I had the honor of being invited by Canon Middle East to their filmmaking panel during CABSAT 2014, and it was even bigger of an honor to have shared it with filmmakers I respect such as Ali F. Mostafa (City of Life), Ashraf Ghori (Xero Error), Egyptian actor Khaled Abul Naga among others from Canon themselves. The topics at hand ranged from challenges within the regional film industry as well as advances in technology and how filmmakers have and will benefit from that. It was a discussion that was informative and expertly moderated by the lovely Lina Matta and me being the youngest filmmaker of the lot, I managed to voice a lot of things from that perspective.
Here are the four major takeways that I think filmmakers and artists should gather from the overall discussion:
1. Technology has changed everything.
The DSLR revolution that started in 2009 with the Canon 5D Mark II has undoubtedly revolutionized filmmaking as a whole. I remember buying my first DSLR – a Canon EOS 600D – back in May 2011 and in the very first time I used it, I realised the potential I was carrying in my hands. A camera capable of producing cinematic images for a price that I can afford. And coming from cheap camcorders to shoot my earliest films, it was a massive leap. And sure enough, the DSLR revolution has given birth to a whole new breed of independent filmmakers by making the technology accessible for everyone and removing that major barrier from the equation. You can now shoot a feature film on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and many independent feature films have actually been shot on that camera and released in cinemas. The democratisation of filmmaking started with Canon, and now a whole host of other companies have jumped in to take things even further into a future that looks extremely bright for filmmakers. So sure enough, the advent of digital was the beginning of a revolution for indie filmmaking but the DSLR really cemented it into something and movies will never be the same again.
2. But technology isn’t everything.
Khaled Abul Naga talked about how the award-winning ‘Microphone’, the film he acted in, was shot entirely on a Canon EOS 7D. It completely freed their approach to filmmaking and it was a better film for it. However, he was also quick to point out that not every tool is right for every job. Just because you have access to a DSLR doesn’t mean that you have to shoot your film with it, and multiple factors go into the process including what you really want to say with your film as a whole. But the most important thing is that now more than ever, it’s the content and story that is key. A lot of filmmakers I know worry that a downside to the DSLR revolution is that it has led to a huge increase in films made every year and that’s a problem as audiences have a very saturated market to choose from now. But as Quentin Tarantino once said in a panel, it doesn’t matter if 20,000 films come out each year shot on DSLR because most of them will be mediocre. That may sound like a generalisation, but having the right tools doesn’t automatically translate into a good film without the other elements that make a film regardless of the equipment. So if your film has the technology as well as a great story to tell which is told in a great manner, rest assured that your film will leave all the other thousands of films by the wayside and rise up on top. The future of filmmaking still belongs to story.
3. It’s a movement, not an industry.
Ali F. Mostafa, the director of City of Life (UAE’s first major feature film) and his upcoming road trip comedy From A To B, clearly spelled when asked to comment on the state of UAE’s film industry that UAE doesn’t have a film industry at all. In 2013, there wasn’t a single feature film released that was directed by an Emirati or UAE-based filmmaker. Before that, we had Sea Shadow in 2012 and City of Life way back in 2010. One film every two or three years isn’t what you call an ‘industry’. But what UAE does have is a film ‘movement’, an actively growing scene where young filmmakers are creating content while the country itself is slowly adapting to the idea of being a country where film output could be created regularly. To that effect, lots of film comissions and organisations have taken place and the art scene has seen lots of support lately. There are still massive challenges to overcome like the prohibitive nature of the legal paperwork and exuberant permit fees, but I’ll leave all that to a much longer post in the future. Point is, it’s a rising movement that I have no doubt will one day turn into a fruitful industry. And smart filmmakers need to take advantage of its infancy now and jump in.
4. The future holds exciting things.
There couldn’t be a better time than now to be a filmmaker. The revolution that was started by Canon has now seen major interest by electronic companies looking to push the limits of the image quality that can be achieved in a small form factor. Canon evolved their DSLR line into their EOS Cinema range of cameras with the C100, C300 and C500 which delivers absolutely stunning 4K resolution – something that, unlike 3D, isn’t a fad and in a couple of years will be the standard format for media content (and can be credited to RED for really kickstarting). Canon was smart to offer 4K resolution recording in a DSLR form factor as well with their EOS 1DC, and other companies are jumping into it as well with 4K becoming more and more affordable whether in DSLR form factor or larger production cameras for bigger sets. Point is, whether you’re a Canon, Blackmagic, Panasonic or Sony user, you’ve got to be excited about the direction our industry is heading. Pictured above is me with a C500, a camera that shoots images so brilliant that it’s responsible for a number of recent feature film productions including Ron Howard’s Rush. Yes, I’m holding casually in my hand the camera that shot a big budget award-contender film by an Oscar-winner. Think about that for a bit.