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Why I'm Ordering a RED SCARLET-X, and How it Relates to My Feature 'Man-child'

11.5.11 @ 4:45PM Tags : , , , ,

In a post about the new RED SCARLET-X, I mentioned that I ordered the camera myself. First of all, some context: I’ve been a “professional” in video (since apparently we need to distinguish between professional and amateur) since I was hired as a video editor in 1999, at the age of 18. Since then, save my four year stint in college, I’ve made my living in and around the industry, shooting, editing, directing, producing, designing, etc. for hire (here’s a resume). Yet I’ve never owned a “professional” camera. So I got all excited on Twitter about the prospect of finally being able to own and operate a camera of the SCARLET-X’s caliber, after twelve years of working my way up to this point. But I’ve been surprised at the number of people who have left comments questioning this decision, accusing me of misspending the Man-child Kickstarter funds, or writing critiques with me at the center. So here are a dozen points of clarification:

  1. I have not touched a penny of the Kickstarter funds and would never betray the trust of the 2,336 individuals who are making my dream possible. Anyone who knows me, and I hope any of my readers, would back this up times a thousand. I’m in this for the long haul, and misappropriating the funds would not only go against my own sensibilities and honor, it would also be the stupidest thing I could do for my career and this website. Anyone who suggests otherwise is not thinking straight.
  2. The decision to buy this camera has to make sense for my larger film career regardless of whether we use it on Man-child, because I’m probably not DPing Man-child myself (I’ll have my hands full writing and directing, especially when working with child actors). That’s why I’m not spending a penny of the Kickstarter funds on the camera. This purchase should benefit the film, however, because if I own a SCARLET, I can rent it to the production for free (or a deferred fee), which will allow us to put more of the Kickstarter funds on screen. Not sure how there’s anything wrong with that.
  3. Ordering a $15,000 camera does not mean you have $15,000 to blow, just as buying a $300,000 house does not mean you have $300k in the bank at the time. If you have good credit, you can get a credit card with 0% APR for 12 months and pay off the camera over a full year with no penalty. If you spend $25k on a RED including lenses, that’s an extra $2,000 a month you’re on the hook for. Can I afford this over the next year? By not having a family, by not owning a house, by not owning a car (or paying car insurance), by refraining from moving into a new apartment, by saving money living out of a suitcase for a year, by not going on extravagant trips or buying really nice clothes, and by not having health insurance for the last two years: yes, I hope so (see the notes below about partnerships and renting it out as well). But only because of these sacrifices. Which is what irks me when people say “cameras don’t make a movie!” I know, man, I’ve arranged my entire life around this. And I’ve spent a lot more time over the last year writing the Man-child script than I’ve spent writing about cameras (or anything else, for that matter). The script wouldn’t have gotten into, for example, IFP’s Emerging Narrative program if I hadn’t worked my ass off on it (and I continue to do so, and will up until we roll camera).
  4. “I’m ordering a SCARLET-X” does not mean “I’m spending $15,000 today.” You put a deposit down in order to get in line, and given RED’s site was slammed with orders and I couldn’t get through for a few hours, I’ll be lucky to get a camera before 2012. You’re charged 10% up front and the remainder when the camera actually ships. Which, as many RED owners have found, could be a while (even if it says they start shipping on November 17th).
  5. On top of this, “I’m ordering a SCARLET-X” also does not mean “I’m ordering a SCARLET-X and am going to pay for everything alone.” I may or may not be going in for a SCARLET with one or more NYC-based filmmaking partners, wherein we split the financial commitment. Most filmmakers are not shooting twelve months out of the year, after all.
  6. On top of this, buying a “professional” camera means you could/should rent it out. For many this is the main way of recouping their investment, though I do think the market is going to be flooded with SCARLETs over the next year and, similar to what happened with the RED ONE rental market, prices are going to be driven down a lot. But due in part to this website, I should certainly be able to make my rental package more visible than others.
  7. If I’m not planning on DPing Man-child myself, shouldn’t it be up to the DP to choose the camera? Absolutely, but as I said in my multimedia lookbook, I expect we’ll shoot it on a RED because of the slow-motion sequences in the script. If we can find a discount on an EPIC package, then it would make sense to shoot A cam with a rented EPIC and B cam with my SCARLET-X. They’re actually the exact same camera, the only difference is the ASIC included in the SCARLET can’t handle the higher frame rates of the EPIC.
  8. For the people questioning why I would order a camera without getting my hands on it first: let me repeat, it’s the exact same camera as the EPIC, but the circuit boards are spec’d lower. Same body, same sensor, same dynamic range, same accessories, same everything. I’ve handled an EPIC and I’ve seen it projected at 4K, so it’s not as if this is a brand-new camera that I’m unfamiliar with.
  9. Now that Sony, Canon, and Panasonic have played their cards, the indie feature film camera market is pretty set as far as the next year is concerned. I’m in love with the colors of the ARRI ALEXA but it’s a $75k camera and renting one is around $1,400 a day. Using one rental house as reference, with support gear and lenses that’s $2,460 a day. A three day week is $7,380, and so a month of shooting would work out to roughly $30,000. Is that $30k that I’d rather spend on owning a camera that can be used for future productions? Yes. Are there also advantages to the RED, like its small size, resolution, and (in the case of an EPIC) frame rates? Also yes.
  10. That said, if the DP wants an ALEXA, and he or she can convince me we’ll be able to get some of the shots I have in mind despite its larger size, we’ll try to find a way. Whatever it takes.
  11. If I’m not DPing Man-child, why do I need to own a camera? Well, I have DP’d things in the past, and I probably will again in the future. Getting familiar with a camera’s ins and outs is useful regardless of whether you’re operating, DPing, or directing.
  12. Buying a SCARLET-X is committing to the RED ecosystem: learning the RAW workflow, REDCINE-X Pro, etc., and it’s an ecosystem I believe will continue to improve. RED also does what other camera companies do not, which is to release new sensors for existing hardware (the first example is the M-X chip for the RED ONE, and the SCARLET will be eligible for the forthcoming Dragon sensor in a year or so, which should improve its low-light capabilities among other things). There’s a certain element of future-proofing built-in with the RED, and while I think the new Canon EOS C300 is a nice camera, I also think there’s an element of planned obsolescence at work there. I’m a big fan of the Sony F3, but the 720p/60p limitations hurt Man-child in particular, and it’s actually significantly more expensive than the SCARLET-X once you include the the $3,500 S-LOG firmware and an uncompressed external recorder.

So that’s why I ordered a SCARLET-X, and how it relates to Man-child. I could go on, but this should be enough to clarify some of my logic behind the purchase. And hopefully some of these thoughts are helpful for anyone else considering the new cameras.

While I hope to share what I learn along the way with the RED, don’t worry, NoFilmSchool will not be turning its back on DSLRs and lower-end projects/shooters/budgets. More on this soon!

One RED thing I would like to share at present: the idea that you need a $5,000 RED ROCKET in order to edit 4K files is apparently not true. Via commenter RebelPhoton, check out this $3,500 homebuilt PC editing 4K .R3D files in Premiere Pro in real time without any special hardware other than an nVidia graphics card for CUDA acceleration:

From the vimeo page, here are the specs, courtesy editor Tom Lowe:

As computers get faster, and as interfaces like Thunderbolt find mainstream acceptance, this will become more and more viable. Hey, now we’re back to discussing something productive that is useful to other people! Great, that’s why this site is here.

[original basketball photo by The Tattered Coat]

Related Posts

  1. RED to Announce SCARLET Nov. 3 (Same day as Canon), Bringing a 'Bazooka to a Knife Fight'
  2. RED's $7k SCARLET Camera Becomes $12k EPIC-S
  3. 'Man-child' is 100% Funded -- and I'm Going to Make My First Feature Film -- Thanks to You!


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 174 COMMENTS

  • It is definitely the right thing to do, spending a reasonable amount of money on something that will not be obsolete for a long time.
    You are absolutely correct on everything besides health insurance, please think again about this.

  • I do not always agree with every technical point Koo makes but his integrity seems beyond reproach. And who else provides and shares SO much useful info? I hope his film is a huge success and that it is just the beginning of a long run of huge hits. Koo definitely deserves it! We will all get to say we knew him back when.

  • Thanks again for your thoughts and support, guys!

    And yes, it’s time to get health insurance. Though looking back on it, at $300/month, two years of health insurance would’ve run $7,000. No way I would be able to order a SCARLET if I’d been insured all this time.

    But that was a calculated risk that is certainly not wise in the long term, so I’m working on it!

  • “NoFilmSchool will not be turning its back on DSLRs and lower-end projects/shooters/budgets. More on this soon!”
    Thank God for that!
    I hit this site like 10 times a day (on average) and it’s become a reference tool, source of inspiration, and quite frankly a much needed pit stop for an industry newbie like myself.
    Awesome articles.
    Thanks a lot Koo. XD

  • Why to go Koo congratulations on the new Camera. A Red Scarlet is a great investment. Even if you buy it out of the Man-Child budget it’s justifiable expenditure.

    Enjoy the new gear. And thanks for the website.

  • I broke down and bought a Scarlet X as well. The deciding factor was the eduction I would get with owning the camera. Is it expensive, yes, very. But this will be my first professional camera, and I am excited. I had to put off owning a car (my brother wrecked my previous one) to afford it. So I feel you.

  • 30 yr establised DP who always regretted not getting an the 16mm Atton LTR when it first came out. If you want to be a DP you have to buy a camera. You have to live with it and have it around like a good hobby. I’ve owened many cameras in my time and with the tax advantages it can be a good investment if your smart about it. Having said that be realistic, If you want to really make money with it the camera is only the beginnig. You need lenses, filters, tripod setup, insurance. Add all that and now you more than double the cost, probably triple with PL glass unless you have friends you can swap with. The camera will also go down sometimes, yes it will.

    At least you can get in reasonably inexpensively with some marginal glass and learn the craft, just be realistic and fair to yourself.

  • Koo, Just go on with your production. Don’t waste your time on negative people. It’s your dream, not theirs.

  • enh… f**k ‘em Koo. You know you are getting close to make your nofilmschool dream a reality when people are starting to upset about it and wring their hands and hem and haw…

    To wit, I have ranted similarly to those folks before (about tech not making a filmmaker), but is just not the case with you. I’ve been a devoted fan and student of your work since your first film project at Midd — I would wager I know your work first hand better than any of those writing negative things about your project or your camera purchase. The truth is that when I have seen your success over the years, I just feel jealous that I have not been able to be as successful in my filmmaking. You have chose to pursue a difficult path and you are succeeding, that is testament to your perseverance. You have chosen a bold path, a path that many others chose not to take. You have nothing else to stand on beside the quality of your work, no connections, no networks, there is no greater commitment to an art than that. I think others that have made safer choices and chipped up to the green, so to speak, are just a bit jealous — like I am.

    Like, s**t, the world is changing and new ways of making film art are not going to replace the old ones, they will probably exist side by side for a while, but the negative responses to your project and camera purchase are just reactionary knee-jerks from the old way of doing things. “In my day, a filmmaker had to…” more of less sums up much of what they say. I do agree with the idea that many companies are selling professionalism with their prosumer stuff, but what’s the big problem with that anyway… (political spoiler) its like the argument against gay marriage… if homosexuals get to say that what they are married, too, then it invalidates what I have… Its just childish.

    to recap: I’m terribly jealous, f**k ‘em, go you.

  • I don’t understand why there would be an issue for you to use the kickstarter money to purchase a camera you’re going to shoot the film with…? You’ve made it very clear that you wouldn’t do that I just don’t know why people would be upset about that. They donated money to help you make this film, why would there be an issue with you spending money on the main piece of equipment necessary to make the film?

    Thank you so much for all the time and hard work you put into making this site a free resource for people like us. It’s fully appreciated and you 100% earned and deserve that camera. You are living proof that you don’t need an expensive film school education to make your dreams become reality in this unforgiving industry.

    Can’t wait to see Man-Child.


  • I actually really liked the EOSHD article but I find it kind of weird that he targeted you… I mean, weren’t you extremely critical of the Red president guy when he talked trash about DSLRs?

    • I was. And you can bet as a RED owner I’ll be vocal about whatever issues I encounter… at no point have I ever been like, “RED makes the best cameras!!!” Every camera is different, and in my particular situation I think this one makes the most sense. I’m a huge fan of the ALEXA, I like the Sony F3 a lot, and the Canon C300 seems really nice if a bit overpriced…

  • Koo,

    Sorry that you had to write this post. It’s admirable that you decided not to use the KIckstarter funds to finance the camera (though certainly it’s in your right to do so).

    One note: While you *can* edit in 4k – why do it? You’re locked to working on only one properly spec’d workstation. Whereas working at an HD resolution you could work on the road, share project files with collaborators and only go to the 4K files when it’s time for finishing.

    • Hey Patrick,

      Premiere Pro seems to handle 4K files well when playing it back at 1/4 res or so. In which case, why transcode to something lower?

      Admittedly, I haven’t tried this on a laptop. But it does seem a decent desktop can handle the .R3Ds without dropping the res.

  • Philip Bloom on 11.22.11 @ 1:13AM

    I am sorry you have to defend so much what you are doing. As a kickstarter backer I trust you implicitly. for anyone who visits this site regularly no that Koo is a straight up guy. he has a story to tell and as an investor I want it to look as good as possible!!

    You should not have been used as an example on Andrew’s site for his rant. It was unfair and dragging people into it personally is out of order. Can’t wait to see the film Koo



  • Fantastic article. Your years ahead of your time! Thanks for your integrity and honesty. You are the real next generation of filmmaker. A creative with pacients and a understanding that this is a keep it up.

  • Thanks Philip and T.C!

  • I hate the fact eosHD couldn’t just make a small footnote to clarify the things he wrote that were wrong. He doesn’t have to change the article, just write what’s true. No reason to fight when you’ve made a mistake. People respect you more when you are willing to make clarifications.

  • Lucas Adamson on 12.2.11 @ 5:13AM

    I also really liked Andrew’s article, as what he is saying is actually very important. It is a shame that he wrongly made the assumption that you were spending Kickstarter funds on the camera, when he wrote this piece (wasn’t it the same day as you declared yourself buying a Scarlet X?) but fundamentally he has the right idea for what is clearly a challenging article, but chose the wrong guy, as you are obviously climbing up and out of lo-fi movie making and into a more professional sector, and doing so with aplomb. The basic gist of his article is so right though – there are thousands of people out there backwards thinking the whole film making process, and materialism is replacing creativity and talent in the process.

    “I find it interesting that Ryan Koo of Nofilmschool recently pre-ordered the new Scarlet-X for $10k, and once all the accessories and SSD cards are accounted for it will cost upwards of $20k. Before his successful Kickstarter campaign Koo was a DSLR shooter and he still is an aspiring filmmaker, and I wish him the best of luck. Of course he can invest how he sees fit but isn’t the generously donated $120k better spent on the actual film? Hell knows why he felt he needed it. It is like a guitarist joining a band and immediately feeling the need to splash $10k on a guitar and $4k on an amp before writing songs and jamming with his band members.”

    He should certainly amend this, now he knows better.

  • You should rent “Celebration” and your DP too.

    • Great film… saw it ten years ago. Not sure what point you’re trying to make, however… different tools and storytelling approaches for (very) different stories.

  • Hi, just wanted to say, I liked this article. It was practical. Keep on posting!

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