The Agony and the Ecstasy of Shooting on a RED: Why Philip Bloom No Longer Owns an EPIC
On Wednesday my RED SCARLET-X camera showed up at the door, serial number 00072. I posted a quick picture to Twitter but had nothing more to say about it, given I’m waiting for some necessary accessories (this is on me, not RED, given I ordered third party batteries and don’t have access to any PL glass at the minute). But just as I’m getting my RED, Philip Bloom has given up his. Here’s what happened: Philip had originally written a very balanced post about why to get — and why not to get — a RED SCARLET-X. REDUSER exploded with negative reactions, and Philip started receiving emails from a “higher up” at RED:
As the emails went on that person DEMANDED to buy the camera back as they didn’t want me to have it anymore. I of course was utterly shocked. I tried to explain the value of me talking about the good AND the bad and how I got past the issues, I explained the value of having openeness about my experiences, after all RED have been great in helping me get it up and running each time and this was a huge positive!
…This person did two days later apologise for his completely out of order actions and I accepted the apology. He also retracted the demand for the camera back asking if I wanted to keep it but understood why I would not want it anymore. But I was done. I had dealt with too much. After all it was just a camera and no camera is worth the amount of grief (listed above). No camera. All I want is to shoot and create. Not deal with this nonsense.
That’s been Philip’s experience so far, and I think he’s handled it the same way he’s handled every camera over the years: with honesty and integrity.
UPDATE: RED’s Jim Jannard has apologized on REDUSER: “This situation is my fault… no one else’s.” The comments thread there is closed, and given the comments that have been posted here, I can see why. Please, if you’re going to add to this post, do just that: add to this post. I have a policy of not moderating comments on this site unless absolutely necessary, but any more personal attacks below may get deleted (feel free to disagree with me, I can take it, but I don’t like seeing Philip or Jim or Jarred being called names that you usually hear in a school yard, not as part of adult discussions). I’ve left the rest of the post, with my own thoughts, untouched.
First of all, I find it interesting that part of the debate was over an agreement (explicit or implicit) that Philip not talk about the problems he had with the camera. First of all, that’s ridiculous. There is a very clear delineation between beta testing something without going public and buying something with your own money. You beta test things without paying for them — if RED sends you a camera free of charge, they absolutely have the right to say, “please let us know if you have any problems, we’re working out the kinks.” Your payment for enduring those “kinks” is they lent you the camera for free. But if you spend $60,000 on something, you are a customer, and you have freedoms as a customer. Including saying whatever you damn well please. You can’t have it both ways — which it seems is exactly what RED and the “mystery” higher-up is asking for from Philip.
Based on my own experience with my SCARLET so far, I also find it odd that there was supposedly an agreement in place. Usually when you open a camera package you expect a warranty card, a printed manual, CDs with software and drivers, some sort of service contract with numbers to call, more documents that upsell you on accessories… for my SCARLET, at least, there was none of this. Just a (very securely packed) box with the “brain” inside. I’m not even clear on the terms and conditions of my warranty — presumably I can go back to the RED site and find this, but I haven’t had the time to hunt around.
Anyway, like Philip, I am here to try to educate and to share my experiences, as objectively as possible. Because I controversially ordered a SCARLET, I’ve been called a RED fanboy in the comments recently — although, on the other hand, a few posts from this site were also shared on REDUSER with the headline “NoFilmSchool articles bashing RED EPIC” (after a few pages, the original poster went back in and replaced “bashing” with “on,” after several commenters noted that I was just trying to be — shockingly — objective). This is generally what happens when you try to remain objective: some people say you love whatever it is you’re talking about and others say you hate it, when your relationship with anything in this world is always more nuanced and complicated — whether that be your relationship with your phone, your camera, or your significant other. Ultimately, I’m not looking to love or hate my camera — it’s a tool, great for some things and not so great for others, and it only matters to the extent that I can utilize it to achieve what I’m going for. And “what I’m going for” over the next year is to make my first feature, Man Child. If my camera is not reliable, that could get in the way. If I somehow end up on the shit list of the higher-ups at the manufacturer of said camera, that could also get in the way.
And this is what is unique about RED — the “agony and the ecstasy.” The agony of RED is that they’re a startup as opposed to a huge corporation, and that brings with it rough edges: long wait times and unknown backorder periods, convoluted ordering processes (my order history page, for example, has not been updated to reflect what items have shipped and which items I’ve canceled or changed), the risk of getting buggy or unreliable equipment as did Philip, and the fact that important information is often buried in a thread in REDUSER (RED changed their RED Armor extended warranty after their SCARLET announcement, so that while you could originally order the extended warranty anytime in the first year of ownership, you must now order it prior to your camera shipping — and this appeared deep in a REDUSER thread and on the online store, with no notice to those who had already ordered). But the ecstacy of RED is also that they’re a startup as opposed to a huge corporation: they do ambitious things like shipping a 4K camera when everyone else is working with 1080p, they price their 4K brain at $9,750, they give you trade-in pricing on your RED ONE, they offer upgradeable sensors (the importance of which cannot be overstated, I believe), they invest in building future 4K projector and 4K playback systems for lower prices than anyone else, and they make most of their stuff (except their outsourced components) right here in the U.S. of A. The fact that they’re a startup, therefore, is both to their advantage and disadvantage, and as someone with a startup of my own — which is what this site is, really, and if you don’t believe that come back in a year or two — I understood when ordering my own SCARLET that I was buying into a more volatile ecosystem than that of Sony, Panasonic, or Canon. But it’s an ecosystem that I believe has a higher ceiling than those other manufacturer’s, and it’s an ecosystem that I feel a certain kinship toward given my affinity for scrappy, ambitious film startups.
Philip Bloom is probably #1 on the “people you don’t want to start a pissing match about cameras with” list, along with Vincent Laforet. And despite the fact that I have not been a prolific shooter to date, thanks in small part to my very visual and very cheap web series from a few years ago, and thanks in larger part to this website at present, I’m also somewhat high up on that list. If you Google RED SCARLET-X, in fact, you will find multiple posts on this site listed on Google’s first page — above any result from RED.com or REDUSER. After the two most popular search terms for this site, which are fittingly “no film school” and “nofilmschool” — no surprise there — the top two search referrers are “red scarlet” and “red scarlet-x.” So, like it or not, this site is going to be a source of news and opinion about RED going forward.1 And going forward, at no point in shooting on a RED do I plan on being silent about any issues I run into — but this is the SCARLET, which is sold to the masses, not the “beta” EPIC-M. So hopefully when (not if) I share what I like and dislike about the camera, I won’t get on anyone’s shit list. We’re all just here to make the best movies we can and sharing our experiences honestly is the best way to help each other. Because, really, all of the technological advantages of your camera go out the window if you’re sitting in the director’s chair on the fiftieth take of the most important shot in your film, the actors capture lightning in a bottle, the assistant cameraman nails the focus, the sound guy give you the thumbs up — and your camera crashes.
- As I’ve said before, this will not change the focus away from DSLRs and other DIY solutions — with more writers, this site will cover more topics more effectively. [↩]