ADAPT OR DIE

| 07/09/2012 | 0 Comments

As we all know, it’s a very interesting time of flux in Hollywood these days. Never before have quite so many factors challenged the moviemaking industry, from the major shift to digital acquisition to the innovative cyber models of distribution to the state of the economy, legacy companies are struggling to survive amongst all of the innovators. Post-production houses, after years of doing business the same way – process film, transfer film, print film, etc. – must adapt or else they will have to shut their doors. Fotokem is the only lab left in town for both 16mm and 35mm processing, with Deluxe being the only other lab in town that processes 35mm, but both also have initiatives for on-set digital workflows to stay in the game. Industry vendors, in general, need to embrace change, adjust their workflow and create new service offerings to help filmmakers in the digital age. But at the end of the day, those that refuse to adapt, will ultimately not survive this new technical and economic world of making movies.

On June 26, 2012, the Christian Science Monitor published an article by Justin McCurry titled, “Sony’s Woes Mirror Japan’s” which talked about the problems the company is having and how they reflect the corporate thinking in Japan. McCurry wrote:

“When Sony announced some $6 billion in losses in May along with plans to cut 10,000 jobs, it wasn’t taken here simply as evidence of an iconic electronic titan in trouble. To many Japanese, it symbolized a larger problem: a society clinging to outmoded ways and rigid seniority in a world where rewards increasingly go to the entrepreneurial.”

The article represents one of a handful of older, larger corporations struggling to keep up with the changes in an industry of upstarts and innovators. Sony may be at its own tipping point of a downward spiral unless it quickly adopts and fosters a culture of forward-thinking leaders. It’s important to note the losses at Sony were probably escalated due to the tragic tsunami that occurred last year, which forced the company to cease and suspend manufacturing operations at several sites in Japan. But even taking this devastating occurrence into account, Sony, not too unlike Kodak, is a company whose corporate infrastructure and legacy-thinking may be the cause of their own downfall. By now, everyone knows and has mourned what has happened to Kodak. It was a company that couldn’t — and ultimately didn’t want to — help itself.  It was a company that was in such deep denial of the obvious decline of the film, and risk-adverse to a fault (it shut down its own R&D of a 4-chip digital camera earlier in the decade that could have beat Red and Alexa to the punch), that it’s pretty clear Kodak didn’t have the leadership for reinvention, or they just didn’t want it bad enough.

Historically, Sony has been known to produce superior electronics, from TVs to the iconic Walkman. Now, Samsung is the world leader in high-end TVs. How come, since they had the technology, Sony was unable to produce a music player to rival Apple’s iPOD? How come Kodak abandoned its digital motion picture strategy? It’s systemic to the way traditional companies of yesteryear operate, ultimately making it hard to compete in a world where entrepreneurs are reinventing technical pipelines that, as quality increases with digital innovations, are able to do what the big guys did for many years, on a much smaller budget.

On the other hand, there’s Dolby, an example of a brand and company tied to Hollywood history who is thinking about the future. Known to be the industry leader in sound technology since the 1960’s, Dolby recently moved into, of all things, imaging technology. In 2010, the company introduced a new line of professional LCD reference monitors geared for high-end color correction and viewing in post facilities. When I saw them recently at a trade show, I was not only impressed by the image quality — true blacks and precise color rendering — I was impressed that they were diversifying and adding a new product line that has already been vetted by the industry. The recent name change on the Oscar’s home theater at Hollywood and Highland from ‘The Kodak’ to ‘The Dolby,’ quite frankly, says it all, and sends a strong message.

McCurry’s article sums up what companies in the entertainment industry need to be thinking about:

“Japan needs to address its risk-averse corporate culture, Saito says. “For innovation work, you need crazy thinkers to turn ideas into something. That entails a certain level of risk, but it has to be managed intelligently.”

It’s time to roll with the changes, have an open mind, and develop your own strategy for longevity if you’re part of the Hollywood machine. Whether it’s production, post-production, or even distribution, survival of the fittest means the innovators and risk-takers will continue to make this journey much more interesting for everyone else.

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