Kyle Loftus | Pexels
When I entered the industry, most things were shot on film, from advertisements to TV dramas to feature films. Video was an analogue recording medium requiring a truck with 1 inch reels of tape and hundreds of metres of cable connecting the camera to the recording device. If you wanted to film on location it meant bringing the circus with you. I’ve watched as we’ve made the slow transition to digital, tapeless, and soon cardless technology. This relatively recent revolution in moving image capture has democratised filmmaking, eliminating the need for expensive film stock, processing, Steenbeck edit desks, video cassettes, reel to reel – everything that kept the everyman out of filmmaking has been replaced by apps and technology you can fit in your pocket.
What followed was an explosion of smart phone created content. Commercials and music videos for artists such as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (1) and Selena Gomez (2) were shot entirely on an iPhone. It felt like a real shift was in play. Now in the post-pandemic world we’re back to shooting on big cameras with big crews. Once again when I shoot on location I bring the circus with me.
So is it back to business as usual? Was this a false dawn? No. There are even more significant changes on the way, some led by technology, some by necessity. My advice to anyone in production is diversify or die. If all you can do is one thing, your job is at risk. If you’re a photographer, learn how to shoot moving images. If you’re a director, pick up a camera. If you’re a producer, try directing. The last person I hired was a self-shooting writer, producer, director and editor. His job is safe. But there are other more significant changes on the horizon which will change the very nature of filmmaking. Let’s have a look at where the industry is headed, specialism by specialism.
Producers increasingly have to be a jack of all trades while specialist areas of production are in danger of becoming redundant. It’s not a great time to be an Art Buyer or an Agency Producer. De-coupled production means that many clients are now taking the job of the Agency Producer in house and assigning it to Project or Brand Managers who make the decision as to who to engage to execute the agency’s creative. This has seen the rise of the global in-house production agency with WPP acquiring and expanding Hogarth, Publicis countering with Prodigious and IPG with Craft WW.
Add to this an increasing number of 360 agencies promising creative and production all under one roof. If you’re an Agency Producer who doesn’t know how to book crew and equipment, it’s time to learn. Producers now are expecting to be fully integrated with an understanding of production for both agency and production companies, across stills, moving images and a plethora of other deliverables including 360 video, AR, VR, virtual production and the metaverse (whatever that is).
So what can you do about it? Learn. Get on a course, get on a shoot, read a blog, watch a BTS and learn every aspect of production. Production will see the most dramatic changes over the next few years. Everyone is talking about virtual production since 2020 forced us off the streets and into the studios. Add in user generated content, influencer led marketing and an increasingly diverse media landscape and it’s easy to see how production is increasingly diverse.
Post becomes Pre-production
The post-production industry is about to see a boom in demand for operators who can create and optimise 3D locations for virtual production. So if you know Maya, 3DS Max, Blender or any world building software, get ready for a surge in demand for your skills. And not just for virtual production. The world you build will be equally valuable in the Metaverse as it expands and new platforms emerge. People with experience in the games industry will find their skills at creating worlds optimised for real time render engines like Unreal highly sought after in the film industry, as well as in gaming and metaverse creation.
So does this mean the green screen is dead? Not yet. There will still be a job for compositors. LED studios are expensive and they don’t work for everything. The beauty of virtual productions is that everything on the wall is reflected in the real world. But the ability to change that world in post is limited. With green screen it is unlimited.
But surely Actors’ jobs are safe right? Virtual actors don’t look rea, there is something off about them, like Peter Cushing or Princess Leia in Rogue One. We’re still in that uncanny valley place where we have an instinctive repulsion when we see a human that somehow, doesn’t quite look right. Digital humans just don’t look human yet.
Except that we have. Meet Shudu, the world’s first digital supermodel with 232k followers. And there’s an agency representing her and other metahumans. There are even aliens on the rosta. And the brands love them.
So is that it for talent? Not quite yet. There are many studios now set up to offer motion capture and facial capture of real people to be reskinned as an avatar in a movie or computer game. Golem’s engaging performance in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, was as much thanks to the performance of Andy Serkis as it was the designers of Golem’s on-screen avatar.
But surely this technological advancements don’t threaten the Creatives? After all, we’ll always need copy and art direction. Yes, but with AI, nobody’s job is safe. I can’t stress this more clearly. And this isn’t meant to be alarmist. It is simply a fact.
Let me share a personal example. My sister was a financial journalist for a major news site. One day she was asked to edit an article written by AI. So convincing was the article that she quit her job as a journalist, retrained as a computer programmer and is now creating the AI bots that are putting her former colleagues out of work..
But financial journalism is a far cry from creative copywriting. We’re not there just yet, but it’s on the horizon. We will see the spread of AI written copy across all industries in the future.
“But art” I hear you cry. “Computers can’t make art. Only the unique nature of the human mind can create art.” To put this to the test I asked an AI to create some artwork for me.
Cyber punk space lockdown
Mondrian Monkey and fries
Dali Hamburger and Fries
Jesus and Buddha have lunch together
Cubist Darth Vader
OK, these aren’t going to win the Turner prize. But there is a practical application of these works for Art Directors. Rather than spend resource and expense clearing works of art to appear on the walls of your film location, just ask an AI to create a completely original piece of work.. Artists beware.
So that’s art. But could AI one day goes as far as to replace real images? Could it replace product photography? As an experiment I asked the AI to create a photograph of the best beer ever. Here is the result:
Not bad, right?
So if we bring it all together, in the future we could be hiring remote crews to shoot with virtual cameras in virtual locations inside the metaverse on an AI-written commercial starring metahumans while we watch on VR headsets feeding back in real time with our avatars from the comfort of our home office. And with facial recognition software capturing our expressions and recreating them in real time, we can see exactly how displeased our clients are with the shoot just by looking at their avatars. What a future.