Updating to the Latest & Greatest Whatever….

by Norman C. Berns

As happens frequently, one of the LinkedIn film groups was talking about the latest & greatest video cameras. Everyone marveled at the new technology that grows ever smaller, ever more powerful,  ever less expensive. This particular conversation seemed dominated by newbies, as often happens, and most of them were certain that this camera du jour was exactly the ticket to solving all their production problems.

Not so fast, interjected group member, Luis Villalon-Meunier, explaining to general disbelief that the tool wasn’t as important as the skill in using it. His entire post follows.

At film school (a million years ago) we used Super 8, and maybe B&W reversal 16mm (shot with a Bolex) because it was cheaper than color. We edited the original raw materials on rewinds and viewers that scratched the film beyond recognition.

FX, sound and or titles? Are you kidding? We would have killed for a Canon D5 and a computer program to edit.

…With film, just because the sheer cost of the material, you had to know about photography, contrast, exposure, composition, lighting etc. And you only had one ISO, the one of the stock you bought. You could not shoot and delete the bad takes, so you better knew what the &%$# you were doing, as opposed to newcomers with digital cameras. Turn it on and you are a filmmaker.

I have shot film most of my professional life, but of late I am shooting a lot digitally, mainly with the D5, and I can attest to its quality. But everyone seems to talk only about the virtues and/ or deficiencies of new cameras, not about the most important thing – cinematography as a craft.

CRAFT is not something acquired by turning on the latest flavor of the month or shooting with a camera that has two more megapixels. It takes time and practice, which is something the new generation seems unwilling to do.

I have seen a lot of crap lately coming from new would-be filmmakers. It’s crap because the scripts are bad, the actors are their girlfriends or next door friends, they get horrible sound and shoot hand (shaking) held at 6400ISO with no lights. And they say their cameras are no good?

I could probably get great photography if I had to shoot with the new iPhone camera, but guess what…? I would still hire camera assistants, a gaffer and grips; I would use a tripod, dollies and an efficient lighting and grip package.

One of my favorite films was a freebie, a short docudrama about child abuse that I shot a few years ago with my Panasonic 100a (which I still use for personal films). All the crew and equipment services were donated, and the catering was sandwiches made by the director’s mother. (Take that Hollywood!).

Everyone commented that our film looked just like a movie…. I know that had no relationship to the camera we used. It was only because we treated it like a movie.

I have no idea how many members of the group really understood this brief exchange. And what fraction of those who read it actually took the message to heart. I doubt many would forgo whatever was the latest and greatest coming around the next corner. Because, well, avarice is often a far stronger force than logic.

I do know that cameras don’t make movies any more than driving past a library makes you smart. But I’m not sure the newbies will believe me either.