Why I'm Ordering a RED SCARLET-X, and How it Relates to My Feature 'Man-child'
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- “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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Intel Core i7 980X overclocked to 4Ghz (there’s a newer 990x now)
- 24GB 1600mhz RAM
- nVidia 580 GTX card with 1.5GB RAM (there’s also a 3GB version now for virtually the same price)
- Single 2TB 7200rpm drive (no RAID)
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]