I’ve always been a gear person. At 10, i was finding ways to hook up more speakers to my stereo than the one ‘recommended’ pair: “There must be a way to twist the wires together, splice it in the back, or something” or I’d be hooking up an external mic to my Radio Shack cassette deck to record the US top 40 broadcasts from the US Military Base in Keflavik (with the mic jammed up against the speaker on my AM transistor radio). In fact, some of those songs would become forever altered in my memory, since these were the only recordings i had of them, and inevitably my mom would come in, mid-recording, to fetch me for dinner; a door would close in the next room; a car drive by outside, and thus become an ambient overdub – a part of that song forever. I even remember being thrown off when i’d hear those songs (without the overdubs) on the radio later. So, in those days, technology (or lack thereof) was never an issue. It was perhaps an inconvenience, but not a deal-breaker. You’d make do with what you had.
Fast forward to today. Never has technology been so democratized. You can make feature films with your DSLR, edit them on your laptop, and post them to the internet in a matter of hours.. minutes even. And the cost of this hardware and software is remarkably low, compared to the Avid editing hardware/software solutions and the Film Cameras of the past. Heck, you can even make an entire album on your iPhone (not that I’d recommend it.. personally i have NO desire to ‘make music’ with my PHONE.. but that’s another blog post).
Funny thing, though, having all this gear and software so accessible.. and being slightly OCD like me, it’s almost too much. Debilitating, even. I often find myself reading reviews about a camera or piece of software long after i’ve purchased it. Somehow as if double checking, to make sure i got the best possible piece of gear for the best possible price. And if there is a better model available (and there always is – unless you’re James Cameron), you’re screwed. How the hell can i possibly take any photos with my single sensor Canon DSLR when the dual sensor is ‘just a few dollars more’ and probably much better! And how the hell can i continue to use my current version of Final Cut Pro – let alone start anything new – knowing that Apple has already given us a sneak peak into the new version, due out in June of this year – and only $299? Rats.. i’m stuck. Can’t even get out of bed – there’s no point.
Ok, you get the point. And of course it’s not that bad. In fact, living in these times is pretty fantastic. I am shooting video and taking pictures with my Canon all the time. BUT this is a valid point. It’s so important to let go of the technology for a moment, and just go do it – make stuff. Create something.
I often think of Coppola and Walter Murch, while they were mixing ‘The Rain People’ – Coppola’s film from 1969. One of his first, and the one just before the two Godfathers and The Conversation. Coppola had just bought all this sound mixing equipment from Germany (complete with instructions in German!) and they needed to mix the film for a festival in a matter of days. This is after they’d just driven across the country in a van, outfitted by them and George Lucas, with an entire film studio inside, to make the movie – something we can fit into our laptops, and a small backpack today! Imagine the determination!
Long story short, they were trying to mix the film, using this gear from Germany, and the only way to get the image to display (so they could mix, in sync w. the picture) was to run it through a Sony consumer video camera – the size of a Mini Cooper at the time, I’m sure – and into Coppola’s console television. Only problem was, that the image came out upside down! So Coppola turned the TV upside down, and Murch mixed the whole film, in three days and three nights – with the TV upside down, on a table in front of him!
It was ultimately Coppola’s and Murch’s vision and aesthetic that came through, not the gear. Not the technology. This is something that’s easy to loose sight of today.
And as a side note, to get around union regulations since Walter wasn’t in the union, the title he took on this film (instead of ‘Sound Editor’) was ‘Sound Designer’, at his insistence. Not knowing that not only would he make one of the most groundbreaking ‘Sound Design’ films ever, only a few years later – The Conversation – but he was also creating a whole new job description and inspiring a whole new group of artists. Myself included.
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