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War of the Worlds

Last month I sat down at Adobe’s headquarters in San Jose with 25 other reviewers from magazines like Studio/Monthly, websites like Creative Cow, and TV stations like MTV. We were there for a Reviewers Workshop, which gave us the unique privilege of receiving training on Adobe’s new products at their headquarters with the actual programming leads behind the new software present and available for questions as we went through the training. (If you’re interested in seeing some of the highlights of what was covered there, check out my mid-month Blog on it here.)

Adobe’s aggressive pricing and large assortment of programs in their newest Production Premium package are making them an extremely attractive company for low budget filmmakers, especially now that the package will run on both PC and Intel Mac machines. (With the exception of OnLocation CS3 and Ultra CS3) In addition to all the other upgrades that are part of this package is Adobe’s new patented Encore conversion programming. Essentially, this allows DVDs created in Encore to be converted into fully interactive Flash websites which can be hosted off any web server without any knowledge of Flash programming. For many filmmakers, this means that they will be able to create and update their own websites in a way they’ve never been able to before. Additionally, Adobe’s new video-based audio package, Soundbooth, has a new music creation system to compete with Sony Cinescore and Smartsound Sonicfire Pro. However, unlike these competitors, the Soundbooth music creation is being opened up to any 3rd party music creation company that wants to make music for it. As this distribution model has been very successful with After Effects, it’s a safe bet that this could yield more customizable music available for Soundbooth then for both of its competitors combined.

This proved to be such an unsettling proposition that, barely a few weeks after this information had been disseminated, Smartsound and Sony decided they would share their patented technologies with one another to present a more united front against Adobe’s advances.

Meanwhile, competition heats up in other parts of the software market, specifically to capture the demographic we represent. Red Giant’s Magic Bullet products have been expanded and specifically split into a number of bite-size pieces to make it more affordable to low-budget filmmakers, like Colorista, Frames, Looks, and InstantHD Pro. Colorista and Frames are both being sold for an astounding $199 apiece, and purchasers who buy the entire Magic Bullet Suite get all the packages for the old MBS price of $799. Meanwhile, Amber Visual takes aim at dethroning Magic Bullet with their new Halide system, which appears to be faster and more organic than MBS. While it’s pricing isn’t quite as competitive yet, I have good reason to suspect that they are creating revised offerings specifically for our demographic.

This war of the worlds for our business is not limited to software, but has been more actively spreading into the camera market, as well. While Sony and JVC are still trying to iron the kinks out of a high quality, sub-$1500 HD-based HDV cam and getting software to support it, we see increased news on the higher quality front. Although $30,000 is outside of most our price-ranges for buying a camera, it is not outside our range for renting. At this price point, the Red camera is making more and more waves, especially since it’s quality can look for all the world like Super35mm, it’s 4:4:4 make it amazingly good for greenscreen and effects work, and it’s rugged build means it can stand up to some serious pain and suffering in the trenches. This was never shown to be more true than when Peter Jackson was allowed to borrow two Red prototypes to play with for two weeks before NAB. As one journalist pointed out, Jim Jannard (the CEO of both Red and Oakley Sunglasses) had expected Jackson to shoot some boring focusing charts with the cameras. Instead, Jackson decided to shoot a historical dramatic short about WWII and fighter pilots, using complete Hollywood-like costuming, effects, and production values. He shot literally from trenches below and from the WWII biplanes above, to really put the camera through its paces. The final exhibition generated a line at NAB not unlike the line for the midnight pre-showing of Star Wars Episode I in ’99 and showed that the $30,000 Red could be just as good as a $230,000 Sony camera. Considering Jannard cherry-picked a who’s-who of industry geniuses to create this camera, I’m really not surprised.

While the future is, as always, uncertain, the rising aggression in innovation and product pricing spells very good things for us as low budget filmmakers. Toys we could never have touched a year or two ago are finally coming into our price range, at least from a rental point of view. If we retain our creativity while we diligently learn to make use of these new tools, our ability to create films that look as good, if not better than, Hollywood films is virtually assured. That’s a pretty exciting concept.

God Bless,

Jeremy Hanke
Microfilmmaker Magazine

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