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Filmmakers discuss the tech behind the magic at Sundance

By Travis Poppleton

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Jan. 25 2013 12:10 p.m. MST

Moderator Meagan Keane and panelists Bill Yukich, Tyler Nelson and Bayan Joonam discuss technology for filmmaking during a session at the Sundance Film Festival.

Meagan Keane, Adobe

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PARK CITY — For many film geeks, one of the most compelling reasons to attend the Sundance Film Festival has nothing to do with seeing a favorite celebrity or catching the latest projects from up-and-coming filmmakers.

Instead, Sundance provides an unusual amount of access for dialogue between those making films and those interested in the process.

One such venue took place during the festival’s opening weekend at Adobe’s “From Script to Screen, the Fusion of Technology and Storytelling in Film.”

During the event, filmmakers Tyler Nelson, assistant editor to the new Netflix series “House of Cards”; Bill Yukich, music video and commercial editor; and Bayan Joonam, head of production for SoulPancake, a production and media company by actor Rainn Wilson, discussed current technologies being used in the film industry and the overall democratization of filmmaking in general.

“It’s a great thing that this is happening,” Joonam said in an interview shortly before the panel discussion.

“In every art form there’s always been this democratization throughout history. When you look at photography in the early 1900s when Kodak came out with a Brownie camera, you would see a big reaction from photographers who despised this because now anyone could do what they were sought after to do. Filmmakers are going through a similar thing. Cameras are a lot cheaper, and software being massively available to everyone, it’s going to cause a wave, and Hollywood should take notice.”

One avenue Joonam referred to is Adobe’s Creative Cloud, a suite of professional-level software.

Meagan Keane, product marketing manager of Premiere Pro, part of Creative Cloud, was moderating the event and explained the software.

“With a monthly subscription you can make a website for a film, put together a movie poster and create fliers. You can use ideas to keep track of your creative inspirations and then pass that on to the art director or motion graphics artist.”

Creative Cloud is just one of the software suites being offered to individuals trying to create their own content. Apple has made its Final Cut Studio more affordable and user-friendly in the last few years, a move criticized by many professionals who believe the direction came at a cost to industry standards.

During the panel, Yukich talked about some of the advances Premiere has made over the years, especially in its handling of RAW video formats. RAW files, often referred to as digital negatives, have traditionally been difficult to work with because the files are uncompressed, making them too large for processing. They can now be captured without transcoding, so editors can see and work with their footage immediately.

“Everything I can do in RAW, if I can skip the transcode time, that’s great. It’s a matter of being able to immediately work with it. For example, I directed second unit on a feature length documentary shot in New Orleans back in October … and it was an amazing tool that allowed us to come back to production after every night and just throw the clips up and see what we shot.”

But not everyone was entirely on board with how accessible the art form has become. Nelson expressed his frustration with the amount of content now generated by every person with a camera.

“The problem we discovered,” said Nelson, “was the fact that things have become so easy, sometimes it’s hard to find the real content. It’s the same problem with youtube. There are so many cat videos out there, there are very few actual creative pieces of film out there, and it’s hard to sift through them. I feel like, because it’s so easy to produce content, it’s hard to find the good stuff.”

Nelson conceded, however, that the current direction is a good one and that with cat videos also comes a new market of skilled specialists who are available when his crew is short-staffed.

“You often hear in new media circles that we’re back in the Wild West of filmmaking,” Joonam said. “There are no rules on YouTube. No one is going to tell you when to add a break, or there needs to be a specific format for section 1. You put it up and the world will tell you if it’s successful regardless if you’re following rules you learned in film schools.”

Travis Poppleton has been writing tech and film reviews for Deseret News and KSL.com since 2010, and continues to contribute coverage for the Sundance Film Festival and other live events in Utah. You can contact him at TSPoppleton@gmail.com.

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