Ever notice how the specific choice of words you enter for a search can influence a course of study? Google kindly provides hints while you’re typing a term in the search bar, allowing you to change your direction midstream. You might wind up in a place you never imagined. This week’s assignment for my directing class — tech advances in film — seemed pretty straightforward at first glance. I expected this blog entry to be a fairly dry, historical look at the evolution of equipment like cameras and projectors; a timeline of inventions over the past century; technical facts about the gear. Perhaps I’d follow up by doing some rhapsodizing about lowering equipment costs; explain how that’s making independent filmmaking possible for people like me and everyone with a cell phone! I might have explored the “Golden Age of Hollywood,” when monolithic Hollywood studios held filmmaking hostage because of costs, comparing things then to the possibilities we have today. One of the blessings (and curses) of being an artist is the inclination to allow yourself to run off on tangents. It does provide new opportunities for learning… even if it takes longer to finish assignments! To me, understanding as much as you can about a subject and all its tangents is a bit like the difference between quoting a cliché and saying something profound in a fresh new way. You can get a whole new perspective on things.
That’s why my search for “how has film technology evolved” turned into “how technology changed the entertainment industry.” I’ll return to the assignment eventually, but because I’ve been immersed in the technical end of things in school and in my personal life for a long time, I already have some knowledge about it. I don’t really know very much, though, about the Entertainment Industry (with capital letters!) and these days the two are inextricably tied. This class on directing, in fact, is one of the few in our Media Arts Program that doesn’t just emphasize the technical, and that’s part of the reason I enjoy it so much. Our instructor and the class members have a lot to do with it too.
It was Stephen Tobolowsky that gave me the idea to pursue this angle. Who is Stephen Tobolowsky, you ask? Watch the video for an amusing look at this very question. You’ll probably recognize his voice before you will his name.
Oh, that guy! He’s been in about a thousand films, right? Actually, he has appeared in over 200 movies and television shows. USA Today listed him as the “9th most frequently seen actor.” Now we know his name. I recently re-watched Sneakers, the 1992 film with Robert Redford, and Stephen’s the geek that made the robotic animals. He knows a lot about the business. For Stephen’s take on this, go here. As a director, working with actors will be a regular part of the job, so it’s interesting to get an actor’s perspective. His first comment is about how technology is taking away jobs. This makes advances in technology an almost adversarial concern to actors and people in the entertainment business. That would include directors, of course.
In fact, as I did more research, I found more evidence of the same thing. There’s even an NYU course on the topic itself, and the professor’s syllabus states this right up front:
Technology’s impact on telecommunications has mostly meant more speed and more mobility for the consumer, exemplified by broadband and mobile communications. But from the perspective of the traditional telecom companies, it has mostly meant cutting jobs.
To wrap up this discussion, here’s an interesting link (compiled by The Media Management Group) to a music and media technology timeline that begins in 1850 with the player piano and goes through 2006, when Apple opened its iTunes music store. That seems like a really long time ago, doesn’t it?
The next post will provide some links and a brief discussion on the evolution of technology in the film industry in particular.