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The Nonlinear Editor: Curiosity and the Cat
Posted Sep 5, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1

By turns writer, composer, caricaturist, and painter, Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann is best remembered today, if at all, for his impact on others' work rather than for his own creations. Classical music aficionados know the early nineteenth-century German Romantic as one of Beethoven's first critical champions. Ballet fans know him as the author of a story called "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," which formed the basis of Tchaikovsky's The Nutracker. And though he died young, E.T.A. Hoffmann's many tales of the macabre, with their Twilight Zone-like explorations of the dark side of the psyche, prefigured such revered American writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe.

One of the most interesting items in the Hoffmann canon is The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr, which is in large measure the autobiography of a cat. A great and misunderstood composer named Kappellmeister Kreisler writes an autobiography, which he intends as a scathing indictment of the solipsistic, bourgeois world that has undervalued his work. While the manuscript sits on a desk overnight, the titular tomcat discovers it and writes his own memoirs on the blank back pages. The printer then replicates the entire muddled text as if it were a single story (or a primordial nonlinear edit)—Tomcat Murr's life and banal bourgeois philosophizing intermingled with Kreisler's Romantic jeremiad. "Is there a cozier condition," Tomcat Murr writes, "than being thoroughly satisfied with oneself?"

And who could argue? Self-satisfaction is as cozy as it gets, but to Hoffmann it was the antithesis of creativity, ambition, and art, and a cancer on the society he lived in. For anyone in any field to succumb to self-satisfaction, in Hoffmann's mind, was to surrender to mediocrity.

Does Hoffmann's view apply to videography? Most certainly, as Todd Gillespie eloquently asserts in this month's Class Act column. In videography, finding a formula and sticking to it, and plodding along without even a hint of change once you've reached a certain plateau in your market, will probably get the job done most of the time, and it might even put you in a certain cozy comfort zone professionally. On the other hand, if your foremost goal is to tread water in your work, maybe you're reading the wrong magazine.

Or are you? Perhaps the most foolishly self-satisfied delusion I could have as editor of EventDV is assuming that I know exactly who you are—the collective you, that is—or what you do, or why you read this magazine. I get asked questions (usually by vendors) about who you are all the time, and I answer them with varying degrees of confidence and sophistry. But since we don't do this writer-reader thing face to face—despite the many enlightening encounters I've had with some of you at conferences and local association meetings—of course I don't really know.

In an effort to get a better understanding of our readership, EventDV recently launched its first extensive reader survey. We distributed it via our weekly EventDV Spotlight enewsletter. Fortunately, the response rate we got was what analysts call "statistically significant"—and, one would hope, statistically representative—which provided plenty of data to help me do my job better.

The first thing I learned was pretty much what I would have guessed: half (49.7%) of you run your own businesses, although another 26.1% have at least two jobs, which puts that 26.1% in the "part-time videographer" category. A whopping 60% of you do corporate videography, while nearly as many (59.6%) do wedding and special event work. Another 41.5% shoot some video in the educational or public sector; 36.7% are involved with stage event work. It looks like we've been on the right track thus far in summarily ignoring the concerns of the ENG world; only 5.6% of respondents told us they do any newsgathering.

I also learned interesting things such as that 45% of you run 2-5 person operations, while 34% fly solo; just under half (49.6%) use two cameras on a typical shoot, and 20% use three; and 73.9% of you shoot primarily in MiniDV. This was probably the biggest eye-opener for me. Currently, fewer than 8% of you say that HD or HDV is your primary acquisition format; more surprisingly, though 37% of you indicated plans to upgrade to HD or HDV in the next 12 months, 43.4% said you have no HD or HDV plans whatsoever.

How do I interpret this? While E.T.A. Hoffmann might say you're all too self-satisfied in your cozy DV cocoon, I'd remain mindful that in our business, grasping indiscriminately at the latest, greatest technology is too often confused with ambition and innovation. If the cutting edge of videography happens to be populated with early adopters of the latest and greatest gear (and from what I know it isn't), that's incidental, not integral.

Has EventDV pandered to such techno-centric thinking in covering HDV so extensively over the last year? Some survey respondents certainly think so; where we asked for comments, "too much emphasis on HD formats" came up quite a bit. Likewise, tutorials scored significantly higher than product reviews and overviews in the "order of importance" and "what do you read first?" categories. All of which suggests to me that technique, rather than technology, is what you most want to read about here.

Naturally, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the data we gathered in this survey, and you can feel confident that however much or little we write about that data in the magazine going forward, it will certainly inform what we do and how we do it. Most importantly, the dialogue doesn't have to end with the survey. Keep the cards and letters coming, and let us know when you think we're asleep at the wheel—even if it's only a catnap.

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