4K Resolutions and the State of New York Production: Thoughts on the 2013 CCW Expo

Having recently returned from our first visit to the annual Content & Communications World Expo held at the Jacob K Javits Center in New York City, we noticed how the local buzzword was undeniably 4K resolutions and, more specifically, 4K displays. As CCW exists for the uber-technical side of production with heavy emphasis on broadcast media, Independent Film specific exhibitions may not have been at the forefront of most presenters agendas, but nevertheless we decided that any education/awareness is a good thing, resulting in quite the knowledge gained regarding existing technologies and trends, as well as further insight into the emerging/evolving nature of film production in the digital age.

Diving into the 4K information later, our focus (presentation-wise) was on Thursday’s “NY TV & Film at All Time High: Is it a Good Thing?” Panel, featuring a dais full of New York City & State representatives speaking all things NY production and post.  Moderated by FilmNation‘s Mike Jackman and featuring Jennifer Lenihan (Made in NY), Lyndsey Losritto Laverty (Gold Coast Studios), Debra Markowitz (Nassau County Film Office), Stuart Match Suna (Silvercup Studios) and Rhoda Glickman (NY State Governors Office), the panel was, basically, an explanation as to the diversity of resources provided for film/TV production throughout the state, as well as the multitude of tax-based incentive programs for productions of (almost) all sizes, which have made NY a highly competitive alternative to Los Angeles if not completely overtaking it should future project projection numbers hold true.  The hard numbers from the presentation (as presented in a VERY “talking point”-esque fashion) involved 430+ new productions introduced over a 16 month span with 375K+ new employment opportunities for “below the line” (blue collar) crew positions. In addition, the numbers involved with post production facilities include over 80 new productions (up from 17, pre legislation) with a school to work program based out of Buffalo Community College aiding in upper NY State post production workforce.  Other topics discussed included the rise of Suffolk County filmmaking infrastructure, as well as the new mayoral administrations position on the film based incentive program (a state program which is NOT city exclusive) and diversity minded hiring.  For the nearly one hour plus, the panel focused their time on pontificating their own personal achievements, as well as those based within the political realm.  Good for them and good for big business, but not necessarily informative for the upstart; especially the upstart driven by originality rather than status quo maintenance.

We can agree that jobs and working class opportunity will always be a positive focus in the production industry (as opposed to, say, big finances focus of profit over compassion), but the NY based incentive program offers insight into a much deeper problem that strangleholds the state (primarily the city), where the big business template trumps the creativity needed for an ultimately sustainable (creative) industry. For example, the higher the production cost the greater the tax based incentive, but (to us) the model seems counterintuitive, especially as studio systems closely resemble the general hyper capitalist paradigm of safety over originality.  ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2‘ was referenced consistently with its lengthy Suffolk County shoot, as well as its huge numbers of cast & crew needed.  Unfortunately, what was not mentioned was how that film already possess a production budget in excess of $100 million, as well as the name-recognition convenience where virtually any soundstage in the world would welcome it (being a big time HollyWood blockbuster the film does not yield any on location necessity as its studio system approach would not demand it.  In fact, filming in such low cost film-minded states as Missouri or Lousisiana would ultimately bring on a similar product with even less cost than a NY State based production), where it simply does not need the tax incentives that true independent low budget productions (another number floated around consistently was $200K or the number at which incentives begin) do and do not get.  Again, shouldn’t the truly independent, grassroots, crowdfunding relying filmmaker ultimately reap the rewards of a city who claims to champion the independent mindset?  Well, with this model they do not.  In fact, the more ‘Amazing Spiderman‘ (or comparable) productions that come to New York are ultimately what pushes rent and cost of living prices to such unrelenting levels we see now, thus yielding a self contained haven for the ultra wealthy, whether they be individual or corporation.  We have seen this model for over 20 years with the conservative administration focus on corporate rather than the upstart and it is time for a change in approach.

As mentioned, the 4K display system looked to us to be most of the rage at the (filmmaking exclusive aspect of) CCW Expo.  Shooting at quadruple the pixel rate as 1080P, 4K has been utilized for a few years as a direct shooting resolution, however display and editing facilities had yet to truly catch up.  Now that they have, the peripherals associated with a numbers game approach to production has surely come out of its hiding place and is on full display as the new paradigm for media.  With virtually every major manufacturer aggressively shopping their latest 4K displays, whether they be for on site, post production or leisure, the ultimate (and possibly forced) evolution from 24 fps aesthetics.

Our primary criticism of the 4K culture is that it can be said, with relative certainty, that 4K is nowhere near the end point for resolution based approaches to storytelling.  As the digitization of creativity increases the creative aspect suffers in its need to keep up.  Cameras, theaters, post production capabilities and all peripherals are now, more than ever, forced to stake their position within an imposed marketplace; if not define their own marketplace, regardless of actual necessity regarding a creative-based existence.  In addition, the omnipotent powers of media conglomeration also yield detrimental results to the creative industry of which they have ultimately been built upon. Take sports broadcasting, for example.  If ESPN wishes an exclusive 4K broadcast stream of its content, by the sheer power of their profits parent company Disney would be forced to adjust all industries under their umbrella to coincide.  Therefore, Disney’s film department would have no choice but to utilize the market proven practicality of a numbers based broadcast template, disregarding their content creators (possible) creative visions outside said template.  Granted, with time every impression changes and even those grounded in the most traditionalist of approaches will too, but this idea of promoting digital technologies as accessible to a consumer market (or, shifting the paradigm to low budget sympathetic) is simply an unsustainable (and pseudo-deceitful) model largely rooted in the fallacy of business development rather than any creative based context (of which the industry ultimately relies).  Do we just take for granted a companies claim that every single year the latest resolution based systems will not require a complete overhaul of peripherals, thus yielding the accessibility argument irrelevant?  Do we take the business worlds word that specific agreements are not reached behind the scenes, where peripheral object manufacturers solely innovate based on the market leaders innovation (if not in tandem with them).  The private sector has never paid much mind to the actual affordability of its products, therefore a hyper evolutionary approach to technology, as well as its switch from generationally consistent workflow to pure number infatuation would ultimately serve as the death of originality replacing it with a template maintaining stranglehold and, worse yet, doing so in a disingenuous fashion.

– Steve Rickinson

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