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The GoPro & it’s place in History

When I look back at the history of photography and film, and notably the tools that have been instrumental in defining that path, I have to say that the GoPro camera may just be one of the most significant cameras ever invented.

I grant you that that is a pretty bold statement.  But keep in mind that I am not just looking at just the "tool itself", but more broadly on the impact that a tool has have on how people in general interact with photography and film.

I have seldom seen so many "no professionals" (AND professionals) gravitate so quickly towards a camera, and be so excited to "document" their lives with such ease.   Very few cameras in history have had as large of an impact on the evolution of image capturing as the GoPro.  In fact more than half of all video cameras sold last year in the USA were… yep:  GoPros.

For photographers, the Leica started it all.  Born out of the need to process small sections of motion picture film (instead of entire film reels) in order to better judge exposure, the 35mm format and notably the incredibly compact and precise Leica rangefinder cameras are legendary tools for photographers, including myself, to this day.   It is in fact my go to camera for documenting the lives of my children, second only to my iPhone and more recently the Fuji X100s.   

Then, Kodak’s Brownie camera was a watershed moment in the history of still photography, just as 16mm cameras were for budding filmmakers. The format and relatively low cost made photography accessible to all and that led to it’s proliferation into the general populace and within families – as opposed to being a high end (read: expensive, and complicated to learn & operate) tool reserved for full-time professionals.

Then in 2007, (just 7 years ago!!!)  The iPhone led to the single biggest explosion in photography ever.   Take away the still photograph from Facebook, and ask yourself if Facebook could be anywhere near what it is today without it.    The iPhone in fact soon surpassed all DLSRs as the most popular cameras in the world just a few short years after its launch.

The Canon 5D MKII  & "HDSLR Revolution "changed things as well, but I think the GoPro’s launch in 2010 affected many more people than any DSLR ever has – and the numbers back that up quite clearly.

Today, More photographs are taken in a few months than in the entire history of mankind combined.

Think about it. 

More than 14 billion images will be shot this year alone according to Yahoo!

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And while the iPhone/Smartphone may be the camera of the future, there are notable technologies such as Lytro and others yet-to-be-released that are fighting for a seat at the table…

But there is another player that already has a well worn seat at the table, in this case it’s The GoPro and it’s earned that seat in the way it has fundamentally changed the way people interact with the "camera" itself.   And that is a VERY big deal in my book.

First of all, the latest iteration of the GoPro, the Hero 4,  is the tool that most of us have been waiting for.   While the GoPro hero 3 came nearly 2 years ago, expected battery issues stood in the way of what seemed like the perfect camera at the time.   The Hero 3+ was another step in the right direction,  and  I found myself relying on those cameras much more often on a variety of projects – but you couldn’t QUITE get 24p 4K video… With the Hero 4 – now you can, and with manual exposure control (finally!) as well as extremely high frame rates.

My reasoning for calling this camera a breakthrough tool has nothing to do with what professionals are shooting with it to be honest…   And it should be pointed out that no matter what show you watch today on TV there’s a strong likelyhood that the shows are using a GoPro at one point or another…  But, one might say that to determine the impact of a camera, one shouldn’t be looking to what tools professionals are using, one should be looking to what tools EVERYONE is using and how they are engaging in photography and film.   

And that is where the GoPro has re-defined things – it has singlehandedly re-defined the way the average person interacts with photography and film and how they capture important and "everyday" moments in their life – from motorcycle rides across the planet to videos of their pets’ POV.   And I’ve only seen that happen with the cameras I mentioned above.  It’s a pretty rare thing.

The GoPro has fundamentally changed the way professionals and amateurs interact with the "camera."  

Or more to the point and especially in this case “don’t” interact with the tool.  The GoPro more so than any tool that ever preceded it, has allowed people to focus more on experiencing the moment, as opposed to focusing on capturing it.   And I think the way people interact with the GoPro is different than the way that they interact with their smartphones – in that it’s in a much more passive "hands" off way, which allows them to enjoy their moments "uninterrupted" by the gizmo itself.  

When you combine the camera’s small size, very low relative cost, lightweight nature, and having a protective/waterproof case that makes it feel almost indestructable with  the ability to mount it to one’s body, helmet, or vehicle, (or animal!)  what you have is a watershed event in photography history.

While many of you have only known photography during its digital days… some of us grew up for better or worse using silver halide film.   The hardest part in those days was the guesswork… the waiting.   One never knew if you “had” the image in the can.  There was no immediate satisfaction and that was part of the allure to many of us.   Often, if you’d seen the image with your own eye, you’d likely missed it on film.   Regardless, you have to wait half an hour to several days or weeks to get your film back to find out if you should continue to engage in your expensive hobby, or move on to something else.

This to me, was by far from the most frustrating part of photography when it came to doing it professionally, on deadline and with high levels of pressure.   At the time there was no autofocus, no LCDs. and it seemed that the camera and it’s complexity often stood as one of the main obstacles to someone obtaining a great image, and more to the point to actually "enjoying" the process.   It felt at time, far too technical and mysterious of a challenge for most.  It felt particularly frustrating to non-professionals and kept many away from the field altogether.

On an interesting side note:  I find it interesting that the vast majority of people interact with the GoPro without an LCD … that speaks to how easy and successful of a tool it has been, and that has been to date part of the camera’s ethos.   You can now slap on an LCD screen or interact with the camera with your smartphone – which I do regularly.
 
I had a chance to meet the founder GoPro Nick Woodman at the launch of the GoPro Hero 3 almost 2 years ago.    The coolest thing for me, besides getting to meet the other filmmakers that were invited to the event as well as the GoPro team, was getting to hear about the genesis of the camera from Nick.  It all started with a desire to find a way to attach a still camera to his arm with Velcro as he surfed… And the rest is history.

Perhaps just a spectacular, is the marketing behind this camera.   He and his sister Pilar Woodman, along with Bradford Schmidt, have pulled off one of the most successful series of viral marketing campaigns in recent memory.

First of all, think of the message in their tagline.   "GoPro be a Hero."   That pretty much describes what most people are seeking these days.  Everyone wants to be instant professional, without the headache of 10,000 hours of mastering the craft.   And well…  everyone wants to be a hero!

What is equally as impressive is GoPro’s partnership with Red Bull and its athletes.   Not only did they find some of the best athletes in the world doing the most insane stuff, they also found incredibly willing partners and participants all in one fell swoop.   Hip, young, visual and super dynamic – without million-dollar commercial production budgets.   That’s pretty ingenius, you have to give it to them for effectively helping to re-define a new way of marketing a brand.  

But GoPro has also managed to find a way not to loose sight of the fact that "everyday moments" are just as important…   nothing beats genuinely great content, whether it’s a father and son sending a balloon into space with a GoPro attached, or a baby taking its first steps.

In the end, the ultimate goal of any technology in my opinion, is to get out of its own way.  In other words, the best technologies are ones you never notice or pay attention to, and that’s what The GoPro has done, it is the ultimate “fire and forget” Camera.  

GoPro has an interesting challenge ahead…    The size, weight, cost and quality of their sensor of their current model is pretty hard to beat, while it does not compete with a DSLR in low light, or in terms of sensor size, one of the biggest challenge facing them going forward is lensing and how the camera can evolve beyond its current form factor (beyond Apple-like speed and spec upgrades.)    Only time will tell where they choose to go in terms of offering different lensing options going forward – which is thet the exact same dilemma facing the iPhone – and how they continue to innovate going forward.

It’ll be interesting to see where the GoPro will be come the Hero 8!  

I know that as far as I’m concerned the GoPro has clearly gone from the "gadget" category and evolved into a professional tool that I can use on almost any production.  

The question for me is:  will I be calling it an "A" Camera in a few years?  And does that matter?   Has GoPro already won the true battle … by winning the hearts and minds (and pocketbooks!) of the non-professional?  

Has it won because it focused more on making sure that users were able to forget the camera and to stay focused on enjoying the experience as opposed to focusing on the act of capturing it? 

I think so… 

 

 

Directing Motion Halfway point: DOWNLOAD Available

First off, apologies for all of the promo of the Directing Motion Tour, but as you can imagine this has been an all-consuming process for me for the past 6 months or so and I’m extremely proud of the results.

Simply put, the reaction has been pretty phenomenal from the attendees.   Better than I could have hoped and definitely a silver-lining to a badly broken arm…   I’ve enjoyed the fact that people who didn’t know what the term "coverage" was when they initially attended told me that they very much enjoyed themselves, as well as veteran DPs and directors from a few big companies that attended also said they got a lot out of it!     Being able to offer up something that appealed to a multitude of levels of experience was one of my main goals with this tour.  

I’ve also heard a lot of requests from people to take the tour to Europe, Australia and other parts of the world.   We’re looking into it, but the challenge of bringing all of that gear with us overseas is  more than a bit daunting.  

To that end, we’re going to launch the download of the course within the next 48-96 hours.   I’m just working on the titles at this point and putting in finishing tweaks…   So if you’re interested in getting the download you can go here.

As of tomorrow we’re officially halfway through the tour - and we’re going to go to (click for dates):  San Fran (Sold out) Sacramento,  Irvine, LA (Sold Out) San Diego, Phoenix, Austin, Dallas, Houston,  New Orleans, Nashville, Atlanta,  Ft Lauderdale, Charlotte, Brooklyn, DC, NYC (Sold Out) – with many of the larger cities close to capacity so don’t wait too long to decide if you’re on the fence.  

 I hope to see you there.   If you can’t make it – you can always check us out from the comfort of your own home via this download of our St Louis stop…   To that end, here’s a sneak peak of what we’ve been doing through SIXTEEN CITIES across this amazing country:

Directing Motion Tour- Sizzle Reel from MZed on Vimeo.

 

Road Diary from #DMTour: Directing & Friendship

 Here’s the first post in a potential series on the road, most of these will be related to what we’ve been discussing with attendees on the first 8 stops of the Directing Motion Tour:

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to come to terms with as a director is the fact that your roles is not necessarily to be anyone’s friend…   whether you want to accept it or not, your role is to lead your team first, to befriend them second. 

 I’ve been fascinated with leadership throughout my life as well as the responsibility and caveats that come with it:  one of which can be the loneliness that often comes with the role.    But as any young kid who volunteers to lead his peers will quickly tell you:  being the "boss"  ain’t always all that it’s cracked up to be. 

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One of the toughest things to balance within the formula is how to balance friendship within the equation – especially given the fact that we very often work with friends on both big and small productions.   This is a field where we want to work with talented people we respect and enjoy being around, while also helping them to push their creative boundaries to a new level.  And that can be tough to balance for anyone.

 Early on in your directing process,  you quickly learn that your job is not to be everyone’s friend…   In fact, you find out that trying to be a crewmember’s friend in the short term by cutting them a break or cutting a corner, will likely yield the opposite to what you are seeking long term…   For example if you let someone off the hook in terms of an important responsibility at the end of a long shoot day,  that act of friendship can come to bite the entire team the next day, when your shortcut causes problem the next day and turns into a longer day …  

 That act of good faith and friendship may ironically turn around to harm to the overall production, the person you meant to help,  and in the end they may in fact blame you for it long term and possibly resent you for it down the line…   

 So unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do what you are releasing them from doing yourself, sometimes you’ve got to make the hard choice an insist that it gets done (now) for everyone’s benefit long term.    The person may not thank you now, or ever.   But at least they won’t blame you along with a few dozen others long term.   And the reality is that you rolling your sleeves up, may cause a multitude of other problems down the line for many people… you might embarrass the person you’re releaving or worse: not do it properly.   Again: a tough balance.

 One of my favorite sayings is:  “Salute the rank, not the invidual.”

 Loosely translated, this means that when you work in a hierarchical system such as the military, or in effect the film business, you salute or respect an officer above you not necessarily for who THEY are as an individual, but instead out of respect for their position within the hierarchy, and in recognition of how the entire system works. 

 Ergo, even if you may hate the “superior” and even if they aren’t inherently stellar individuals, you still need to respect the chain of command or all hell will all too likely break loose and everyone will fall victim to the fallout which is usually failure or in the case of the military:  potential loss of life.   

Point is:  as soon as you start to mess with the system, it will mess with you, and you in the end will likely pay too.

 This is how the hierarchical system is built after all, it’s a top down hierarchy where everyone delegates responsibilities and redundancies downward.  Theoretically if you don’t stray from your responsibilities too much, you should get a good result even with a few failures at several levels.   The system isn’t built to be “clever” or necessarily “logical or efficient” per se:  it’s build to be robust and withstand the inherent chaos of war.  And while people at the bottom think it’s all rosy on top… they find out that with authority comes a lot of responsibility (and stress etc…) as they themselves move up the rank.  

Personally, I have as much respect for people who do NOT take on larger roles within a hierarchy just as much as I do for the leaders within the hierarchy.   I appreciate that some people just don’t want to deal with all that will inevitably with the "authority" and are comfortable where they are.

 Obviously most people reading this live in a much “looser” environment that for all intensive purposes couldn’t be further from the military.     You’re more likely to find a hipster on a set these days than you are a former Marine.  People working on a film crew are traditionally anti-conformists and anti-authority.    

 That being said, everyone on a crew inherently comes to respect the process,  as failure to do so quickly results in inefficiency, chaos and worse:  long, painful and unproductive days…  a zero sum game.  There are simply too many moving parts within the filmmaking process and in the end this top-down system works quite well in fact, and does a good job of mitigating chaos.

 Which brings me back to the role of a director.

 First, to put it plainly, most of the director or “leader’s” work should be done FAR BEFORE they set foot on set.   90-100% of their job is done in preparation, working out every possible angle and problem as much as possible so all department heads have had a chance to think of alternatives, and pivot before things get going.  

 In short: once on set, the director’s role is to make sure all is going according to plan, and to adapt to conflict with a set of pre-planned solutions as issues arise (or to help avoid them altogether as she sees them coming.)

 The director should work closely with every department head to clearly and concisely communicate their plan, how best to achieve it, and potential solutions to obvious problems that may come up – well before we start to shoot.

 Once principal photography starts, a director should ideally trust the department heads to work on individual aspects of production with their crew.  

Ideally a director can sit in front of a monitor and give clear feedback on the cinematography to the DP, and focus most of his attention on the actors and helping them along.   The idea is:  at that point the Director has done all s/he can to set everyone up for success, and they should be looking at the monitor as if they were a member of the audience themselves and make sure that they “buy” what they are seeing on screen and hopefully if they are somehow still able to fall under the spell of the collective “work.”   After all, everyone else is busy doing their important part of the process on set, the director should be the only one who is trying to judge if it is actually working, and how it will or will not work on the future audience…

 That being said, the director – just as any leader – sets the tone on set as well.    If people are tired on set after a few long days, the director’s role is to stay positive and to lift up her crew – even if the director likely puts in 2-3 hours prior to each shoot day and 2-4 hours after each shoot day on top of what the crew is doing, not to mention that the director is likely a few days, week, months or even years into a project when they set foot on set the very first day…

 The director also needs to know how to crack the whip – when the crew is moving slowly or unfocused.   Obviously doing so through the proper channels (following hierarchy) with your 1st AD and DP is preferable.   The director should NEVER yell or belittle anyone.   It can NEVER BECOME PERSONAL.   It’s all about performance:  either someone is doing their job effectively, or not.   Either someone is prepared or isn’t.  Belaboring things that took place in the past brings us nowhere – those can be addressed in private later.   Focusing on solutions now and going forward should be the focus.

 Perhaps the hardest lesson to come to terms with is that at times you may have to be slightly unpleasant with people when you feel they aren’t pulling their weight or that they aren’t prepared.     The idea is that:  even if they don’t like you that day, over the long term your and their performance should improve which will result in more efficient and shorter days over time – which benefits everyone.      Even if they never like you, the rest of your crew will likely appreciate you mitigating a problem that ultimately affects everyone.

 And if the end result of all this is that what you are shooting together improves… then everyone wins!

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