What Happened? - On Set Lighting

What Happened?

I’ve been in the business Grip and Lighting rentals for over 20 years. In that time I realized things change pretty quickly in my industry… the media industry. Shooting styles change, products change, clients change. It is what keeps the industry vibrant. The next phone call can result in an unbelievable job, or a chance to work with someone you’ve always wanted to, or maybe breaking new ground in your rate. These are changes we like.

Lately I have been hearing a lot about change that people in this industry don’t like.

In the last seven years the media industry has been undergoing tremendous fundamental change. Change that is on a level that has not been seen since the advent of sound in motion pictures. Truth be told, that change pales in comparison to the economic disruption that is currently taking place.

Just before I entered the business, the transition from film to video took place in the ENG world. I was in a world where the early adopters ruled, and where the people who refused to adapt became less and less relevant. Sooner or later many would come to the conclusion that not adapting would only end badly and stepped up to the reality that the world they knew had changed.

It was a slower change with the advent of HD where adoption wasn’t as relevant at first but surely enough within a short amount of time the demand of the customers to upgrade the product and fear of not archiving in the new medium forced the adaption.

Another major change occurred in the editing world. When I entered the industry a great portion of the budgets for production could be hidden in the editing budget. (I worked mostly in the industrial, corporate and commercial world.) In the early 2000s that model began to crumble. Computerized editing systems became very affordable and easily learned. Suddenly independent producers could under bid larger, more bloated, production houses. Once again those who chose to adapt quickly survived those who did not had a bigger battle to survive the longer the held on to the old model.

All of these examples pale to the changing marketplace we are experiencing today. The economics of media have been turned upside down.

The disruption started in distribution. In 2005 YouTube burst on the scene. Developed by a couple college students who were motivated by trying to share their videos online with each other. The distribution pipeline had turned into a flood plain. In the previous distribution model it was broadcast, closed circuit, tape or DVD. Suddenly there was a way to share any media message with the world. 

Once again the model change wasn’t immediate but inevitable. The low level of entry into the media game had become worldwide. The cat, motocross and Little Miss Teen videos that were the start of YouTube have given way to international marketing campaigns by multinational companies that have changed the entire face of advertising.

Almost simultaneously there was a huge disruption in the media gathering industry. For years Sony had been the dominant player in professional ENG camera market. Panasonic was the first major company to come along and challenge their model. They released the Varicam and suddenly there was a real choice in professional media gathering. The Red One was an earth-shattering event when it came on the market. It spun the world into a lather with its promise. Soon Sony, Arri and many others were in a scramble to follow suit. 

On the heels of the Red One the next biggest game changer to come along was Canon’s 5D. This affordable, low lux, easy-to-use piece of equipment spawned a movement for every other camera manufacturer to try to emulate the product.

As we now cross the threshold of 4K it is as affordable to even the beginner. (Blackmagic had a $500 version in mid 2014.)

Also within this time frame Social Media exploded. Facebook now downloads almost as much video as YouTube. Almost every news organization (including all of the print news who have gone online) have a video component to every story.

More recently, the cameras on on mobile devices have become better and better. My iPhone 6+ now can shoot 120 or 240 fps as well as time lapse. Many people are cutting back on buying cameras because all they use is their phone!

As this is all taking place, colleges and universities, as well as art and trade schools are graduating thousands of students every year who are entering a media world with very little barrier to entry with easy-to-learn tools that are affordable and at their fingertips.

It is dynamic change in a very short span of time. This is the backdrop to the words I hear out of my companions’ mouths who’ve been in the business for 20 years as they ask, “What Happened?”

Well… 20 years ago we were in a world where the economics we’re pretty much standardized. A predictable pattern of producers selling clients, then calling the personnel to accomplish the task. It made a lot of people lazy. You don’t have to go look for work, just wait for the phone to ring and go make your money. Nice while it lasted.

We worked in a world where technology was slow to change. It was a Sony, it was tape, maybe 16mm, pretty predictable year after year.

We had a long run with this model. Of course the dot com bust, then tragically, on it’s heels 9-11, we had some slow times, too. However, we kept the work flow rising to the boiling point right through 2008. Then the inevitable forces of change began to take place.

The economy tanked and our work was decimated. Not just crew, but production companies, distributors, manufacturers all took a hit. In fact, the bigger they were, the faster they fell. This started the realignment of our entire industry. There is no comparison of the industry from pre ’09 to post ’09.

Many of the old models and mediocre players were cleared immediately. Others suffered slower deaths. If they didn’t embrace change and radically change their model, they would see a diminishing work flow year after year. Within a year or two they drifted out of business.
My contemporaries who have survived to this day face the second wave of that change.

If you are in your 40s or 50s in the business, listen up. The people that brought you into the business have all gone by the wayside. The very last of them were more than likely done in by 2009. They have been replaced by a much younger and more diverse group of people. These people do not look at motion media as a monolithic venue, but rather as something that fits into a greater whole. They understand the different levels of production value, but don’t worship production value on it’s own. They understand the concept of disposable media and that some messages are to only be used once then disposed of. They understand that no or low production value IS THE MESSAGE!

These younger players also rely on Social Media to set the standard of the message. Thirty seconds is the new half hour. Where the half-million-dollar budget used to produce 10 videos it now produces 100… with the corresponding reduced budgets.

So my answer to friends when they ask, “What Happened?” is simple. Things changed. (And they’re going to keep changing, so be prepared, get educated and keep up to date.)

My next blog is: You Know What Happened, Now Do Something About I

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