You don’t have to look too far to realize the power of the Chinese marketplace. Jurassic World just had one of the biggest openings ever, and a large percentage of that total came from China. Those audiences are full of filmmakers in their own right, and many are anxious to take advantage of the tools and technologies that have reshaped media & entertainment as a whole.
The recent announcement from ASSIMILATE and Kinefinity was proof of how strong that desire is, as they are partnering to deliver advanced digital filmmaking solutions to the Chinese marketplace. The collaboration will equip Chinese filmmakers with a high-resolution Kinefinity camera (4K, 6K) and SCRATCH tools for on-set data management and full post-production, giving them a powerful all-in-one solution.
This endeavor gives us an interesting look at how markets outside of America can and are developing, but also opens up questions about the potential they possess. To answer some of those questions, we talked with ASSIMILATE CEO Jeff Edson to explore what this might mean for filmmakers and audiences across the world in the short term and long term.
ProVideo Coalition: News about your partnership with Kinefinity to deliver filmmaking solutions to the Chinese marketplace just went public. What was the driving force behind this partnership?
Jeff Edson: It all started in response to a customer’s need. We were supporting a common customer that both of us have in South Africa who had gotten a Kinefinity camera and reached out to us to see if we could support KineRAW. So we did, and that led into a series of conversations with Kinefinity that culminated with a meeting at NAB, where it became clear that this was going to be a good thing for both of us.
We’ve always seen the Chinese marketplace as a place that has real opportunity. We’ve had some exposure to it, and had some successes with it, but we really hadn’t made an aggressive push into that market.. If you’re going to serve up the Chinese market then you have to work on a local level to get the right support and management, and that’s in addition to dealing with the restrictions that are inherent to that market. We’ve been very careful to look for the right opportunity and partner to make this move. It’s a great thing, because instead of the typical reseller/distribution model that we’ve looked at, it’s really a value-add proposition that provides filmmakers with a complete package.
What’s even better is that the Kinefinity camera + FREE SCRATCH is a worldwide offer, so you’ll be able to take advantage of this offer no matter where you live or work.
Where is the Chinese market at now, and where do you see it going?
Over the last couple years everybody has seen the Chinese start to boom in terms of content creation. That kind of interest and desire is key in all of this, because it signifies the market has the desire and ability to continue to develop.
If you look at Asia as a whole, the content being produced for China tends to dominate the marketplace and dwarfs everything from many other Asian countries. Historically, because of the constraints of getting into China and issues with local support, the Chinese market has been limited in terms of their access to mainstream technology, and that’s really changed over the past few years. There’s been a strong push within the country to embrace technology from around the world and we’ve seen a lot of growth from that standpoint in terms of filmmaking techniques. That mentality will help them take filmmaking to another level.
What differences and similarities do you see in the Chinese market with the American market?
China is an ecosystem in and of itself. The emphasis of support behind the creative market space is local based,, and their focus is very internal. Outside of China, it tends to be more broad-based.
That’s the essential difference between these markets. If something works in the US, the idea is to expand it beyond that space to see what kind of returns will be available throughout the rest of the world.
Also, major filmmakers look at the revenue potential of the world much more closely than they have in the past. The international markets have become a core part of the thinking that goes into major motion pictures. With high quality cameras, production, and post-production tools, China has an opportunity to expand its viewing audience globally.
If you look at these markets from a technology standpoint, they’re very similar. So it’s interesting to see that the approaches are very different, but they’re not as different as they might appear at first glance.
And that’s a great example of how many complexities are inherent in any conversation about these sorts of markets, isn’t it?
Absolutely. There’s so much technology and content out there, and the different focuses and approaches that you see can really change your perspective.
Take India as an example. Historically, when you think of mass filmmaking, you think of India, because India produces a lot of film on a regular basis. That said, it’s a unique marketplace, which has unique business requirements that are distinct from the US market. That requires you to step back and look at India from a different business standpoint.
China is certainly very unique, if not only because of the language, but also because of the way the government is setup and run. Those elements factor into their internal focus, and all of these details influence the way in which the market as a whole operates.
How do you think these filmmakers will take to using and taking advantage of SCRATCH?
SCRATCH has been in the Chinese marketplace for quite awhile through direct and indirect means. The biggest limitation that all tool vendors have in going into this market is that the majority of users are not necessarily fluent in English. Learning an English UI and interface are not whole-heartedly supported by the government, so there’s really been a limitation around what you can do there. If you want to have mass appeal there, you have to localize.
That’s a limitation for many companies because we lack the expertise to support that kind of user, or are not able to instantly work within that kind of infrastructure. Trying to sort through such things can make any endeavor along these lines challenging and difficult. Of course, once you do make that commitment and set up the appropriate support, you’ll see the market open up significantly.
How important is it to give filmmakers this kind of an all-in-one solution?
I think it’s critical.
If you take a step back and look at things historically, that was one of the key advantages RED had when they came to the marketplace. They worked with us and with Apple to provide people with an opportunity to learn how to use their technology.
And since then, the whole digital cinematography marketplace has exploded and changed so dramatically and rapidly. It can overwhelm people whose whole mission is to tell stories in a cinematic format. They can get caught up in the technology, which will then take them away from their creative focus. That’s why these partnerships are so vital. They help prevent the creative teams from getting bogged down in technical details. Filmmakers can then focus on their camera and imagery to create the content that works for the story, which is what they want to focus on anyway.
Do you see many filmmakers struggle with establishing and/or creating a production and post workflow?
The chatter on blogs and forums tells you all you need to know. Relatively simple questions about what color space to use for a particular camera are all over the place. It makes sense though, because the answers can get complicated when you’re talking about different versions, settings and products.
You’ve got people who have spent most of their careers learning about optics of lenses, light, angles and all these drilled-in cinematography concepts, and perhaps film stock was the biggest piece of tech they dealt with. Now, it’s all about the technology, but that doesn’t that mean you’re losing the focus around the cinematic aspects of a project.
We track a number of different forums and blogs, and it really can be daunting to be a filmmaker or cinematographer today. Everything changes and gets upgraded constantly. So you have to be able to figure out and establish processes that work for you, but realize that you’re probably going to face a series of technique and technology updates over time. And that leads to struggles on a conceptual and practical level.
This sort of offer falls in line with adjustments to the way people buy and use SCRATCH, doesn’t it?
We entered the subscription model/market about four years ago, and it’s interesting to see the numbers shift in terms of what people prefer. Probably 95% of our new orders are subscription licenses as opposed to people buying it outright, which certainly wasn’t the case in the beginning.
I think people are really responding to the flexibility this model offers. For a typical piece of software, 20-30% of customers are 2-3 versions behind, but you really can’t be that far behind with digital cameras. They’re constantly upgrading their capabilities; we’re focused on supporting the new camera formats that come out on a regular basis from the various manufacturers. That’s a key part of the infrastructure of the tool for the user. Whenever they get a new camera, they need to be able to support it, and if you’re stuck three versions back, you won’t necessarily have access to it. That need has changed people’s thinking both in terms of how they’re spending their money and what they do with what they’ve purchased. A subscription model takes the worry out of software updates and staying current with camera technology.
How will technology continue to influence the way in which filmmakers approach their projects?
If you were a filmmaker in 2005 and went on sabbatical until 2015, and then wanted to get back to your craft, it would be like working on a different planet. The constant change is mind-bending to everyone working in production. It impacts everything. A new camera comes out and those professionals have to consider how the recording medium is used, whether it’s tethered or non-tethered, if they can use the same storage device, are they going 4K or 8K…and the list goes on and on. Questions around the tools they have or need come up constantly.
Not too long ago, the filmmaking process was so well understood by directors and DPs that the biggest choices they had to make were around lenses, film stock and lighting. Those decisions are still there, but the variables they have to deal with to make those decisions have vastly increased. That’s where you can really see the impact of the technology, and continue to see it. Directors and DPs have the ability to see their vision realized in a much more powerful way, they just need to ensure their approach doesn’t overwhelm that vision.
What’s the best way for filmmakers to figure out how SCRATCH can or could work on their project?
Those technology shifts that we were talking about have created tremendous opportunities for creative content of all sizes. They can easily access SCRATCH tutorials and case studies, and we’ve put a considerable amount of energy into generating videos that show people how to do dailies, VFX and post production in SCRATCH. Many of our customers have created materials as well, so you can see SCRATCH at work from different perspectives.
You can download a free 30-day trial very easily, and it will be able to run on pretty much any configured Windows or OSX machine, including laptops. The accessibility of our tools is amazing, and we’re going to continue to improve that accessibility as we increase the pool of SCRATCH-educated people that are out there. In turn, via our SCRATCH Forum, those SCRATCH-educated people become a great resource for others to learn about the software.
Adding or learning a tool like SCRATCH is simpler than ever, which is a great thing, but it can also be dangerous.
A fairly typical email that we get says something along the lines of, “I’m starting on a project tomorrow and I just downloaded the trial today.” I always have to go over those types of messages again to make sure I read them correctly! (Laughs)
It might not be advisable to try and learn the software that quickly, but there are technical experts in-house and online who can help you, no matter your timetable or learning curve.