As Bob Dylan once wrote, "The Times They Are A-Changin'." For the first 20 years of my career as an independent writer, producer & director, those words had little meaning in my particular field. The industry had some basic standards; and, though there were choices when it came to shooting and editing, everything fit pretty neatly within some very strict industry parameters.
Today, according to one source, there are more than 200 (yes, you read that correctly) types of video files in the wild. For those who are just getting their feet wet in this business (and for those who, like me, remember the "good ole' days"), the options are daunting.
So, how do you wade through the current chaos? In the I.T. world there's a phrase that I always try to keep in mind - and to avoid at all costs. It's called "Analysis Paralysis." It's easy to sit on the sidelines today and "wait until things shake out." The problem is, they won't. Those days are long gone. And, if you spend too much time trying to decide which option is going to come out on top, you'll never take the plunge into the waters of this Brave New World.
As a late adopter (I still shoot primarily on an old SD standard Sony D30), I'm being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. But, at the same time, my 25 years of experience has enriched me with the battle scars and "times of testing" that will help me move into this new arena with a little less angst.
Recently, I received a call from Crews Control, one of my referral sources to do a shoot for Kodak at The People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles. The caveat: they wanted to shoot 1080p HD using a Panasonic AG-HVX200; and, at the end of the evening, walk away with all of the footage neatly stored on an external hard drive.
First, I'd never even seen this camera up close. Second, I'd never shot using the P2 cards that this camera utilizes for acquisition. Third, I had no idea what the procedure was to transfer this footage to an external hard drive. So, of course I took the job!
Fortunately, I had time to do some research. Even more fortunately, I had a local vendor that allowed me to pick up the rental camera a day early. I spent that day testing the camera, experimenting with the offload process and familiarizing myself with the internal menu system. The advantage of 25 years behind the lens at least gave me a strong foundation from which to build on this new technology.
The shoot went off without a hitch (although a last-minute request by a PR person to offload some of the footage to a pile of USB thumb drives caused a stir - but that's a story for another day). And, today, I'm a bona fide member of the "Oh, yeah, of course I shoot HD" crowd.
Yesterday I got a call from an Executive Producer in New York who wants to shoot an interview with a PepsiCo exec out here on the Left Coast. They shoot with the Panasonic AJ-HDX900 to DVCProHD tape. Another day, another flavor. But now that my feet are wet, I know what to expect, and where to go to find the help I need for the technical issues.
So, my suggestion to you is to take advantage of the resources that are out there. If you have peers or vendors nearby, ask if you can test out their equipment. If you're shooting and editing for others, do some surveying to see if there's a preferred format. If you're doing your own projects for your own clients, the Format Wars really shouldn't affect you. Most clients simply want a great looking final product, and don't care about the technical aspects of how you delivered it. Today, creating that beautiful video can be done with a variety of tools, so pick the work flow that works best for you and your budget.
Most importantly, don't succumb to "Analysis Paralysis." Be willing to be flexible, and when the opportunity arises, jump in with both feet. It’s the only way you're going to make a Splash!