First Person POV: Mark L. Pederson
As the owner of RED ONE serial numbers 6 and 7, Mark L. Pederson is one of the most knowledgeable people about the camera outside of RED staff. Pederson runs the New York–based production and postproduction company Offhollywood. He cofounded the company with Aldey Sanchez in 2003 using one Mac and one license of Final Cut Pro. "We didn't have a business model at first, but we knew technology was going to change the filmmaking process," Pederson recalls. "Production and post were merging together as we tracked a lot of technology and did desktop finishing. For a while we were the low-budget indie option for finishing projects shot with the Panasonic VariCam in New York."
"When we began, filmmakers were shooting indie features with the VariCam and the Sony F-900," Pederson continues. "The consensus was that you had to hire video engineers from post houses. As experts in HD and scopes, they saw a huge opportunity. Part of it was perpetuated by the fact that everyone wants to be an expert, but I didn't think it was rocket science. Today I don't know of any DP in New York City who doesn't know their way around the menu of a VariCam or an F-900."
As Pederson continued working with VariCam productions, Offhollywood also constructed a postproduction facility to support its high-definition features. "We built our company on AJA products, so we knew Ted Schilowitz [who later went on from AJA to RED]," Pederson reveals. "In 2006, Ted told me he was going to leave AJA and build a camera with Jim Jannard from Oakley. I didn't think they could do everything they planned, but if they did half, it would be good enough. I was invited to help out in the NAB booth in 2006 when RED decided to tell the world their plans and price point. During a conference call they decided they were going to take reservations at the next NAB, and I asked if anyone objected to my reserving the first two cameras, serial numbers 6 and 7 [the first five were slated for Jannard]. The ensuing hype astounded me, and a year and a half later, we got our cameras."
Pederson sees his work as not only technical but also educational, as the camera was initially met with skepticism. "Every week we're working with someone who's never shot with the RED before, but that's certainly changing," he observes. "I'm in this business because I like features, and we always try to have at least one indie going. We're making inroads into the ad market so we can earn our keep. We are also building a next-generation production and post-production facility in Manhattan based entirely on shooting and finishing with RED camera systems."
Offhollywood beta-tested early builds of the camera as it was being developed and provided constant feedback while utilizing it in daily production. "It feels like 20 years ago since we got the first cameras," says Pederson. "Now we have eight cameras, and this week we'll have all eight on seven different productions. It's completely changed our business model. At this point I think that RED delivers for the money—the picture is just much better than anything near its range, and Jim is just getting started."
One of the most important areas in which Pederson's techs help production crews is on-set data management. "We do it a couple of different ways, whether it's a small project or a feature," he says. "We try to use the CF cards as much as possible instead of the RED-DRIVEs because they are RAID 0. Someday one of them will fail, and all of the media could be lost. So, we always make productions take two drives and hot swap the drives as often as possible during a shoot day. That way, if one of those drives dies, there's only so much material at risk. That's going to change in the future with the solid-state RED-RAM drives."
Production on the East Coast has always shared a (mostly) friendly rivalry with Hollywood, and Pederson is quick to take note of the differences in approach with regard to RED. "L.A. is more of a tape-driven post market, while we want to push files because the future is tapeless," Pederson says. "It's kind of a joke to make tapes because they become digital files again once they get digitized into an Avid or other system. RED has accelerated things that were already happening with respect to tapeless workflows."
Pressed for more specifics, Pederson points to the world of digital intermediates. "Pre-DI you had your film printer lights. You could say cooler or warmer and push/pull process your developing, which sounds like a zillion years ago. Now there's barely a single feature that hasn't gone through a DI. This isn't just a RED-specific thing but definitely something RED is really accelerating."
Pederson also sees other parts of the production workflow with room for technological innovation. "RED has a whole bunch of metadata in every frame. I want to attach more to the media and really put it to work. Instead, you've got a $60 million dollar movie where the sound recordist and assistant camera technicians are still putting handwritten reports on carbon copy forms that get photocopied and eventually make their way into a binder. Then the editor picks up the binder and puts it up on a shelf. Well, there's no GUI [graphical user interface] for a 5-inch binder.
"We will see, in the 'never-near' future, new ways of collecting that metadata on set and using it throughout the postproduction process," he adds. "Adobe now has speech-to-text translation in CS4, which lets you search your media for a word or phrase, and Avid has a script-based editing tool. The media with the most tags wins. Google is looking in your e-mail and serving you ads based on personal keywords, and sites like YouTube and Netflix have search engines that display media based on tags."
With RED cameras now much easier to acquire than in the early days of the company, Pederson believes optics will be the next area of major activity. "The real war is going to be over glass—there aren't enough high-quality cinema lenses in existence," he observes. "Jim's making new high-end glass, but he can't make it fast enough. The demand is tremendous. Making good glass at a low price point appears to be harder than making the camera itself."
Surveying the impact of the first few years of RED in the industry, Pederson believes change is just getting started. "RED's technology has completely transformed our business," he says. "Our early adoption of the camera system allowed us to leap our company forward. We are anxiously awaiting the new DSMC camera systems from RED to take everything up to the next level."
Mark Pederson's Web site is www.OffhollywoodNY.com.