We have been dedicating our December issue to the SWOT analysis format — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — for a few years now, but this is the first time we have included a product as one of our topics. We feel strongly that the impact the Red One camera is having on the industry — both in production and post — warranted its own piece.
More and more films are being shot on Red, and television spots and series are creeping their way into the mix. Everyone seems to love the look of the pictures, but most agree that post for Red still has some wrinkles to iron out.
Che, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven
STRENGTHS: "From an aesthetic standpoint I really like the way the sensor sees things. I like the way it sees light, I find it to be unique, and I don't think the image it captures and generates looks like any other digital camera. From a design standpoint, it's been very ergonomically constructed, considering what it is. It's light and small. I love recording on the Flash cards. There's no umbilical. You're not tied to anything.
"We were working with 'Build 1' on Che, so there have been a lot of improvements since then. In fact, I just finished shooting The Girlfriend Experience on the Red, and that was 'Build 18,' so they keep making it better. It kind of felt like someone had given me a questionnaire and I'd filled it out with exactly what I'd like to see in a digital motion picture camera, and then Jim Jannard went down my list and checked off each thing I wanted and provided it."
WEAKNESSES: "For me, there really aren't any with the Red. I love everything about it. I'm not as much of a purist as a lot of people. I know that at a certain point in the near future we will have the latitude of film on a chip, so I really don't see any weaknesses. Unless I was really going for a specific look that I just felt I definitely could not get any other way, I can't imagine not shooting digitally from this point on."
OPPORTUNITIES: "There are so many opportunities the Red affords you — and affords is the key word. The fact that you can put a package together for a comparatively small amount of money is just fantastic, and it enables someone with not a lot of cash to go out and make a film that looks spectacular.
"It doesn't solve the biggest problem, which we all confront — the script — but it has certainly leveled the playing field significantly."
"I think Red has now shipped 3,000-plus cameras, so it'll be very interesting to see what results on the feature side from all these people having Red cameras. For me, the opportunities are endless; it's just such a lush image."
THREATS: "Now that the Red camera is out there, everyone is going to create their version of it, and that's the free market system at work. Whether or not they'll be able to match it is another question. Only very few people know exactly how the Red is doing what it does, so it'll be interesting to see if someone can come up with something with an image that is as robust, that's recorded in that way. As a matter of fact, on The Girlfriend Experience we just got delivery of some 16GB Flash cards, so we're able to record 13 minutes at a time, which is great, as we're now truly into film mag world.
"In a more general sense, exhibition is still a big threat to the Red and any filmmaker. It's a real drag that there aren't a lot of places, as it stands today, for people to see your movie in its optimum form. But it's slowly changing, and for the time being there's Blu-ray, and people are buying better and better TVs to watch films on, so that's improving. But until the much-anticipated and much-postponed changeover happens theatrically, we're all kind of idling."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: "It's one of those businesses that can look like it's going off in one direction, and then an unexpected — or expected — massive hit suddenly makes it all OK again. So it's a very volatile, mercurial business that way. They'll say, 'We're having a really bad summer,' and then three movies open to $50 million three weekends in a row, and suddenly it's a great summer. There's no question -— and we've already see it — that there's not going to be as much money floating around — equity money. And that will affect studio slates, and independent slates, so I imagine you'll see a slight contraction in production."
Pierre de Lespinois
Pacific Palisades, CA
Emmy-winning director Pierre de Lespinois is the founder of Evergreen Films, a company that takes projects from prepro to location and then into post. Over the last five years, Evergreen has produced over $150 million in HD programming.
STRENGTHS: "The strength of Red is its size, image quality, the ability to playback shots immediately to review them, copy them to your laptop, go right into edit and or color correct. The Red camera allows you to shoot timelapse and camera speeds from 1 to 120fps. The Red camera marks a large milestone in evolution for a digital cinema pipeline. One camera can service the needs of many, from a wedding photographer all the way to a feature film DP.
"When you are directing, and or shooting, you can quickly play back the angle you just shot and compare it to the angle you are about to shoot. Just hitting a button on the back of the camera, you can call up a shot, play it forward or backwards, speed it up or reverse it, so you can see exactly what you have and then move the camera appropriately to match. It helps us move faster, confidently on the set."
WEAKNESSES: "Post production is a perceived weakness; I think it's been figured out pretty well; we have had no problems to date. The third-party post tools are getting better and better every week. Think about it, you can be in your home or on your desktop and handle 4K-image files, which is twice as big as what is output in theaters today."
OPPORTUNITIES: "If you can shoot more economically and control you're cost through the pipeline, that's an opportunity. It is a paradigm shift in how we used to do production. If your smart, you will see the advantages and cost savings it offers. It becomes an asset that pays for itself quickly and it threatens those companies that are slow or reluctant to change.
"It's going to give a lot of people who want to be the next-generation of filmmakers a way into this industry. Talent, creativity and money is always what drives a production. Shooting film is an expensive process. Shooting Red is inexpensive, allowing you to do more for less. This is going to open windows and opportunities for filmmakers."
THREATS: "It has threatened and frightened a lot of people. It caught a lot of people and corporations with their pants down. Even today I run into people who say it can't work and who are dismissive of the technology. Darwin had it right, adapt to the environment around you or become extinct.
"It's threatening a way of an existence of how things were run. It's giving us toolsets that are more cost effective with just as good results. You can never stop technology, you should be constantly learning and understand the toolsets that are going to help you/me be a better filmmaker."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: "We are seeing the end of an amazing technology — film. It has lasted for 100 years. We are witnessing an evolution of cinema tools that allow us to visualize storytelling in creative new ways.
"For me it has been fun to live in this hybrid world and experience the transition. It hit me square in the face yesterday as I pulled out all my still cameras for the last 20 years. I realized just how far we have come in such a short period. Ask yourself, when was the last time you bought a film still camera and you will probably go back to the 1990s. When was the last time you had a roll of film processed at the drug store? See what I mean? Things change.
"Don't fear the Red digital film world. Embrace all that it can give and hope the other manufacturers follow."
Mechnology is a full-service feature film and television VFX company, specializing in 3D animation, compositing, set extensions, digital matte paintings, on-set supervision, DI processing and post workflow for the Red One camera.
STRENGTHS: "The capabilities that the camera has, the ability of up to 4K of resolution, and its overall cost. It allows people to shoot at more of a film-quality level per pixel. It's a pretty powerful tool for the industry, especially for people who normally couldn't afford to shoot something on film.
"On the post side you don't have your film developing or your telecine costs that go with that. You have the ability to take the raw Red files and run them in a low-rez proxy mode without having to develop anything."
WEAKNESSES: "One weaknesses is the way Red does their file format. Their file requires a higher CPU-base, not GPU base, for computing. So it does require a very, very fast computer to process the image and view the image, even in 2K mode, for doing color correction or to convert them into QuickTime references for working on a Final Cut or Avid system."
OPPORTUNITIES: "With a TV series, you have the ability to shoot in HD mode and you have a very affordable HD camera, which allows you to have multiple cameras on set — with high quality film lenses. You have the ability for the adjustable frame rate — you go to roughly 120fps in HD mode — that gives you more flexibility on set. And when you are on set doing a weekly show, because of the quicker turnarounds, you can see and edit a lot of stuff even on set."
THREATS: "A lot of people tend to jump in without having the knowledge or skill it takes to switch over to a digital format. The workflow for digital is quite different from traditional film and even traditional tape. People aren't getting themselves up to speed to the workflow ahead of time and they shoot a lot of stuff and get themselves in trouble. You really should hire somebody to work on the crew who has digital experience and understands the digital workflow, and the Red in particular. From the naming conventions to the actual shooting to getting it on your edit system through to DI."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: "The outlook is looking good. Even with the economy down, we are still seeing quite a bit of work.
"With the digital cameras, the Red and the Phantom and the Arri, it allows for more people to shoot things with much higher quality and much faster, and I think we are going to see a lot of that next year."
Founder/Digital Intermediate Supervisor
PlasterCity Digital Post
PlasterCity offers data lab services for film, video or tapeless post. They have been working with datacentric companies like Red Digital Cinema in creating new ways to make datacentric post easier. They are currently working on 15 Red features.
STRENGTHS: "Resolution is not the biggest issue with the Red. For us, it's more about the dynamic range and usability of the camera itself. I would say well over 95 percent of people don't finish in 4K, so the acquisition resolution is not typically used as a finishing resolution. It has a large dynamic range, which Red continues to improve on — every six weeks they release a new software upgrade for the camera, and they have been relentless on continuing to improve the camera's performance."
WEAKNESSES: "The way in which the Red One records is not super friendly for high def because HD is very small in comparison to 4K. The result is that there are some weaknesses in getting the 4K quickly down to HD. You have to enable extra processes such as transcoding to convert the 4K for offline or HD mastering.
"Another weakness is that Red Digital Cinema doesn't build many post tools. If you look at Sony and Panasonic, when they release a camera they also release a VTR or DDR and a soup-to-nuts way to manage the material through post. Red is mainly a camera development company; they rely on other companies to build-up an infrastructure for post."
OPPORTUNITY: "We are going to see continued upgrades in image quality on the Red, and that's going to allow it to continue to work its way into the television market. In the pilot season, with people being money conscious more than ever, they are going to need solutions for cutting costs, but without compromising time or quality. And in television, where you have episodics — the schedule is extremely aggressive. And no one has done more than a handful of episodics that are completely tapeless. This camera is the first that allows for a self-contained, high-quality cinema-style tapeless acquisition that is cost effective and ready for primetime television.
"Also, the Red is going to stimulate new levels of competition. Who now is going to release a new camera system that records to tape after so many tapeless companies like Red have shown the world that you can record to solid state or hard drives and make pictures just as good?"
THREATS: "Red has surely threatened everyone, but that means it will encourage other manufacturers to build camera systems that meet similar demands of end users. For many people, uncompressed tapeless capture is what makes digital acquisition enticing. But Red has shown that compressed tapeless capturing proved more viable in the field. The front lines have reported back with far more success stories than disasters, and having a totally self-contained digital cinema camera system played an integral role in end- user success. Similar digital cinema camera systems that require a tethered system need to rethink some of the way in which they capture media."
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: "In 2009 I expect we see 10 to 20 episodic television shows go Red in the US. I surmise other camera companies are going to emulate Red's design as far as the camera is concerned and its workflow with hard drives, Flash cards,PL-mount lenses and a solid metal body. The future suggests the other camera companies have to build an equal operational camera that is just as practical and makes the same pictures. And they can do it! At PlasterCity, it's all about workflow and overall efficiency, and the Red camera has been a very easy tool for facilities that are datacentric to work with, and that is going to inspire Sony, Panasonic, Arriflex, Canon and JVC, all these camera companies, who make good products to step up their game."