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The Gizmo Guy: Lessons from Walt
By Gordon Meyer
A few months ago, I had a meeting with a colleague where we discussed an upcoming project of his – a high profile music event that would pay tribute to an iconic performer. The details of this event are irrelevant for purposes of this column. What is important is that, though my colleague was originally envisioning this event as a broadcast special, I immediately saw something much bigger.
“If it was my show,” I told him, “I’d shoot it in ways to future proof it because you’ve got evergreen content that’s going to be in demand for decades.” My recommendation was to use 4K 3D rigs to capture this concert and include a theatrical release for one version.
Yep, here’s your friendly neighborhood Gizmo Guy touting the benefits of 3D again, even though stereoscopic features are still more the exception than the norm.
Let’s take a moment to enter our time machine and travel back to the mid-1950s, when color TV was in its pre-infancy. Everyone knew the technology was being developed and would eventually hit the market, but the FCC had yet to approve a standard.
Meanwhile, off in a mythical realm called Burbank, there was a visionary wizard who had made a career out of identifying exciting new trends and making sure he was ahead of the curve. If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about Walt Disney, who at the time was simultaneously embracing two future trends – television and theme parks. While most of the industry perceived television as a threat, Walt saw it as a powerful promotional and branding tool and became the first major studio to embrace the new medium.
His “Disneyland” anthology series played to top ratings at two networks for decades, airing a mix of original programming and serialized theatrical features. Even though there was only black and white broadcasting when the show first went on the air, Walt insisted in filming all his original programming in color to future proof his content. Smart move, Walt! When the FCC approved RCA’s technology as the national standard for color television, NBC (then owned by RCA) aggressively pushed to get high profile color shows on the air so there would be content for people to watch in color. Since Walt had already filmed all the “Disneyland” shows in color, when the time came for him to move to NBC, he was well prepared with a library of proven, popular entertainment already in the new format.
Let’s come back to 2012. High def has finally become the standard for all broadcast networks and many of the cable networks. Now, 3D is in that transition stage moving from novelty to norm. While we’re still very much still in Learning Curve Mode on the creation of quality 3D content (more on that in an upcoming column), my crystal ball indicates that just as color and multichannel sound went from novelties and event releases to standard filmmaking tools, it’s just a matter of time before 3D gets to that point as well.
I reminded my colleague that, if you shoot a 3D event properly, you already have high quality 2D footage that you can use in just about all media. Further, thanks to constant advancements in technology, it won’t cost that much more to shoot in 3D and edit in 3D as it does in 2D. He called my bluff on that and challenged me to secure bids for his project. While I got a broad range of prices from qualified production houses, the ones on my short list gave me pre-negotiation prices that weren’t that much more than the producers were planning to spend to begin with.
The 3D experts I spoke with told me that, if the show was shot right, adding a stereoscopic component to the post process would probably add less than 20% to the post budget. Now, for just a modest bump in the below the line budget, we’ll have a show that can go out theatrically in 2D and the more lucrative 3D, on 3D Blu-ray, on one of the dedicated 3D cable networks and much, much more. Meanwhile, you still have all the distribution options that a 2D shoot would enable.
What do you think Walt would do?