon after that camera was released, Apple released FIREWIRE, and now you could stream the Data from the camera to your computer.

Tape to Tape was very expensive, and every time you made a copy, the quality dropped, also you couldn’t insert shots in the middle you would have to rerecord the edit with changes. This was referred to as “Linear” editing, because you couldn’t easily move shots or audio around. Of course editing on Film, you could splice, move shots around. Eventually computer based NLE (Non linear editing) enters the scene, an at first it takes longer to digitize the analog footage into digital, but once it was digital you had so many advantages over tape to tape based editing, although you still had to finish your product by going tape to tape Online.

Eventually the digitizing process became real-time, and the quality of the digitized footage became “Finishing” quality. Back then, with very expensive systems, you had AVID – which took years for Avid to have REALLY good quality digitized images – because it was designed to edit film transferred to video for a film finish – Avid took forever to really get interested in image quality. I went to a sales pitch and the Avid rep said 600KB per frame is 600 KB per frame. Yeah sure, and would you like to buy a bridge?
Media 100 – a really brilliant system and great image quality, worked on the Mac, and had a smart upgrade path. Every system was fully loaded, and how much you paid, depended on how much you wanted to use. More advanced features would cost more, but you could buy for the lower end system, do your edit, and then rent a dongle for a fraction of the cost of buying the upgrade and finish on a high end system. Then there was DPS Velocity (which I bought a system for $14,000 in way back in the year 2000), tremendous image quality, and a few other high end systems.

Now that Post is all fully digital (or mostly), and you can finish on a computer that doesn’t cost $100,000. it begins to make sense for cameras to start converting their images to digital to record them.
The digital revolution started in post, it wasn’t powered by the onslaught of “digital” cameras. You still got to edit the stuff you shoot, but now you essentially shoot data, and bam get it into your computer and you can edit, do effects, titles, color correction all in one box. It’s not the same quality as before, but it is so much easier, and hourly cost is way less (even if it now takes longer.)

I suppose I could go into how now that it is cheaper – rates for the people who shoot and edit have dropped, Heck the whole industry is suffering. I could also mention Marshall McLuhan – Laws of Media – applicable here. Instead I’ll just finish back where we started. Look post is important, and there is a phrase – “We’ll fix it in post.” Because shooting on a film set is expensive – all those crew members being paid by the hour, sitting around trying to “fix” things gets really costly. However the problem really starts to arise when Post is used as production. I don’t mean when you do effects shots in post, but when you decide the whole film will be post driven, well Post is called Post for a reason, it happens AFTER production, After the script is written, after the film is cast, the storyboards drawn, the film shot, then Edited. It isn’t the story telling, the characters, the image that is the modern media world. It is the post production end that is driving it, and if you think about it, when Post production is the MAJOR force in making movies, well, it’s like putting the cart before the horse – it’s backwards.

Thanks for reading

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