The revolution will not be red

There’s a lot of buzz being generated by the RED camera. That happens when a young (by billionaire standards) and charismatic entrepreneur enters a new field. This is an industry that more than occasionally needs shaking up, and Jim Jannard’s a lot more interesting than most most of the pocket protector crowd that usually delivers us innovation.

I’ve been publicly skeptical of the RED camera coming to market on time. I think a 4k camera at $35,000 would be pretty damn cool (that’s what a baseline functioning camera will cost), but not very useful.

It turns out that the December date was simply mentioned by the founder as a date he would hope to be in production, nothing more. It’s hard to fault a founder for optimism. It goes with the territory. Pessimists and cynics don’t launch companies with the stated goal of revolutionizing an industry.

So let’s say this work of stunning industrial design arrives for NAB. I still believe it won’t, but really smart people tell me the team is still on track. If it does show up, so what? It’s cool like having a car that can go 150 MPH is cool. What are most independents going to so with it that a Panasonic HVX-200 can’t do? Seriously. How many of your clients have been clamoring for 4k resolutions? The only venues that can show the RED image in all its glory are cinemas. Are cinemas clamoring for more independent fare? How many films do well at Sundance and never get into theatrical distribution?

At the end of the day this camera will have no significant effect on democratizing the industry. It won’t be because it’s not a technological marvel at an incredible price point. It’s that acquisition isn’t the bottleneck for distribution. IPTV is the revolution, and for the next decade at least there ain’t gonna be no one clogging those pipes with 4k independent films.

Buy an HVX-200. You can be shooting with it next week and have material ready for IP distribution shortly after.

11 Thoughts on “The revolution will not be red

  1. As long as you are talking about IP distribution and specifically IP distribution today… most any $500 miniDV Camcorder can deliver better quality than YouTube can deliver. The thing is, it will be a long time before IP is your ONLY distribution channel. If you are doing this with the idea of making money, you can’t just look at the low quality distribution, you need to look at EVERY distribution channel. For about $25,000 you can have a camera that is far more 2.5 times as good as the $10,000 you’ll spend on an HVX200 system.
    The HVX is barely better than standard definition camera that user pixel shift and uprezzing to get to 1920×1080 resolution… while throwing away a LOT of the colour information.
    The Red sensor captures a far greater latitude both in luminance and colour and comparing the HVX200 footage to even the Red test mule’s image capture is like comparing cheap blown up super16 film to top of the line super35mm film.
    A few outlets refuse to accept HVX200 footage for delivery over HDTV while even the HD output of the Red One would be more than acceptable for theatrical release.
    The HVX200 is far closer to the DVX100 than to the Red Frankie test mule… and you gotta think that the fully engineered Red One should improve on that at least marginally.
    All cameras have faults that need to be worked around and every time you take one of those faults away you make the end product better- the HVX200 has far more problems to overcome than the Red One.

  2. Which facilities don’t accept the HVX-200? But that’s besides the point. I also don’t think your take on the HVX-200 image reflects mainstream thinking among professional videographers and editors.

    Though it’s no RED. My point is that I know of no independents outside of feature film producers and high end nature documentarians who have use for a RED camera that costs more than 4x the HVX.

    I also disagree very strongly with your premise that one has to prepare for every distribution channel. That’s an awful way to approach the market, and a guarantee to lose money on every project.

    It’s possible you will prove me wrong. Please let me know when you or another indy makes something with the RED and sells it. Then show me it couldn’t be done with another camera costing less. Unless you are planning to release on film, Varicam’s most likely a better option.

    There are places for the RED camera, but they are relatively few – extreme sports and nature shooting comes to mind. Who wants to lug a 35mm camera up Everest? But that’s not the typical indy project.

    RED will be useful. It will have a market. And it will probably do well by that market. But it won’t be revolutionary by any stretch of the word.

  3. I was referring to outlets like the HBO, Showtime, Discovery Channel, National Geographic or HDNet who try to limit how much lower end material makes it onto their networks. They all consider HDV and the DVPPro output from the HVX200 to be of lesser quality than the Varicams and Cinealtas- and they are correct. Sure I would rather watch a show shot with a HVX200 by a master DOP rather than the same show shot with a F900 by a hack… but we are talking about the hardware not the operator.

    Here are a couple relevant sections from two networks guidelines – but keep in mind that these are a few months old and they can change at any time. And of course they will bend these rules if you show up with a fantastic product… but why place that hurdle in front of yourself?

    Discovery Communications Inc, General guide Lines
    “No more than 25 percent of an HD production’s final content may be material upconverted from
    standard definition, and no more than 15 percent of the final content may be originated in the HDV
    1080 format. When both HDV and upconverted materials are used in a program, the combined
    total of HDV and unconverted footage cannot exceed 30 percent of the final program material.”
    (Note that HDV 720 is not currently allowed within this standard).

    National Geographic Channel, Guide Lines
    “To enable the HD program to retain the highest quality throughout, a maximum of 10 percent
    of non-HD footage is allowed in production with no more than one minute of continuous non-HD
    footage in any sequence. Any use of non-HD material is only acceptable by prior written consent
    of NGC. We understand that there will be certain genres of program that will require non-HD
    material to be in excess of the 10 percent content limitation. This will only be acceptable by prior
    written consent from NGC”.

    When you are creating low budget indie content, very rarely can you expect to make money from one outlet. If you make a feature film, you will try to get it distributed theatrically, license the first run showing on as many television channels in as many regions as possible, distribute through iTunes and sell the DVD and HD-DVD… almost never is any one of those going to be enough to make money on their own – and if you don’t try to get them all then you are unlikely to get the two or three that you need.

    I have Red #351 on order and there are two projects that I would like to tackle with it. One is a dramatic series for television and the other is a feature film. While both of them could be shot with the old DVX100 I have sitting in my closet- even using the HVX200 would be one more strike against it that I really don’t want.

    From my research, the Red One will be the least expensive camera that could produce images that are beyond fault for whatever outlet you can contemplate- right up to IMAX. And that isn’t hyperbole, a director I know has just finished a 65mm project for IMAX distribution and after reviewing the footage from the Red prototype he told me that he is comfortable that it would stand up.

    Anything more expensive that the Red One, a Varicam for instance, makes more sense as a rental unless you are in almost continuous production. Let the rental house keep up with the maintenance, repair and obsolescence of the hardware. The Red One comes in at the price of a midrange automobile and as such is something that a LOT of serious folks can swing. Those people will be able to familiarize themselves with the tool and produce images that are amazing – not just acceptable.

    I guess I am looking at it as a way to mainstream the feature film and high end nature documentaries… and in my mind that is a revolution.

  4. Clint – All the power to you. Good luck. I think you made the right choice for your situation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you are making your films on spec without any distribution agreements prior to production start. That’s not the norm for the type of projects you’re describing.

    Most producers have outside financing (maybe not full financing) and a distribution deal in place prior to commencing work on a prime time television series. At least the ones I work with do.

    Will RED give you an edge negotiating a deal? Most likely in the very early going it will. Then the market will absorb that.

    My only significant disagreement with your take on this is that you believe this will help “mainstream” (I assume you mean what others are calling “democratize”) features and high end docs. It will to some extent, but it will not open the gates of network television and theatrical release to new, fresh talent. The logjam there is based on the limited number of channels and theaters. Only potential blockbusters get on those outlets for obvious economic reasons. New talent will very rarely get the opportunity there.

    I highly recommend you read Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail.”

    With all that said, I’m taking a very broad view. In your specific case, RED might just be the difference maker for you. You seem to have all the other pieces in place. I haven’t seen your work – looking forward to your webisodes – but I’ll take your word that production values have been all that have held you back from broader distribution. It’s great that RED can get you to make that next leap.

    But… you are definitely the exception, and not the rule. Most indy producers are dealing with much more modest distribution goals.

    Please keep us posted on your work.

  5. Yes, especially in television the norm is to have funding in place before production begins. And then those funding sources would usually specify at least the Varicam and would prefer a Cinealta…the HVX200 is very rarely in consideration. Unless the Red One misses its mark by a wide margin it will fall well into the acceptable range.

    I will be looking to find investors for the lions share of the funding but I see the Red One as a way to lower production costs when amortized over a few low budget projects… and this only made sense once the price of a top end camera dropped down to this level. An HVX200 system costing $10,000 amortized over five projects works out to $2,000 per project while the Red One at $30,000 works out to $6000 per project. In my mind it would take a pretty tight budget to justify the $4,000 in savings. Renting a Varicam for a ten to fifteen day shoot would cost you around that same $6,000 so if you are doing one project then you rent… but it doesn’t take many projects before the economics lean heavily in favour of the Red One. Even renting the Red One once it hits the rental houses would still be in the $4,000 to $5,000 range.

    I’m not sure what you mean by the market absorbing the edge that the Red One would potentially give me? The way I see it, the Red One will set a high standard for low budget image quality that the low end cameras will struggle even harder to overcome.

    You are correct in that the distribution is the choke point but I disagree with the assumption that the Red One won’t edge the gate open a lot wider as it eliminates most of the technical hurdles. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who feel that talent with the Red One will be enough by itself when in fact it is actually the fourth most important aspect of a production – writing, acting, directing and then cinematography. That said, you have to try and get the highest production values in all of these areas because every little slip in one will have to be shored up by the others. And no production makes it through without a lot of slips.

    I will freely admit that the Red One wouldn’t have gotten me distribution for my series. I feel that the writing was solid but since it was a self finance presentation pilot I went with neophytes and volunteers for cast and crew… combine that with it being my first directing job and we are left with the fact that it being shot in miniDV format was not a deciding factor. The defining factor is that it was never meant as a final product, but rather a selling tool. There are two production companies considering it right now so to that extent it was successful. I want to turn it into webisodes once they make up their minds… and knowing the vagaries of the industry it is almost certain to be a “no”. I would be doing the webisodes mostly for those who volunteered, to give them something back besides the experience and pieces for their demo reels. I did rent a theatre last summer for a cast and crew showing but that was of a rough cut and it would be nice to give them something concrete for their work.

    That said, my next projects will be produced for distribution and as such I really want to eliminate every fail point that my resources can stretch to. The cost of the Red One brings the cinematographic fail point down within the reach of me (hopefully) and tens of thousands of other people. Now we are left with the writing, acting and directing fail points to overcome.

  6. “I’m not sure what you mean by the market absorbing the edge that the Red One would potentially give me? The way I see it, the Red One will set a high standard for low budget image quality that the low end cameras will struggle even harder to overcome.”

    It means your cost advantage will be very short lived. Either your competitors will use REDs or RED’s competitors will adjust. Expect both to happen.

    I also think you overestimate the potential size of the RED market among independents by a factor of about 10.

    Time will tell. Let’s move on to another discussion.

  7. Okay, gotcha. I wasn’t seeing the Red One as an advantage OVER the competition but as PARITY with the competition. I fully expect a lot of people to use Red or Red equivalents… and where will that leave those who are using the HVX200?

    I wasn’t suggesting that there will be tens of thousands of people buying Red Ones – there are probably going to be about 2000 pre-orders for the camera and a lot of those will be going to rental houses. I do think that there will be a good market for them, maybe getting into the thousands per year. But for every person buying a Red camera for their own use, there would probably be a hundred that are going to rent it… that’s where the vast majority of the “tens of thousands” come from.

    Sorry to drag this discussion out but I just wanted to clarify myself.

  8. Let’s not forget the HVX-200 costs 20% of a RED. There will still be a huge market for material shot with HVX-200, and a lot of it will be broadcast. I think we agree RED will have a greater effect on the XDCAM HD and Varicam markets.

    Good luck to you. Hope you get your camera soon enough, and it delivers for you. It’s really exciting when a new technology comes around and someone is just waiting to pounce on it. Let us know when you have something to show us.

  9. Frank…Red will have more of an impact that you realize. MAJOR productions will save money by using this $35k camera rather than film, or the Viper, or Panavision HD camera.

    But then lets talk Discovery Channel, History Channel, and National Geographic…the networks I edit for. Right now the camera of choice for them is the Varicam, a $65k camera. Footage from the HVX, as Clint pointed out, shall not exceed 25% of the total amount used in the show…according to their spec sheets. AND…to top it off, Nat Geo and Discovery WILL NOT TAKE hard drives of P2 data. Nor DVDs. They want tapes only…period. So if you shoot with the HVX you have to import it, string it together, output to tape…capture. Quite a process.

    Lets look at the compression. DVCPRO HD is highly compressed, especially in the blues. This makes compositing with this footage a task and a half. Motion Graphics guys hate this.

    So…if Red, that costs HALF what a Varicam puts out, can shoot 4K images and into a far less compressed format that I can edit, there is a SERIOUS plus here. And it records to tape. Now I like the HVX as much as you, but the P2 workflow is such a pain compared to tape. I’d opt for tape any day of the week. We only use the HVX because it is the same format as the Varicam, and is far better than any HDV camera out there. Use it as the A-CAMERA? No…so why you are comparing the RED to the HVX is beyond me. Compare RED to the F950 CineAlta (HDCAM), the Panasonic Varicam, and yes, even the Viper. RED wins.

  10. T McAleenan on April 23, 2007 at 4:43 pm said:

    I think that is that argument finished.

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