When traveling the country several times each year to attend trade shows, conventions or festivals, Local 600 Business Rep Michael Chambliss is on a mission to promote members’ expert skills and secure new work in emerging technologies. As Local 600’s Production Technology Following the Next Wave – Local 600 Stays at the Forefront of Developing Technology Specialist, Chambliss is helping to ensure that Local 600 stays abreast of the industry’s cutting-edge technology and its impact on 600 members’ jobs and union jurisdiction.
“Employers historically use technical change as an excuse to whittle away at union jurisdiction, betting that our contracts will become increasingly irrelevant as the work evolves,” Chambliss said. “With the advent of autofocus still cameras that shoot video, producers claimed that focus pullers would no longer be required. Then they claimed that digital downloading could be subcontracted because it wasn’t film. Then they attacked the technician’s rate for wireless focus because everyone is using it. Now it’s drone cinematography, social media photography and reference cameras used for mocap.”
“Through the evolution of digital cameras, there has been generation after generation of new equipment for our members to learn,” said Chambliss. “One of the traditions of cinematography is that DPs and camera crews are responsible for acquiring the image and seeing it safely delivered to post-production. We have had to fight for our digital positions and our role in the digital environment to make sure that tradition is upheld.”
Local 600 members have long recognized that the future of their jobs and crafts depend upon embracing change through aggressive negotiations, defensive grievances, world-class training and by positioning Local 600 members as thought leaders in the industry as new areas emerge.
“New developments come at us fast,” said Chambliss. “If we’re not in front of them, we’ll never catch up. Look at what happened in the VFX industry. When producers have questions about how to implement new technology, we gain a critical first-mover advantage when they get the answers from expert Local 600 members. We’re setting the tone of the dialog with union voices and claiming Local 600’s place at the table.”
What began with digital cameras, data-centric workflows, and for publicists, the impact of social media and 24-7 news cycles, is now shifting to production methods based on computing power, network connectivity and a new generation of consumer displays with stunning capabilities. This year’s headlines are high dynamic range (HDR) production, virtual production, the demands of working with large sensor cameras, cloud workflows and 360 capture.
“The focus challenges of working with large sensor technology will help fortify the position of our Local 600 camera assistants,” said National President Lewis Rothenberg. “With the limited depth of field, having well-trained focus pullers will be increasingly more important. HDR is another great opportunity for our DITs. The technology necessary to properly monitor HDR on set, as well as protecting for SDR, is going to increase the need for our highly technologically advanced digital imaging technicians.”
With the new technology comes new creative and practical challenges for the artist. 1st AC Christopher Silano has spent many hours wrangling images into large format.
“It’s very frustrating to deal with because there’s a large chip but most of the lenses don’t cover it. Looking at these images, they look horrible,” Silano said. “Now more than ever, we need a DIT because nobody really knows where the image is or what they’re looking at.”
Sometimes making progress is a protracted fight and other times it’s a patient push with the help of industry allies that get the big boat of our industry to turn. “We noticed that drone technology was on the edge of coming to our sets back in 2012 at IBC in Amsterdam,” Chambliss recalls. “We got to work, and when the FAA made drone cinematography legal in 2014, crews from five of the original seven companies met at Local 600’s offices to become members. The question of Local 600’s jurisdiction over drone cinematography is still in arbitration, but we didn’t go into the fight hat in hand. Some of the best drone crews and aerial DPs in the world are members speaking out for their right to work under union contracts.”
In contrast, Chambliss points to the recent launch of Filmmaker Mode, an easy way to set up TVs to watch content the way it was viewed in the grading suite. The development of Filmmaker Mode was a collaboration between the UHD Alliance, filmmakers, consumer electronics companies and Hollywood Studios. Annie Chang, VP of creative technologies for NBCUniversal representing the UHD Alliance, Toshi Ogura, Sony’s Distinguished Chief Engineer, and representatives from Netflix joined Local 600’s “Maintaining Creative Intent” panel at the 2019 HPA Tech Retreat.
“With TV becoming the primary distribution media for a vast amount of our members’ work, maintaining the integrity of the look through to the consumer is an important component of producers realizing the value our members bring to their productions. For two years in a row, we sponsored panels at the HPA about managing the look of the image from the set to consumer display,” Chambliss said. “Obviously, Filmmaker Mode was an industrywide effort, but Local 600 had a role, keeping the light focused on what would benefit our members while discussions carried on.”