end user: greetings from the future of filmmaking

I took a few minutes away from working on Leverage and writing my short stories to turn in an End User column that’s all about some of the stuff that’s been on my mind since I started working on Leverage:

I’m in Portland, Oregon, shooting an episode of TNT’s prime time drama, Leverage.

Just about every night after we wrap I meet up with my friend John Rogers, who is the co-executive producer and head writer for the show, to have a beer and decompress after a long day on the set. Whether we talk about filmmaking, comic books, nerdy geeky gaming stuff, or technology, a common thread runs through our conversations: it’s pretty awesome to live here in the future, we sure are lucky to get paid to make stuff up and entertain people, and holy crap has the industry changed since we first entered it.

Leverage is totally shot in the future. We use the Red One digital camera, we watch takes right after we finish them to make sure nothing went wrong, and we get our dailies via secure internet connection anywhere we have computers and WiFi. John told me that at least once, they realized they didn’t shoot a single or needed a tighter angle to make something work, and were able to create coverage in post-production, which is done entirely on Final Cut Pro. During production, we could send pictures and updates from the set to Twitter and our blogs, and engage the audience in a direct and intimate way that is unlike anything I’ve ever done before.

I’m not going to lie to you, Marge, the future’s pretty cool.

25 thoughts on “end user: greetings from the future of filmmaking”

  1. Yes it certainly has changed. I started making films back in the 80s and we were all film snobs. Looking down our noses at the video guys. And I think the reason behind that is that those who had access to decent video gear were mostly engineers rather then artists. In college I remember in a small TV studio class trying to light a scene and the TD would only look at the vector scope and not the look I was trying to achieve. regardless, now with decent and affordable HD cameras and the little bits you can add to them like the Red Rocks 35mm adaptors and cine lenses you can do some really cool stuff.
    Check out my blog, I just bought a new camera last week and was running some tests on it. http://imtheonebehindthecamera.blogspot.com/ And in the top post is a link to some tests we did a couple of years ago with the Cannon XL 2 camera. the difference is remarkable. You can achieve a look now other then flat video.
    But the technology is really no guarantee of good content. For that you still need the artists to write act and direct these things.
    EDIT: I have done work with the Red One and that is a fantastic camera

  2. It’s awesome living in the future, and as a sysadmin and systems engineer at a hosting company by day, designing and implementing bespoke systems for customers, and new services, I love that I’m helping folks to provide their contribution to the future.
    I don’t really keep myself up with film/tv terminology, it’s hard enough keeping up with Tech stuff at times, what do you mean by a “single”?

  3. I do agree the future is pretty cool, but I think it gets a little too outta hand sometimes. Not the good things, but the bad things. It makes me a little nervous of where the world is going to be in, say 20 or 30 years. Everyone is going to become so lazy because we’ll have robots doing everything for us. It has its perks and downfalls. But for right now the good things of the future arent bad. Like the filmaking process. It has become a lot easier than back then.

  4. Yes it is pretty cool but also very challenging. Take computer networks. There are constantly folks trying to hack into systems, IA has become every sysadmin’s watchword. We’ve spent many man hours on the ones we use. And don’t even think about cell phones without knowing that someone can be monitoring everything you say and do. Just a few of the issues in our “brave new world”. Did you ever watch the episode of Star Trek where two worlds are at war but never shoot at each other? They used simulated weapons and then walked into disintegration chambers after the simulated attacks. Sometimes I fear our future is headed that way. When you don’t have to risk anything to wage war, aka the proliferation of UAS and the like, what is to stop you from beating on anyone you don’t like? I much prefer the old fashion method of facing down an adversary face to face where I know I am also at risk and will couch my decisions accordingly. All that said, doing 1.5IMN at 500′ ain’t a bad thing to experience either!

  5. @ Twirrim – singles are when the camera is focused on a single actor/ess. Especially in a group interaction scene, you might need singles for reactions to another character’s line.
    sigh. i wish i were in the tv/movie biz.

  6. I’m so glad I check in on you from time to time. Since you posted about “Leverage” I decided to check it out so we watched Wednesday night’s episode. My husband and I both enjoyed it. Tell those guys you are bringing in new fans.

  7. I’m really glad I found your blog, as a nerd more than a geek I’m a bit late to the tech party, but I’m also a former filmmaker who now is more a writer in the service of parents. But when it comes to finding time to write, a key factor for me has been stealing time, and that’s a little hard if you try generally not to steal. I’ve been stealing it from sleep lately. If you get a spare moment to send a geek blessing to my virtual foray into this blogosphere please visit http://www.privilegeofparenting.com.
    Namaste, Bruce
    p.s. I’m off to an all day seminar on the I Ching

  8. That’s awesome that the Red camera is being used. The Oakley founder, Jim Jannard is huge into photography, and started Red…a fun fact for those that didn’t know.

  9. That would be awesome, the future, because you would have robots. And if you didn’t want to do something, you would use the robots. Technology is cool, computers, and all that.

  10. Hi Wil, Hope all the Leverage stuff is going well :) Do you know if like it’ll be shown in the UK? I’d love to see it! That thing about “nerdy geeky gaming stuff” just made me laugh, haha that pretty much summarises my guy mate’s conversations 24/7! It sounds fun!
    I hope this doesn’t sound too irrelevant! I was just thinking how funny it is that in “Stand By Me” Gordie was going to become a writer and then you actually are a writer now! Coincidence or what? I’m definitely going to check out some of your stuff haha, is there anything you’d like recommend in particularr? Me and my sis were actually watching it this morning :) It’s one of my favourite films, I love you in it, you’re just the cutest. It must have been so fun to act. I was just cringing at the bit on the bridge when the train comes and then the leeches! I was like biting my nails! It gets me every time! So do you prefer writing or acting? x

  11. Ok, so this is probably going to sound very superficial in comparison to some of the above comments, but…..You are in Portland!!! I was just there for an interview….ahhhhh. Well better luck for me next time.
    How was your visit back to Oregon anyway?

  12. I have questions.
    In the film classes I took we learned all sorts of useful rituals: the director announces “camera”, the camerama reponds “rolling” when the camera is up to speed and filming, then the director announces “action” and the camera films until the director says “cut” (and not “annnnnd… cut” because that messes up the sound). Before every scene a clapper is used to record setup and scene your are filming and which take of that scene you are doing. Someone writes down all of those takes too and keeps notes from the director — including which ones to print (the “print” notes come in useful if your editing setup has limited hard drive space).
    How much of that is carrying into the digital age?
    I imagine much of that ritual was created to optimize the use of film, and while it isn’t as important with digital, I imagine that level of organization would still help.
    Robert Rodriguez has talked about how much he loves digital filmmaking on some of his director commentaries. I think he said the biggest advantage was that digital was much more forgiving of lighting.

  13. I’m your super fan.I know this isn’t about this but I know when your birthday is, Hey Wil Wheaton, if it were July 29th I would tell you Happy Birthday! But it’s not I’m just making sure if I got it right. (:
    Anyways, about the future which is what your talking about here.
    I can tell the future is going to have a lot of great stuff, now we have computers, laptops, cell phones, phones. And the future could get better.

  14. I love living in the future. I love the fact that our cell phones are more advanced than Captain Kirk’s handheld communicator, and that I, as highschool graduate, could totally create a commbadge if I felt like putting in the time and money.
    I was reading a PC gamers magazine the other day, and it was an issue dedicated to awesome free games on line. What astonished me was that there was also a section for free game creation software- stuff you can download from the internet and create pretty decent games and grpahics(if you put in the right ammount of time, of course).
    And then today i was looking at a timeline of CG evolution in the entertainment industry, starting from the first tube to today’s iphone and Transformers movie, and there was one point on the timeline for the first video game ever. It wasn’t Pong, but Spacewar! made in 1961, and it was made by a couple of students who put 200 hours into creating these little pixel lines on rudimentary computer machinary stuff- and i realized i could make the exact same game by using Adobe flash for free at my school, and complete it in a couple of hours.
    Not to mention, physicists already know how to theoretically travel backward and forward in time, and scientist are tapping more and more into psychological nuances that can help to create better and more real AI…
    It’s crazy stuff..

  15. afterthought- I guess that was sort of off-topic. I started out thinking about CG, and how we can basically create awesome stuff for afree at home where 50 years ago no one could make it, even in a studio with a million dollars.

  16. While you’re in Portland, find some time to visit good representatives of the past (unless you are right and we ARE living in the future, then the past would be the present…never mind).
    Ground Kontrol at 5th and Couch in Northwest Portland is like the basement you wish you had: partly because the pinball machines are upstairs. Walk over to Powell’s Technical Books two blocks over when you’re finished. Check out their PDP-8 (or is it a -10?), and pick up something useful for me, because I don’t get back there often enough anymore.
    If you’ve never been to these places before, take a handkerchief. You will cry, just a little bit.

  17. Off topic for the post, but Tycho on PA just told us yesterday that they are about to start recording the next D&D Podcast. Any chance you could tell us if our favorite Acquisitions Incorporated intern will be back for more action?

  18. Meh. I wanna live in an alternate future time-line, where teachers make a lot of money and Wil is President of the United States, and George W was never born. But I’d still bust your balls, Wil, you know, just because I can 😛

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