Outrunning the lion: Future proofing oneself in an ever-changing post-production industry

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Anthony Lee Martin

There’s an age-old story of two men walking along an African path, when they come across a lion. The first man calmly puts his backpack down and slips on the running shoes he’s been carrying. The second man laughs and says: “You’ll never out run a lion.” To which the first man responds: “I don’t need to outrun the lion, I just need to outrun you.”

This is a great story when you’re the guy with the running shoes. But there comes a point in each of our lives when we look down and we’re the ones with the backpack at our feet, all packed up and ready to be shipped out of the industry.

Lions come in many shapes and forms, but in post-production the king of the jungle has always been technology. Whether we like it or not our industry is so closely tied to technology that when it raises its magnificent head we all feel the ground beneath us shift.

In the past we could future proof ourselves through a sizeable investment in technology, today that same type of investment has more chance of sinking us. Simply put, the lion can no longer be owned.

Over the last number of years we have seen an exponential increase in industries around the world succeeding in becoming rental based, for the very practical reason that the gaps between the swells in technology are becoming shorter and shorter. And it no longer makes sense to own technology that in all likelihood will be outdated before it is paid off.

However, to say that we find ourselves in a battle against technology is like man fighting his maker. Post-production only exists because of technology.

The question is not whether we can see the future; it is whether we are willing to embrace it. Unfortunately though, for many the cost is too high and they need to shut their gates and hide behind their long established walls in order to survive.

At points of change like these, what is best is always dependent on which side of the equation you find yourself on. We love technology when it benefits us, but loathe it when it costs us. It’s our raw human default; we want what is best for us.

Fortunately or not, technology has shifted to side with the underdogs and we can no longer afford to hold the gates to our exclusive industry shut. If we do, we will one day wake to find ourselves in the middle of a wide-open field clasping to our wrought iron gates after all the walls around us have crumbled.

There should be no reason to fear technological progress unless your identity is rooted in the fact that you have it and others don’t. If that is your unique selling point then you have every reason to fear. Technology is a great servant, but a horrible master.

With shifts in technology comes not only fear but also opportunities. For example, thanks to technology we all have increased opportunity to reach out and pull in those processes that eat into our budgets. Clients are getting in house agencies, agencies are setting up production arms, production companies are putting in edit suites, edit suites are grading and onlining and online suites are delivering media… and in some cases clients are just deciding to do it all themselves. I would however propose an alternative way forward, one that might have similar results, but a completely different approach.

Instead of waking up tomorrow with the sole purpose of pulling in all the processes that nibble at our back pockets, I think there is a much more important task that needs to take place if we are to thrive, not just survive. We need to learn the skills and processes of those that precede us in the filmmaking process.

As I’ve studied and grown to understand the importance of each of these skills, I have found that I am better equipped to serve both my clients and my suppliers.

As an editor I don’t just read blogs and articles on post-production, I listen to podcasts on cinematography, read books on directing actors and practice screen writing.

Film has always been an all-encompassing art form and advances in technology have brought us to the point where the need to be a jack of all skills and a master of one is no longer preferential, but increasingly necessary. “If I am just an editor in five years, I’ll be obsolete…”

A couple of years ago as I observed how many parts of the process were being absorbed into others workflows I wondered how far my shoes would take me. More recently though, I’m starting to wonder if it’s possible to run barefoot.

I realised that if I am reliant on shoes, then I need a bag, and bags weigh me down. If I could train myself to run in a way that wasn’t’ reliant on external factors I would have no need to ever fear coming across the lion again. Besides running barefoot encourages transparency, vulnerability and courage. All of which are amazing characteristics to possess when stepping into unchartered territory.

It’s amazing to think that shoes… I mean technologies, that once cost upwards of four million rand, are now available with ten times the speed and power for free. Sorry, did I mention it’s free!

As the world around us changes and we continue to do the same things we’ve always done and expect to see the same results we become the foolish ones. Technology is shaking the ground beneath us and we would be foolish to not engage with, learn from and adopt it when we can no longer afford to stand still.

When it becomes detrimental to your clients for you to hold your position you need to change your position or be prepared to lose your clients.

There are companies all around us working hard to expose themselves and their clients to new and exciting technologies. While we kick our feet up and look back over our gated cities full of ageing processes and technologies a new wave is rising over the horizon.

We cannot get angry at technology for progressing when we are the ones who have locked ourselves up in our grey rooms with our heads in the sand. We need to realise that the greatest opposition to our success is ourselves, not technology.

I count it not only my responsibility, but my privilege to open the gate of this beautiful industry to the new exciting waves of technology that are shaking the ground beneath us.

It’ll take hard work, but as they say: “hard-work beats talent 100 per cent of the time when talent stops working hard.”

I’ll need to embrace honesty when I don’t know, acceptance when things change and an aptitude for knowledge as they do.

Future filmmakers will live as vagabonds, owning very little and carrying with them no more than their chosen skillset and a bag of choice tools. We need to learn to live light if we are to survive the future.

In the past those who owned the technology enabled our successes. Today as technology increasingly encourages us to run barefoot, our destinies are in our own hands, and although clients may come to you for a great deal, they’ll stay with you for a great job.

“See a man skilled at his labour, he will stand before kings, he will not stand before obscure men.” – King Solomon.

Those that stand before the kings of the future will not be those that spend their time and energy fighting the lion, but rather those that focus developing their skills, the highest of which is an appetite for learning.

May we stop fighting the lion and let it lead and most importantly, may we learn to run barefoot. 

WEBSITE: www.anthonyleemartin.com
INSTAGRAM: anthonyleemartin

By Anthony Lee Martin, film editor, Deliverance Post Production

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