The camera looked like an artifact collected from an archaeological dig of the future...
We work with high tech gear, smart creative thinkers, and influential clients, but that doesn't mean we've seen everything! Much as we believe in our abilities to deliver high-end work, I'll admit that Hollywood class budgets are not generally our daily bread.
So when the opportunity presented itself recently for us to use a high-end cinema camera--free of charge!-- for a few days of production work, our collective pulses started galloping. It's good to have friends in the world who want to share their toys. What's more, hands-on experience with high-end gear is always a chicken-and-egg dilemma for media teams looking to elevate their games. Access to the latest and greatest equipment is usually expensive and hard to coordinate. Practical knowledge about the latest and greatest makes creative teams like us more desirable. Why on Earth let the opportunity pass?
Have you ever been on a backpacking trip? When you're packing your gear, do you hold items in your hand wondering if they're worth the extra weight on your shoulders, space in your bag, whether you'll want them miles down the trail, if they'll be essential to your journey? Ultimately you make your decisions and set off.
And what happened? Good trip or bad, you clearly returned alive. (You're reading this blog, aren't you? You must have survived.) Unless it was a complete disaster, you came back with stories to tell, and while you may have wanted whatever it was that you didn't ultimately bring, the chances are it didn't make the difference in the trip. (Seriously, though: send us a note if you were on a trip and things really DIDN'T go as planned due to some packing or preparation error before you departed!)
The point is, adding one extra thing, even a valuable, useful thing, is sometimes not what's most helpful. Often focusing narrowly on those things you know you'll need differentiates between great success and middlin' mediocrity.
It's that way for everything.
When our colleague called and offered us three days use of his fancy camera for a big sequence we were planning, the inner geeks in our souls started salivating. It would be top-end gear, a great learning opportunity, probably a lot of fun. It might even enhance the shot!
But we let the opportunity go, and never looked back. What's more, even the camera's owner had to agree when I gave him our explanation.
Having more stuff means managing more stuff. Our production calendar was jam packed and our work plan was equally filled. Integrating this camera would take a mighty effort just to get tooled up for the specialized procedures necessary to make it all work. The learning curve was steep; the ancillary requirements substantial. If the shot looked spectacular, it wouldn't match the look of our other (totally terrific!) footage. (Just calling it like I see it…) The great opportunity to use the great gear would become a fools errand, an albatross, a prized sports car we couldn't even use to run to the grocery for fear of dinging a door.
Am I frustrated we couldn't take it out for a spin? Totally! Did we make the right choice? Absolutely. Our first loyalty is always to the client we're working for at the moment, and to distract ourselves with what seemed like a great opportunity would have turned out to be a huge mistake, especially in service to our client. Knowing when opportunities genuinely present themselves and when they offer nothing but distraction can be all the difference in the world. Creativity requires deep understanding of techniques and technologies, no matter what the discipline. But having the discipline to stay focused on a particular task can help keep a good project on course and ensure success.
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Right now I'm really jonesing for a thunderbolt RAID. I'd also love to order a short stack of what the smart money thinks will be new, kickin' Apple laptops, and hand 'em out to the team. The Apple World Wide Developer's Conference starts this week, and the latest coolness from Cupertino promises all sorts of speed, efficiency, and future-forward sleekness. Coupled with a new set of Canon cameras for a big new gig we're currently developing, hot software upgrades, and a fabulous motion control system, our purchasing spreadsheet starts to look awesome.
In the meantime, we've got work to do.
The funny thing about gear is that it can become a means to an end for people who aren't careful. It's not about wasting money, per se, although that risk certainly exists. The real danger is about thinking that some piece of hardware or software is going to make your work better. You know the type: some people geek out on acquisitions for their own sake. They buy fabulous guitars without learning how to strum more than a few chords. They spend big money on rounded, gleaming kitchen appliances without knowing how to cook much more than microwave dinners.
The right tools most certainly matter. Roads are not built with carpentry tools, and you can't expect a cell phone camera to stand in for an Alexa. When we need to use specialized gear, we do. (Don't even think of looking in our cable closet!)
But more important than the latest and greatest gear is mastery of what you have at your immediate disposal. The most powerful tool in your arsenal, no matter what business you're in, will always be your willingness not to compromise on your vision. The right tools can help you say what you want to say, and we strongly believe there's almost never a reason to use anything less than the best tools you can put your hands on. But tools are only just means to an end. Would you rather your bright idea lose some of it's luster while you spend days upon days grinding away on new user manuals, or would you rather dive in to the project like a pro and make that idea shine right now?
New gear--of all sorts-- is fun, no doubt about it. New gear also facilitates acts of creation that you might not be able to do otherwise--and that most certainly makes it valuable and essential. In the production world, new gear isn't a luxury but an endless part of the landscape. But new gear in and of itself…is just stuff. Ideas, in contrast, are transcendent.
This week at Apple's WWDC Jonathan Ive's Elves will undoubtably give us glimpses of shiny futures, and I'd be lying if I said we weren't watching the event with close, geeky interest. But before we start pricing new kit, there's a set of cool storyboards we're working hard to refine, and when we get it smoothed out in a couple of days the shot is gonna be awesome! Then we'll think about what we need to bring it to life.
Thanks for reading. Next week…what's that? They're going to give clues about the new iPhones? Right on! I just know that everything will be better if I can snag one of those…!