The Pro App Paradox (Part 3)

Writer’s note: more an exploration of ideas and rabbit hole of links, than a coherent argument.

Featured image: tweet in reference to the introduction of Apple‘s iOS app: Cards.

In the final part of this series I will explain why content creation tools are the antithesis of Apple’s design philosophy.

From The Pro App Paradox (Part 2). Written over 7 years ago!


Major” motion pictures are “logistically complex [projects] and difficult undertakings, much like waging a small war.” Therefore the software tools used to tackle these complex problems will have more in common with architectural and medical software, than anything used to consume motion pictures.

3D Modeling

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Maya Editor overview
Screen Grab from the Autodesk Maya’s webpage.
Revit Structure Revit Autodesk
Just kidding, this is Revit. Also by Autodesk, but for architects.

Compositing

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Features of Nuke Foundry.png
Screen grab from Nuke’s webpage.

Traditional Nonlinear Editing

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Media Composer - Video Editing Software - Avid
Screen grab from Media Composer’s webpage. Used by 90% of motion picture editors.

Now let’s compare that to Apple’s websites for…

Final Cut Pro X

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Final Cut Pro X
Clean interface for daaayys…
Screenshot-2018-6-29 Final Cut Pro X(1)
Screen Grab from Final Cut Pro X’s webpage.

iMovie

Screenshot-2018-6-30 iMovie
“But you can’t make editing mechanical,” the Avid curmudgeon.

Keynote

Screenshot-2018-6-29 Keynote
Apple’s webpage makes using Keynote look like fun!

There is an inherent tension between complexity and simplicity. Apple is erring on the side of simplicity. (Link, Link, Link, Link, Link, Link. Each of those is worth a read BTW!) And because of that they are making software that probably won’t ever be used for complex tasks; like making Thanos awesome!

On the other end of the spectrum, the motion picture industry accepts the role of the Vfx Editor. Although I think those days are numbered. Hiring a person to do something that computers are way better at doing is inefficient and soon enough Adobe’s Toggle Proxies and Fusion Connect are going to be better than pension payments.

But here is the thing; I don’t think Apple is wrong.

IMG_0956
From Google’s June 26th Los Angeles Media Summit

At a recent Media Summit Google hosted a panel with three interesting players in the Vfx space. All are moving away from infrastructure: Sony is moving towards virtual workstations in the cloud. The Mill already renders everything on the cloud. And the Foundry’s new cloud platform, built on top of GCP, is using Machine Learning to calculate accurate bids, among other things.

You don’t need to read tea leaves to see that there isn’t much long term value in creating a killer workstations anymore. Making killer thin clients is where the future is at for Apple. The interesting question is going to be: so what happens to the file system?

Dinosaurs and the Intelligent Assistant

Matthew Weiner describing his show Mad Men:

“The story to me is about the onset of a subversive ethnic point of view that has not yet poked through to Sterling Cooper. They’re dinosaurs.”

Man-Men-secretarial-pool
When was the last time you’ve seen a secretarial pool?

A good secretary can perform a range of functions from typing letters, to booking travel arrangements, and picking up lunch. And it used to be that every middle manager in an office had one. And yet, despite the wide range of “activity flexibility” a secretary offers, how many do you work with today?

The cost of employing a human being was slowly offset by good enough technology: the copy machine, the fax machine, the personal computer, the internet, and the smart phone. Technology isn’t better than a secretary, but it’s good enough and doesn’t require health insurance or a pension!

I believe the role of the Assistant Editor is undergoing a similar change. Fifteen years ago the ratio of Editors to Assistant Editors was 1:1 or 1:2. Today I see production companies that have two or three Assistant Editors spread out over two, three, or four shows! Advances in Machine Learning and Deep Learning are only going to accelerate this trend.

If you only read one thing this week, I highly recommend Philip Hodgett’s post: Maybe 10 Years is Enough for Final Cut Pro X. In it he articulates how machine learning and deep learning are already transforming tools like Premiere; making them “good enough” for hundreds of thousands of editors around the world. These tools are only going to get better and better. At what point is “good enough” going to replace the cost of health insurance and a pension?

Project Management in the Motion Picture Industry

Interesting paper by the Project Management Institute from 2008 that surveys the state of project management practices in the motion picture industry. The entire paper is worth a read for two reasons. Firstly, it frames the challenges of production into traditional “project phases”. Secondly it compares film production to other creative endeavors (video games) and other industries (pharmaceutical R&D). Below are a list of highlights with my thoughts in bold. Now if only I had access to the underlying research…

  • The motion picture industry, not often represented in the project management discourse, is an industry that is expected to provide a unique perspective for the study of project management. I chose to research film project management due to its wide appeal yet limited presence among project management references, academic sources, and published literature. This paper attempts to uncover and capture the significance of project management practices to the motion picture industry. My goal is to contribute these findings to a wider project management community.
  • DeVany (2007) also compared film production to pharmaceutical research, where both industries have had statistically similar results in producing successes.
  • They asserted that traditional management strategy was inadequate for explaining the existence of the motion picture industry, whose project-based and mobile structure left parent organizations such as film studios lacking long-term knowledge, experience, and permanence. I am curious to see how they compared production to traditional manufacturing. Contrast with the smiling curve.
  • They used interviews with a small number of film professionals to show the importance of trust, available hierarchy, and trade jargon to the efficient operation of the film crew as a virtual enterprise.
  • In a study of more than 300 films to determine whether marketing could overcome poor quality, Hennig-Thurau, Houston, and Sridhar (2006) found that quality was the stronger driver of long-term revenue. Reminds me of the quote from James Cameron: “No audience was ever won over because a film came in on budget.”
  • Simon (2005) explained that the management of creative projects such as film production involved specialized leadership skills. Such as…
  • In a controversial and more extreme position, Zackariahsson, Walfisz, and Wilson (2006) asserted that a formal project structure actually inhibited the natural creative process. This assertion wasn’t adequately proven by their work in the area, which was limited to a single case study. Interesting!
  • Because of her background in formal project management, Cheklich was able to bridge the two professions of project management and film production, drawing parallels and reiterating the importance of financing, scheduling, budgeting, and communications.
Table 1. What Film Phases Map to the PMBOK® Guide?
Source Film Phase Project Phase Comments
Brook, 2005 Clevé, 2006 Postproduction Executing, closing Production and postproduction overlap; editing of raw film, sound, effects, printing, delivery
Worley, 2005 Postproduction Controlling Primary phase; less risky synthesis stage

 

  • As a primary concern of project management professionals, risk management appears to be a key and driving force behind the practices of today’s film production projects.
  • Their answer to the financial risks endured by remaining in a much less lucrative, unstable, and unpredictable movie market was to restructure the business of filmmaking into what it has primarily become today, a purely project-driven business Does this represent an opportunity for studios to hire cheaper labor by offering stability and healthcare?
  • [Studios] They were free to utilize a broader resource pool of talent, and they were free to control the amount and frequency of films they undertook (Jones, Lichtenstein, Borgatti, Hesterly, & Tallman, 1999). Both benefits theoretically would appear to mitigate the greater financial risks of film production experienced in today’s business climate. However, Phelan and Lewin (1999) arguably claimed that this flexibility was more costly to the studio.
  • Table 3. Who is the Film Project Manager?

Who is the Film Project Manager?
Too many cooks?

  • “The producer’s role is to turn story ideas into profitable cinematic entertainment, and to persuade others to share in his or her commercial and creative vision”
  • In addition, an entire staff known as the production office is typically required to perform project management duties (Producers Guild of America, 2005
  • In many cases, the unit production manager handled the logistics of production while the line producer worked to manage payments to contractors and vendors during production and served an accountancy role.
  • Motion picture production has been deemed similar to other industries such as software development and pharmaceutical research. … What makes motion picture project management different from many other industries, however, is the degree or intensity in which these fundamentals are applied, and by whom. Film production is unique because it is a logistically complex and difficult undertaking, much like waging a small war. Urgh… the comparison to violent endeavors really needs to stop.
  • Primary research in the form of a motion picture industry survey, with an adequate sample size, would help to clarify, expand, or dispute the findings in this paper.