Here’s a preview of one of the featured interviews in the September IBC Edition of Film and Digital Times. At NAB, RED fired a Full Frame warning shot across the bow of the industry. Their RED Weapon 8K FF camera, due later this year, prompted a flurry of articles in our big 120-page Double Issue 71-72 about lenses that fit, cameras to come, and stuff to see. Jarred Land is President of RED Digital Cinema.
JON FAUER: Jarred, I think you and I first met at AbelCine a while ago. It was before RED.
JARRED LAND: That was probably at a DVXuser BootCamp that I used to hold at AbelCine in both LA and NY.
I remember Pete telling me, “Stay in touch with this guy.”
Pete and his brother, Rich, are great guys. I love the business they have built and their dedication to customers. I like to think that some of that rubbed off on me and how we do things at RED.
How did you get started in this business?
The long story or the short story?
Let’s do the long story.
Back in the early 90’s I owned a bike messenger company in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. One of my clients was Robert Shaw, who was part of the Shaw Studios family.
The famous Shaw Brothers: Sir Run Run, Runme…
Exactly. Robert was part of that family. Apart from the studios and their production company, they owned quite a few commercial spaces in downtown Vancouver. Entire highrises. I became close friends with Robert’s wife, Martina, who worked in one of those buildings and she encouraged me to make a documentary about bike messengers and the bike messenger subculture. I thought that was a great idea. So, I started researching cameras…
That’s when the Panasonic DVX100 camera was first announced. I bit the bullet, put my order in and set out to learn how to use it.
After I received the camera, I realized pretty quick it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. Since I had a day job and couldn’t afford the time to go to film school, I created a website dedicated to that camera and named it DVXuser. It was purely for selfish reasons—I just hoped it would be a quick outlet to speed up my learning process by being able to directly ask questions to other camera owners and operators that knew a heck of a lot more than me.
That ended up working well. Things were pretty slow at first. But, then, it kind of exploded as more and more members started signing up. It was great—I actually started to learn how to use the camera, and I had an army of incredible members full of knowledge willing to not only help me but everyone else.
While I was trying to figure out the pieces of the courier documentary, I started getting jobs with other people around town through DVXuser.com. They recognized me from the website and asked if I was available. So, I’d go out and shoot random things.
One of those calls was for a feature in Victoria. I went in way over my head with a little bit of knowledge mixed with a whole lot of confidence and, somehow, actually pulled it off. One of the producers was from Los Angeles and he liked my work so I started flying to L.A. to shoot things for him. It just never slowed down from that point forward. I ended up giving away my courier business, moving to LA, and shooting full-time while DVXuser continued to grow in the background.
Along the way, Jim Jannard, who also had picked up a DVX100, became a member of DVXuser.
I remember I was shooting a documentary on mercenaries in Sierra Leone, West Africa, when I first heard from Jim. He had a big idea and he started hinting about it. When I finished in Africa and got back to Los Angeles, Jim got in touch again, and asked, “Why don’t you come visit me at my office so we can talk?” I remember driving down to the Oakley headquarters and turning the last corner and being blown away by the building.
Jim and I hit it off immediately. He showed me a lot of things he was working on and, honestly, it took all of 5 minutes for me to be all in. I had no doubt that what he was setting out to do was going to change the game and he was the right guy to do it. I finished up some projects and kept visiting until it came to a point where I just never left. Jim did a really good job of picking unique guys who were incredibly talented and who had the ambition to help realize his dream. That’s how RED started. It felt like there were six of us for the longest time in the beginning. The passion that was bundled up in that little warehouse down in Southern California was incredible. We muscled our way through major hurdles every single hour—literally working 18 hours a day and sleeping under our desks. It took us a while to get to that first prototype, but we finally got there. The rest of the story I think you probably know.
The rest is history. What year was that when you joined?
RED became official at the end of 2005. I think we all became “official employees” at the beginning of 2006. The timing was great. I had the DVXuser website, which at that point had an incredible amount of members and a lot of traffic, so we were able to create a RED section on DVXuser to help give instant awareness to what we were doing. Remember, back then there was no Twitter, no Instagram, or even really Facebook, so this way of communicating directly from the heads of the companies to the customers was a very new way to reach customers. Very quickly the RED section outgrew DVXuser so I created a dedicated website called REDuser.
What was your first job at RED? In charge of the website?
REDuser always was kind of a background thing. At the beginning it was all about pushing buttons and turning knobs with sensor settings, tweaking mechanics and testing optics. Jim and I both have a great ability to learn how things work in a very short amount of time so I was pretty much touching everything I could. For the very first round of prototypes, there was a lot of hitting things with hammers until they worked. That’s when some incredible engineers started showing up who really connected the dots. We would work all day on the camera. And then Jim and I would get onto REDuser and talk to our customers all night.
You introduced the first concept at NAB in 2006 and then the first prototype at 2007?
That sounds right. We started shipping the first cameras to our customers on August 31st, 2007. Those were some crazy days. We had people breaking into our office stealing prototypes. Wildfires across the street and floods in our warehouse. Dirt bikes in the hallways, dogs running around and camera parts bursting out the doors.
The first concept came from you guys just batting ideas around? How did you figure out what people wanted?
Jim’s been a camera guy all his life. He personally shot every Oakley print ad and TV commercial for the first 20 years. He has owned almost every motion picture camera, both film and digital. His collection of cameras and lenses is mind blowing. He isn’t just a collector, he actually shoots almost every single day. For the first few months we would lay out a bunch of cameras and pick the good things and the bad things of each one, talk about it and get on the whiteboard.
Of course, 4K was a requirement when you are trying to reach the level of 35mm film which seemed impossible at that time but we knew it couldn’t be anything less. Jim knew that, eventually, 4K would be the standard. Just a matter of “when”, not “if.”
Most engineers are known for saying, “No, it can’t be done.” That’s usually their first reaction and yet you just forged ahead.
Exactly! That’s the reason we never really had normal engineers at the beginning. There was a lot of “No” coming from consulting engineers but we didn’t pay much attention to them. We had enough people who had enough knowledge and the right amount of passion to push past the boundaries. There was a point where we realized that certain parts we needed to have were not yet made. We started, from the beginning, making our own sensors, then our own ASICs and then pretty much everything else in the camera because we just couldn’t buy things off the shelf that were good enough.
What did you do as a kid? Were you always interested in filmmaking?
I grew up in Edmonton, Canada and got into computers at an early age. That was before people were online, but as soon as the internet came around I started making websites. This led me to photography since I needed to start shooting images for the clients’ websites. My first digital camera was a Sony, maybe 640×480 resolution camera, that saved the photos to a floppy disk. That was so revolutionary at the time. I also got heavily into mountain biking and started racing them, so once I hit 18, I moved west to Vancouver and that led me to starting my bike messenger company….
When you were working at RED did you learn engineering and design on the job?
Yes, absolutely. Jim really was inspirational. He taught me not how to make things, but how to create things. He’s not just a visionary, he also really has this great ability to get everyone around him to work past their limits. When he tackled color science, before Graeme took it over, I was shocked how quickly he picked it up. And with design, I don’t think there is anyone on the planet better than him.
Let’s fast forward to today. Where do you see RED and the rest of the industry going with Full Frame sensors and 8K?
At NAB, we announced the 8K Weapon. The body is a little bit smaller than an Epic Dragon.
It has a Full Frame VistaVision size sensor with 8K resolution. It’s a perfect balance between pixel size and lens size. You can use all the Full Frame still lenses out there—and there are a lot of them—along with some old VistaVision lenses. So you can actually get glass for your camera instead of going all the way up to a 65mm or 70mm sensor, where you really don’t have many options other than medium format lenses. Some of these are great, but others are not really suitable for motion.
The brilliant thing is that you can take advantage of 200 million Full Frame still lenses out there.
Absolutely. We actually hoped it would happen that way, and it did happen. You know, ZEISS has Full Frame zooms and Full Frame prime lenses now. Other companies have designs from their Full Frame still lenses that they can tweak a little bit and create a product for us. Obviously, when you compare the still world and the filmmaking world, they are two very different sized markets. For example, Canon has probably sold more 50mm still lenses than all the cine prime lenses combined. So, you can start with those Full Frames still lenses. Some of them are great. Some of them aren’t so great. But at least you can hit the ground running, which was our goal—an accessible 8K.
I think almost everyone in the industry is looking forward to Full Format. A number of companies have already started modifying and re-barreling still lenses to make them more cine-friendly: expanded focus scales, new mounts, geared barrels. We’re going to see a lot of interest in Full Frame at this IBC.
We’re privy to the road map of some lens companies, and we know that there’s definitely a big push. Especially now that there are some consumer cameras, like the Sony a7, which are fantastic still cameras that do video. It has a Full Frame sensor in there. As the market grows bigger, there are more opportunities for manufacturers to say, “OK, let’s start making Full Frame lenses for cinematic applications.”
What has been the reaction from your customers? Is this mostly embraced by fashion photographers or are you getting interest from feature DPs as well?
The high-end feature cinematographers and still photographers love our new Full Frame camera because it has an incredible amount of resolution that comes with the big size sensor. The top cinematographers are excited to get on board and really are embracing it. Some of our 8K demos are going around and other tests are being shot now and projected onto big screens. The feedback has been really great. If I am being honest, it’s better than we expected.
The camera is pretty much the same small form factor that we got criticized for at one point along the way, but it now seems like every other manufacturer has replicated that.
It looks like you were definitely proven correct.
And you’ve got to love it when that happens. We don’t get everything right all the time. We learn as we go along. But that form factor just seems to be a good one. When I was doing still photography in medium format, I had a Mamiya RZ67 that I absolutely loved. It was a great size, about the same dimensions as the new Weapon camera. When you start with a small camera, you can get into the corners and into the back seat of cars and still get your shot, and you can also build them up if you need them to be big the rest of the time.
Last time we spoke you discussed the lens mount. Have you gotten any kind of consensus from the lens manufacturers about a common lens mount?
We have and it’s a weird position for lens manufacturers right now. A normal PL mount can cover the Full Frame sensor if the rear element or porthole is big enough. That’s the road that ZEISS has taken with their Full Frame Compact Prime and Compact Zoom lenses. It’s an interchangeable mount system whose standard PL mount has a really big opening in back.
A few people have adapted still lenses with the Canon mount, but that’s usually on the lower end. Panavision has its own 70mm mount, and made mounts to go on our camera for the Primo 70 lenses. ARRI, I guess, is still kind of figuring out what it’s doing.
ARRI Alexa 65 lenses have an XPL Mount (64 mm diameter, 60 mm flange depth).
The good news is that we started the trend of making an interchangeable mount on the camera. We can go any way the industry goes by just making a new mount instead of a new camera.
If the manufacturers won’t settle on a standard, it will be like the United Nations. Customers will have to juggle interchangeable mounts on both cameras and on lenses.
Yes, indeed. It would be nice to have a standard. P+S Technik came out with an Interchangeable Mount System, and I think Duclos has one now too.
P+S Technik introduced the IMS system (Interchangeable Mount System) a while ago. IB/E Optics has a UMS system: Universal Mounting System. Similar concepts.
Great idea. If that was adopted by everybody, we would have no problem. It’s just that this industry is a little weird with people wanting to have their own things that don’t work with anyone else’s. The standards committees in this industry are minefields, as you know.
There have been more than 50 film formats and aspect ratios in the last 100 years and over 50 video formats in the past 50 years.
It’s crazy. We’re just as guilty: making the 2:1 aspect ratio standard. But, that 2:1 standard was made to be very versatile. Within our Weapon 8K Camera’s 2:1 Full Frame sensor, you can use traditional 2x squeeze anamorphic lenses because you get more than the full height (more than the required 18 mm). You’re using the best part of the lens, and you still have room for repositioning.
The 2:1 format makes a lot of sense. Vittorio Storaro has been advocating that for a long time. It makes a lot more sense than 16:9 or 17:9. Tell me about the stores that you’re opening around the world: New York, Germany, Pinewood in the UK…
We just opened a RED Store in Miami. The motivation, especially for New York and Miami, was not only sales but also service and support for our cameras.
There are a lot of our cameras out there. Since we are mainly a direct company, it was difficult for our customers when they needed something fixed or wanted to get additional cards, batteries or other bits. Often, they had to wait a few days to get them after placing an order. We’re strategically opening up locations around the world to help with that. No matter where you are, you are generally now close enough to get something more quickly.
How do you decide where you’re going to open?
We learn where our customers are and where support calls come from. Not just where our customers live, but where they’re working. We have a lot of metrics that we can look at to see where the next place should be. There are a lot of locations like Miami that also help out with customers in South America. The next location likely will be in Canada.
You have dealers as well?
Yes. AbelCine was one of the first, of course, because I had such a great relationship with them way back before RED. From a customer’s perspective, some want to go to a place and buy not only a camera or media but also tripods and bags and all those other production support items that we don’t make. So, with a place like AbelCine, customers can get it all from one place. AbleCine also has a great support network. Their relationships with some customers go decades back. Having great dealers is going to be a big part of our future.
The new cameras are shipping now?
Yes, we’re shipping now. We’re very excited about this.
What about the 8K cameras?
That’s the end of the year. We’re taking our time with that one because there are a lot of pieces to get right. It is at the highest end. We really want it to be perfect. We’re not rushing them to production, just waiting for it to get ready and the sensor guys to really lock everything down.
Over the years we’ve often announced shipping dates and for one reason another missed them over and over again. That seems to be pretty normal in this industry, but it still really frustrated us. We have spent the last few years overhauling our entire engineering process, the management team, and operations. And that has fixed a lot of the delays. Our Weapon camera program is really the first time that we made a camera and delivered when we said we would. I am so proud of my team and how far we have come.
Shipping on time? I’m shocked. SHOCKED!
Yes, we announced a date and then we shipped on that date. It is a bit of a miracle. That’s a really big thing for us. It just shows that we’re growing up a little bit, you know. But not too much [laughing]…
Last question. So, what do you want to be when you grow up?
I don’t want to grow up. [Laughing] I mean—I am so fortunate because I’m really living like a kid every day, doing something I love to do. What else could I ask for?
RED is at IBC Booths 11.C70, 11.A77
FDimes is at IBC Booth 11.F31