November 2015: Issue 73
10th Anniversary Edition
FDTimes is 10 years old. The first issue of Film and Digital Times was a 16 page newsletter. Subscribers were scarce. Four intrepid sponsors agreed to participate: ARRI, Kodak, Sony, and J.L. Fisher.
The idea for this adventure was hatched one cold New York day in November 2004. The industry’s leading luminaries had gathered to talk about the latest tools and technology in film, digital acquisition and post. The meeting quickly unraveled into a debate on how to keep current with all the latest stuff. It quickly became clear there was no good way. A prominent professor criticized current channels of communication: magazines don’t have how-to advice, the web is often full of flagrant promotion or unvetted sources, and Jon Fauer’s camera books take way too long to come out. I sputtered some random excuses.
Day two. Saul Molina at the ASC called to ask when I planned to finish the ARRICAM BOOK 2nd Edition because the first edition was sold out. “But I’m only a year late, with all the changes and updates,” I said.
Day three. Three production-ready Arriflex 235 cameras had landed. Email flooded in: had I done an ARRI 235 BOOK? No. But did it have to be a book? Could it be presented in episodic format, like a TV series?
Day four. Meeting with David Dellenbaugh. He publishes Speed and Smarts, about advanced sailboat racing and tactics. Eureka. A newsletter. David explained how it was done.
Day five. Volker Bahnemann, valued mentor, gave advice and encouragement. Guidance and content came from a group of advisors whose business was the business: colleagues, manufacturers, designers, inventors, directors, producers, cinematographers, assistants, crews, friends.
The Round Table of gurus and wizards who answered late night questions included: Volker Bahnemann, Douglas Kirkland, John Johnston, Howard Preston, Michael Phillips, John Dowdell, Joe Dunton, Bob Fisher, Martha Winterhalter, Saul Molina, Bill Bennett, ASC, Denny Clairmont, Franz Wieser, Thomas Greiser, George Schmidt, Otto Nemenz, Les Zellan, Barbara Lowry, Bill Turner, Larry Barton, Steve Burum, ASC, Peter Abel, Alec Shapiro, and many others.
Trying to come up with an appropriate and catchy name was the hardest task of all. What was all-encompassing of everything we would be covering: cinematography, directing, editing, post, cameras, lighting, dollies, cranes, remote heads, grip equipment, software, hardware, computers, and more? A week later we were bouncing around, filming in the middle of Biscayne Bay. James Kilby, still photographer, suddenly said, totally out of context, “Film and Digital Times.” FDTimes for short. He got a free subscription forever for that excellent name.
Cut to today. It’s been ten years. We still don’t take ads. We are supported by subscribers, partners and our 110 sponsors. Thank you all for making the journey possible.
This 10th Anniversary Edition is like a History of the Movies, 2005-2015. It’s a whirlwind retrospective of the technique and technology that brought us, some kicking and screaming, others thrilled as an audience on opening night, from the analog to the digital age of motion pictures. View these pages like a flip book or Kinora (invented by the Lumière brothers) and it’s interesting to see the pace quicken from beginning to end, with new products appearing more frequently, development cycles shortening, and the number of cameras, lenses, accessories, and lights increasing.
I remember a concern Volker had when he was advising me. “It may get scary when you run out of things to say.” Fortunately, writers’ block was not a problem—thanks to the torrent of new technology, new techniques, and new art in the decade that followed. Once upon a time, new equipment was introduced to the market at a more leisurely pace. Some called it glacial. A camera might last your entire career. Industry tradeshows usually consisted of incremental advances—a new video assist, a better follow-focus, an occasional camera, bigger lights, new lenses maybe every ten years. Volker had good reason for his words of caution.
Thankfully, the decade that followed the inception of FDTimes was kind to the workflow of words. A TORRENT! What started as a 16 page newsletter evolved into a War and Peace of technique and technology. Prose by the pound. The Proust of Production. The Dickens of Digital. New equipment was arriving at ever shorter intervals. It felt as if the consumer electronics industry, known for planning the obsolescence of the products we just must have, had taken a step into our sandbox. When we embarked on the Film and Digital Times expedition, Film was what ran through the cameras on most features and commercials. The Digital part was mainly how you treated the film in post production.
Ten years later, Film in the title has mostly evolved from origination to procedure. It’s still filmmaking and it’s still a film even if it’s being shot with digital cameras. What follows is a somewhat opinionated, regrettably not all-inclusive, whirlwind ride that tries to summarize the past 10 years in a few pages. It’s a historical timeline of technique, technology, art, and practical production—with a diverse cast of characters and a cavalcade of companies. It’s a fun reunion. And certainly there are things that seemed new, useful, clever or helpful at the time, but look very different from the precipice of today. Notable blunders, historical revisionism, laughable punditry, and egregious errors are noted in italics.
A famous French filmmaker once complained to me at IBC that FDTimes was getting too heavy to carry. Could I cut down on words and pages? That was curious, coming from someone who surely had studied 3,000 pages of Proust in school, 50 of which described in excruciating detail the dreaded madeleine. Would he prefer an abbreviated version, le Cliff’s Notes? Well, Monsieur, here you have it—our 10th anniversary retrospective, a summary of the past 72 issues—which come close to Proust in page count at 2,744—distilled to a mere 48 pages, including lots of pictures.
The problem with a retrospective is the selection process. Some things get left out. My apologies to those well-deserving companies, people and products who are missing, not because of design, but simply because of lack of space. Nevertheless, the entire collection of all 72 editions, with everyone included, is ready to read online on the www.fdtimes.com website. And yes, there’s inevitably a sequel.