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Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Opinion | Second wave of democratization for film making is here, thanks to phones

India’s content ecosystem is far from saturated and there is opportunity for more creators

Filmmaking historically has been a rather undemocratic industry, with multiple entry barriers. The fact that it is a team activity aside, a filmmaker was required to have access to significant infrastructure (expensive cameras, film stock that was difficult to procure and handle, and expensive film lab infrastructure), as well as a decent amount of money to be able to create any kind of audio-visual content (aka ‘film’). Once made, getting the film out to audiences had greater infrastructure and logistics requirements. These handicaps severely limited the ability to make films to a few people and also limited the type of content, one that catered to the largest viewing demographic.

The first wave of democratization came when the world embraced digital. Film stock was eliminated, the Filmlab was replaced by computers. Digital pipelines and online distribution led to the creation of over-the-top (OTT)/digital as the third content-viewing platform, after cinema and television, rapidly scaling up the viewer base and causing significant reduction in content cost to a point where it became almost free.

Widespread digital distribution also enabled the creation of the ‘individual’ viewer. For the first time in history (s)he was free of peer/societal judgement of his/her content choices. This led to a massive expansion in content subjects as creators no longer needed to appeal to a large base. All this led to a massive increase in the number of filmmakers and in the types of content they were creating.

Moore’s law of computing also apparently applies to filmmaking. It took a century for the first wave, but it took only a quarter of a century to herald in the second wave of democratization of the industry. What digital filmmaking did to analog filmmaking, mobile filmmaking will do to digital filmmaking.

As content demand and the ease of its creation grew, the time available for content creation shrunk, from years, to months, to days and, in some cases, to hours. Today’s filmmaking workflow needs to be as ‘light’ as possible, while maintaining quality and the most ubiquitous device in today’s world, the mobile phone, is all set to fulfil yet another function, filmmaking.

Apple, Google, Samsung, and Sony, in alphabetical order, and several other manufacturers have put in significant effort to add filmmaking as a ‘pro’ functionality to the mobile phone. We are currently in v3.0 of the mobile filmmaking technology curve. What started with VGA (v1.0) and HD (v2.0) has today reached 4K resolution, high speed and high dynamic range acquisition, professional grade lenses, military grade image stabilisation and almost unlimited storage. The top-end mobile phone today, clubbed with the right accessories, is almost as good as a mid-level digital cinematography camera. It would not be a stretch to say that the entire content creation and distribution infrastructure needed to create 95% of the world’s content today, can be fit into a cabin-baggage-sized suitcase.

June 2019 was a momentous month. A film made by legendary filmmaker Claude Lelouch, shot in large part on the iPhone, was the opening film at the Cannes Film Festival 2019. Lelouch and Steven Soderbergh, who are both Oscar and Palme d’Or winners, have made full length films on the iPhone.

The iPhone has proven that, paired with the right accessories, it can replace a digital cinematography camera, but that is not necessarily the only or the biggest benefit that mobile filmmaking brings to the world. Mobile filmmaking will definitely include a whole new group of filmmakers, who, despite the digitization of filmmaking, were still left out of the high-end filmmaking ecosystem, but its larger impact will be to greatly increase both the quality and quantity of content being created for the digital platforms ecosystem. India annually produces approximately 5,000 hours of original cinematic content and, at last count, approximately 1,500 hours of original OTT content. In contrast, approx one hour of content is uploaded on YouTube in India per minute, making it more than 500,000 hours of original content being uploaded by Indians on YouTube. Further, we have more than 30 OTT platforms, each of which will be commissioning a lot of original content over the next few years. India has a total digital viewer base of 400 million people with headroom of 600 million more in the next five years. So, our content ecosystem is far from saturated and the opportunity for more creators can possibly not be overstated.

It is these creators, most of whom will come from non-urban India, that the mobile filmmaking ecosystem will serve. It will allow them to create high quality cinematic work risking high investments, and very low turnaround times. It will ensure that education, training and imagination are the only entry barriers for filmmaking .

Chaitanya Chinchlikar is vice-president of business development and chief technology officer at Whistling Woods International.

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