Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Tool or the Task?

For several years I have followed with great interest as all the cool new tools have been released. Every few months there is a new camera that is the "must-have" for filmmaking, and hundreds of companies are now creating amazing tools for the independent filmmaker.

But the vast majority of the equipment is being purchased and reviewed by people who will never use it to create a marketable product. I know several people personally who own the latest software, hardware, cameras and accessories and never actually create anything with it. And before you think I am being too critical, know that I have my share of stuff sitting on shelves and in the garage that has rarely seen the light of day. Thinking about all of this yesterday let me to this conclusion.

You can test whether you are a true working professional by gauging the following. When you hear about an unbelievable new product, are you more excited about the tool itself or more excited about the specific task it will help you achieve? If you are mentally plugging that tool in to your existing workflow realizing that it will help you work better, faster or more economically on an upcoming project, then you are probably a professional. If you are solely interested in features, specs and marketing photos with no particular project in mind, then you are probably a hobbyist (or maybe an engineer).

I am always amazed when I talk with professionals in the film industry how little they know about the "latest and greatest." It seems they are even disinterested in it. Perhaps it is because they are entrenched in the old way of doing things and not interested in trying anything new. This is probably a little true. More likely, however, is the fact that they are more focused on the task of filmmaking than they are the tools. They are able to work with almost any tool to get a great result on-screen. And they have figured out that any new tool will eventually reveal it's limitations. Since there is no perfect tool for every job, they simply learn the limitations of the one they are using and make sure they work around those problem areas.

There is some great stuff on the market today, and I am glad for it. It has certainly made things cheaper and easier for the indy filmmaker. But there are a lot of "flavor of the weeks" out there too. To me, it is like the infomercials for kitchen tools. There are literally thousands of different types of cutters, choppers and dicers that have come and gone over the years. But no matter how many you may have bought along the way, chances are when it comes time to slice the vegetables, you end up using a plain old kitchen knife. The others were amazing when you watched the commercial and when you first used them, but for whatever reason you reverted back to the knife.

In the end, there are a lot of ways to get the job done, but if you are focused more on the tool than on the task, you will accomplish very little.