Let’s talk about “disruption” in our industry (a.k.a.Why the RED Camera was the greatest disruption of our era)

Let’s talk about disruption in our industry.


A while back, John “Pliny” Eremic made the argument that the RED camera was not disruptive. (http://endcrawl.com/blog/red-camera-was-not-disruptive-innovation/) He used a certain set of parameters for what makes something disruptive, and a compelling argument to back up his thesis. I did not disagree with this article, he made a good point within the definition of disruption that he set. I did disagree later however, when he claimed that there is no longer any disruption in our industry.


I too was there, at the birth of RED. Contrary to Eremic’s article, not all of the first RED cameras were hidden in Jim Jannard’s private collection. Before John Eremic got to play, my boss at the time saw something nobody else did. Peter Jackson got RED camera serial number 001, because he believed that if we could just figure this thing out, filmmaking would become fully digital in the near future. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that digital would never replace film. This was backed up by a number of big Hollywood directors claiming that this RED camera would never take off. A team that spanned New Zealand and America, which I was part of, was charged with figuring out how to integrate this new form of digital acquisition into the DI process. We took the first three cameras, followed by a couple of years’ worth of builds, and proved that it was possible, and completely viable, to make a feature film using digital acquisition. The very first fully-digital feature was Alex Proyas’ Knowing.


Now, digital acquisition is the norm, and there is no question as to whether it is possible to produce a high-end feature film without needing to use celluloid at any stage of the process, and not compromising its look, feel or quality.


I define “disruptive” in a way that isn’t unique to the tech world. When Aristotle proposed that the earth was round, that was disruptive.


“Disruption” occurs when there is a historical, irrefutable, commonly-held truth. An idea, an object, a thing disrupts that by proving that this truth may not in fact be irrefutable, then by challenging and changing the commonly-held truth. “The earth is flat” was an historical, irrefutable, commonly-held truth. Aristotle was a disruptor, his theories were disruptive to science, and now of course the historical, irrefutable, commonly-held truth is that the earth is spherical.


In the early 2000’s, the commonly-held truth was that film required celluloid to be considered a “film”, otherwise it was a “video”. RED was disruptive because it challenged that in an irreparable way, proving and changing the historical, irrefutable, commonly-held truth. It redefined what we knew as “filmmaking”. Although we had seen some use of video in film before, nothing permanently disrupted the industry and fundamentally changed our vernacular like the RED Camera did.


The RED Camera was truly disruptive because as a result of those early adopters of digital acquisition, on RED cameras, we now accept that a “film” can be either acquired on celluloid or digital media. In fact, it was so disruptive that it changed the media landscape by being the first camera accepted as good enough to replace 16 or 35mm celluloid, and from that came a wave of digital cinema cameras. Now shooting on film is the anomaly, not the norm.


Disruption is a term that is commonly overused. Very few things truly disrupt, but everyone wants to be seen as “disruptive”. Similarly, not many things are “innovative”, despite it being a buzzword in our industry. It should be noted that “causing disruption” does not make a thing “disruptive”. Being the first to prove a fact untrue and to then usher in a radical change to an entire industry (and its surrounding economy and ecosystem) is the epitome of disruption. Nothing in our lifetimes has done that for the film industry, quite like the RED Camera.


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