20
Jul
12

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BLACK ART……anymore

The Internet has given us unprecedented knowledge at the end of our fingertips. Until the last decade, if someone possessed detailed knowledge, it would bring financial, business and personal rewards.  If you were very specialised in a particular field you could become a consultant, be the go to person for businesses and individuals around the world.
The Internet has opened up knowledge to all, whatever field you are in, in any industry, information on your job, what you do and how you do it is available online. The days of just a handful of textbooks and a few limited experts in certain fields having the only information is gone. Now, whether it be Wikipedia, research sites or forums, whatever your industry, it is likely that the information someone might need is online, they don’t need to consult an expert, and that might mean you.
Now, to the novice and the people that do the actual hire, this is fantastic-a double edged sword though, it has no doubt leapt us forward as a civilisation and democratised knowledge, but
what if you make a living from your knowledge and your practised skills?
Does the fact your customers and clients have information available to them, the tools at the touch of a button to do the work that until ten years ago they would hire you to do, does it now impact on your earnings?
For us in the media industry, after years of training and learning a craft, particularly those that are freelancers, find themselves in competition with those that have scoured the Internet for tips and tutorials on everything from lighting, producing, directing, to sound to editing, grading and vfx etc etc. While this access to knowledge is powerful, in my experience those that come to us for interviews, or work that I see shot by DoPs that haven’t risen through the ranks invariably isn’t that good, finding the gems takes us many hours. The sheer ‘chatter’ of people, those that are DoPs, editors, producers, directors, colourists etc mean the industry is diluted, and the people that hire are left with a mountain of choice with both perceived skill but also with, most crucially, wide ranging daily rates-yet their job title the same. Whatever your industry, the number of ‘experts’ has grown immeasurably and they’re advertising it online, and this for me is the big negative of the Internet. For a company, we find it so useful to purchase random bits of technology with a few button presses, where before we’d have to ask an engineer to hunt it down with his/her contacts, now I just google it. When kit breaks, we just have it replaced. When software won’t do something, we google it. What does that mean for traditional engineers? Not good.  However, when you really want to know something detailed, and want to know the information is accurate, the Internet becomes just chatter, full of inaccuracies and novices.
Every person you speak to will counter that it’s now about client skills, delivering on time-the first time, and within budget.  This is all true, but the argument is shall we a) not add to the chatter, giving away our skills to those that can’t repay via forums b) embrace the democratisation of industry and skills and find a way to make it work for us, both in our careers but also financially. After all, you can make a film yourself on £100-300k with decent kit, and that wasn’t possible ten years ago. You can trade money from your computer without a broker, you can make a website and sell your skills for £100 a day-using iWeb, or make music using GarageBand on a laptop for corporate clients, for the price of a hot sandwich.
When you add this up, does this mean that the person that hires you has more of less respect for your ability?  Or has it meant that you’ve got less work and are being paid less for it?  Does it mean that more people are able to work for themselves, and that if you’re a medium sized company with low-medium fee paying clients your shelf life is running shorter and shorter because you’re in direct competition with someone with no overheads who will do it for half, or less, than your company can?

There is no such thing as a ‘black art’ now, experience is not worth what it was.  There are clients of yours that refuse to use someone cheaper with less experience-they dont want the hassle, but are they the old guard, how long till they are replaced or forced to go cheaper?  Does a cheaper product in the end hurt the purchaser, does a rubbish piece of music, or a badly designed website, or a cheap online advert shot on a 5D camera make your products look cheap too?

I’m not sure on the answers, so will all the people and the chatter please discuss?

Thomas Urbye
MD and Senior Colourist
The Look
London

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