Monday, April 28, 2014

NAB Summary

Atmos booth. Photo courtesy of

By Tom Inglesby

The big buzz at this year’s NAB show was 4K. It was everywhere. Cameras to shoot it, post-production gear to process it, and special file transfer protocols to move those big files across the country – or across the world – for editing and then into archives and storage, in the cloud or in NAS systems. In fact, the second biggest thrust for a lot of companies was to provide archive storage, workflow, asset management, file transfer speed and The Cloud all aimed at managing the increasing file size of 4K.

If there is one consistency in this industry, it’s that speed, power and size all run parallel and all grow exponentially. As higher definition video moves into the mainstream, delivery systems – TV sets and set-top boxes, along with several streaming players – were popping up on the show floor. The need for speed in moving large files prompted many companies to devise new transfer protocols and develop better algorithms. If your editor is across the country from your shoot, the new systems can send dailies back and forth in minutes regardless of size. Storage and archiving is no longer limited by medium; vendors showed optical, tape, hard drive and hybrid systems that can accommodate not just terabytes of data but petabytes and, in at least two booths, exabytes of storage. Coming soon to a NAS near you: 100 zettabytes of storage?

Cameras were, of course, a big part of NAB. From the number of new cine cameras being used at every booth, one would expect the camera manufacturers to be out-of-stock on most of their wares. Smaller vendors were displaying their accessories for popular cameras such as Arri’s Alexa and various Canon models; the manufacturers themselves were showing every combination of body, lens, back and accessory imaginable. The flexibility of today’s digital camera starts with modular design and ends with…well, it hasn’t ended yet so we can’t be sure.

To shoot 4K requires care as the results are so magnified that the slightest flaw can be noticeable. Lighting companies were showing their improved LED systems with color change to match light temperatures from daylight, at different times and climes, to old fluorescents. Fill lights can be adjusted to match any overall lighting temperature and balance is done quickly. No more orange makeup on the star’s close up.

Several lens companies were exhibiting new anamorphic lenses to compensate for the 16:9 and other display formats without distortion. Zooms designed specifically for digital cameras were available in heretofore unheard of lengths.

Indoors and out, there were mobile units: trucks, vans, SUVs and even motorcycles set up with direct satellite transmission of the shoot to the studio or storage. They feature control rooms onboard that rival those in the most modern studio in New York or Hollywood. Many production studios in trucks had extensive camera and lighting gear available for the producer doing a remote location.

The buzz overhead was coming from a multitude of small rotary “model” aircraft. Although not technically drones, many were referred to that way; indeed, they are unmanned aerial vehicles, but at such a reduced size they can be carried in one hand and launched indoors. Mounting a camera and capable of sustained flight for 10-20 minutes, these battery operated ‘copters can provide an inexpensive aerial view for tracking the action or giving a different perspective to the viewer. Caution: they are in legal limbo as to their commercial use in the U.S. The controlling government agency, the FAA, is responding to a judge’s opinion giving them clearance for commercial purposes by examining and most likely rewriting the rules that were rarely enforced but are still on the books.
DJI booth. Photo courtesy of

We’ll be covering the issue of commercial use of remote control model copters in more depth in the summer edition of Markee. We’ll also look at some of the file transfer and storage approaches shown at NAB and, naturally, 4K. See you then.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mistaken for Strangers

Mistaken for Strangers is a new documentary from Tom Berninger that chronicles the budding filmmaker's months on tour with his brother's band, The National. The film is making headlines this month – and rightfully so. (See the trailer below.)

The premise: Feeling bad that his younger brother is just wandering aimlessly through life, Matt Berninger – the singer for the indie rock band The National – invites Tom to join the group's tour as a roadie. Tom agrees, but has an ulterior motive; the young filmmaker (whose work up to that point consisted of a couple of low-budget horror flicks) wants to document the tour and make a movie. Whether or not this was all contrived is unclear, but in the end, it doesn't matter. The result is a beautiful piece of work. Tom Berninger: You have arrived.

Initially, I was drawn to the documentary because of the band. Only recently have I started appreciating The National, which has built a reputation as one of alternative rock's most innovative and intelligent groups for more than a decade. I've never seen them perform live, so I thought Mistaken for Strangers would be a great way to see them in action. But when I learned how the documentary came to be – and who was making it – I was even more intrigued. On the day of its release (March 28, 2014), I downloaded the film from iTunes to see how a relatively inexperienced filmmaker would document something as potentially harried and unpredictable as a rock band's eight-month tour.

As one might expect, the filmmaking itself is rudimentary. For example, Tom seemed to shoot most of the documentary with a stabilizer-free handheld camera. He clearly didn't have a storyboard or solid idea of what he wanted to film before he began. And there are many instances where seasoned professionals would cringe at the editing – or lack thereof. Additionally, one realizes quickly that the documentary Tom is perhaps unknowingly making is about himself learning to deal first-hand with the success and celebrity of his older brother. At one point, Tom complains: "I feel like I'm on the outside of this world [of the band], looking in." By the end of the documentary, however, I was sure Tom began to accept his place in that world and found a sense of purpose for himself.

As Mistaken for Strangers progressed, I became less concerned with Tom's techniques and more enthralled with watching the interaction between Tom and Matt. Ultimately, what this film is about is an exploration of brotherly love, family dynamics, and the emergence of one artist out from behind the shadow of his famous brother. Watching the relationship evolve between these two men is both fascinating and heart-warming. This dynamic completely outweighs the clumsiness of the actual camera work. As the end credits rolled, I found myself smiling ear to ear. Then I called my brother.