The Nonlinear Editor: Marking Time
Posted Apr 9, 2009

Colm Tóibín's forthcoming book, Brooklyn, set in Brooklyn and southeastern Ireland in the early 1950s, is the best kind of period novel: It's not retro in a romanticized, nostalgic, ironic, or kitschy way, but it is a throwback of sorts, in that it makes no attempt to impose a modern sensibility or narrative style on an earlier time. It's refreshing to read a quiet, straightforward book like Brooklyn that is not only set 60 years ago, but could have been written 60 years ago.

It's not that Tóibín is somehow trapped in the past or so cloistered that he isn't connected to the current day. But, like the best novelists, he's able to adopt the perspective of the world he's creating to make it come alive. Of course, it's always a balancing act, but it's one that Tóibín performs especially skillfully in Brooklyn.

The obvious analogy in our business is the videographer who mixes, say, film and HD in the same timeline without making one or the other seem out of place. I appreciate Super8 most when it feels as if it's being used for a purpose—something that advances a story or enhances a theme—but it rarely makes me feel as if I'm watching footage shot in another time, at an event that may have happened 50 or 60 years ago. Super8 isn't always about time travel. But, often, it is about evoking a particular time without taking you there. Mixing sentimentality and irony without letting irony win isn't easy; hats off to those who use film to add retro-kitsch to wedding films without distancing themselves from the emotion of the day.

But I hadn't realized how Super8 can make you feel as if you're actually watching a '50s wedding until I saw David Perry's new demo. There's nothing ironic about the way Perry uses film in the clip I saw, but he's still creating an illusion, albeit one with emotional authenticity that perfectly melds style and subject. Ironic or not, effective use of old technology in a field that's usually too much defined by new technology is a job extremely well-done.

What makes great Super8 wedding films so powerful is not just the medium. Super8 cameras are built with a bygone technology that's been surpassed many times over. Putting their distinctiveness to effective use is not something that happens automatically when you pick up the camera, or even when you master its functional idiosyncrasies. Nostalgia's a powerful thing that every Super8 shooter has on his or her side, but it's not enough to make a film work. So much of what your audience will see begins with what you see when you look through the viewfinder; the camera and the medium, at best, are a vehicle for your vision. You just have to hope that the camera's technological limitations don't get in the way.

Fast-forward to the Great Fusion Panic of 2009, inspired by the release of the Canon 5D Mark II, which adorns the cover of this issue and seems virtually limitless. It's not just hysteria that surrounds this camera; there's also euphoria over the resolution, the image quality, and the bokeh. The fear, of course, is that putting that sort of moving-image capability in a still camera will put it into the hands of photographers, who will then use it to wrest business away from videographers.

In some markets, this is already happening. But even though the 5D Mark II may make videography more attractive to photographers, it doesn't make it as attainable as it seems. As Patrick Moreau points out in his incisive 5D Mark II cover story, if you try to think and shoot in two mediums at once, your work will suffer. But that won't stop people from trying to sell it. And a glimpse of the image quality may get the booking, even if the footage doesn't add up to a cohesive capturing of the day.

And then, of course, there's the editing factor, which will scare many photographers away from Fusion once they realize what it entails. If the solution is outsourcing the editing, that's more work for videographers. But the missing part of the equation is sound; after all, the first thing that separates a professional wedding video from an amateur one isn't the image quality of the best shots-it's clear, crisp, loud vows. No camera, no matter how jaw-dropping the bokeh, is going to capture that sound well or compensate for its absence. So challenges remain on both sides-developing and marketing a second skill set, and applying both on the same job, even as DP rather than someone shooting in both mediums. I'm not recommending that you live in Fusion denial, or saying that partnering with photographers or trying to out-Fusion them is the solution for everyone. But don't waste your energy Fusion-proofing your business at the expense of your style and vision.

Like a rescued and refurb'd Super8, a 5D Mark II is an amazing tool for capturing what you see. But the cameras and the vision have to work hand in hand, much like style and story. Someday, the dazzling Mark II "look" will be as dated and trapped in time as Super8-and just as strong a match for the right style and story as it is today.

Stephen Nathans-Kelly (stephen.nathans at infotoday.com) is editor-in-chief of EventDV and program director of EventDV-TV.