Laptop Post Production

Fighter pilots and post production professionals have something in common, and they may not even be aware of it. Since the advent of the jet age, big thinkers and louder commentators have risen occasionally to declare that technology had rendered the primary function of fighter pilots, which is to say winning dogfights, cool but pointless and redundant nonetheless.

You may not see the connection, but ever since the first Avid editing systems were introduced, thinkers and commentators have said the same thing about post production houses.

History Channel addicts among you, will no doubt be quick to point out that those big thinkers have always been flat wrong about technology’s impact on the efficacy of fighter pilots. This time however, they may be right about its effect on future of post production.

One only needs to note the recent fate of well known Chicago-area post houses like Superior Street and S2/Swell. Even though an industry-wide dispersion in ad revenue is partly to blame, technology is taking its toll as well.

Earlier this year the editor of ReelChicago asked me if I had any thoughts on the matter and not long afterward, I came across an interview featuring Director David Fincher. He casually mentioned that he’d done most of editing on his new film Zodiac on his laptop while loitering about in airports.

Even if Fincher exaggerated a bit, the viability that statement is still worth looking into.

The Technical Term For It Is Disintermediation

Let’s just face facts. We live in a culture increasingly obsessed with cutting out the middle man. Bloggers don’t like the idea that News Editors get to pick the story that goes on page one. TiVo users don’t like network execs to decide when their favorite show will air. Film directors are less than thrilled by the prospect of dropping work off at a post production house then coming back later to see what’s been done with it.

The technical term for all of that is Disintermediation. But if you’re a filmmaker, are the tools to act on it really readily hand? The short answer is yes. After years of nonlinear digital post production development, it’s finally evolved into a mature, readily available and more importantly easily used technology. Ubiquitous FireWire ports have removed connectivity hindrances so basically anyone with a computer can download digital video.

You can cut that video, edit its soundtrack, add titles and author it to DVD with a $1,100.00 program suite like Apple’s Final Cut Studio, (it combines Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Motion and DVD Studio Pro) that’s relatively easy to use as accessible as your nearest Amazon.com and that will run on just about Mac. Even those without Macs have access to similar suites like Adobe’s $999 Premiere Pro; that will run on any mid range PC.

“We envisioned video editing becoming a commercial commodity akin to desktop publishing,” said Adobe Premiere’s Group Product Manager Richard Townhill, who’s long believed that a technological “perfect storm” would free post production from capital-intensive facilities “All we were waiting for was processing power in everyday PCs. Now you can shoot with an HD camera, feed the output into a Premiere-equipped PC, edit it and get HD playback with Dolby Surround Sound.”

Not so long ago post professionals like Pinnacle Systems Laurin Herr were predicting that there would always be a place for traditional post houses because: “. . . There will always be expensive specialty pieces of the chain that only established facilities can afford, including telecines, cutting-edge graphics generators and color correction units.”

But his reasoning just doesn’t hold water anymore. Thanks to growing the popularity of HD video with independent filmmakers and the proliferation of three-CCD HD camcorders like Canon’s XH G1, and new disc-based cameras like Sony’s XDCAM’S, the need for professional telecine services that dominated the post scene of the not so distant past has reached the end of its rope.

Both Final Cut and Premiere include a color correction utility. And, as for the high-end graphics and visual effects side of the post production equation, there’s software that’s laptop compatible enough, like Adobe’s After Effects or Apple’s Motion but general consensus among amateur users seems indicate that no such application boasts the ease of use that characterizes most sound and video editing software. Of course, there’s always tomorrow.

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