“Ghost Towns,” a short film created by Luke and Marika Neumann using 8K technology, was in the news recently for its alleged capacity to “break your computer.” (The resolution is so high, none of the screens on the current market support it.) Soon after, YouTube clarified that the platform had been capable of supporting content filmed in 8K for years and would now make it available in the settings options. The arrival of “Ghost Towns” brought increased attention to the upgrade and discussions about the significance of high-quality content almost no one can even watch (yet!) have ensued.
What is 8K? (Or, for that matter, what is 4K?) In layman’s terms, 8K video is currently the highest resolution available to filmmakers. The K refers to the number (thousands) of pixels along the horizontal plane of an electronic display (TVs, monitors, laptops, etc.). For a more conventional reference point, if you currently enjoy the crisp display of an HD television set, regular “high definition” is measured at 1080p, or, 1K. Therefore, 8K is being touted as “ultra high definition,” because it boasts eight times the picture quality to which a lot of us have just grown accustomed.
Most of the coverage about YouTube “going 8K” approached the news from the same angle, that you cannot actually watch the content on most devices. But that is the short, narrow view and misses the point entirely. YouTube is making it possible for creators to upload super high-quality content long in advance of the widespread availability of the technology that supports it. This is not something to mock, it is something to celebrate. YouTube is doing nothing less than future-proofing the platform.
This future is a topic at the forefront of the minds of YouTube creator Scott Winn (aka ScottDW) and Canon, the camera manufacturer that just released the XC10, an ultra-light 4K capacity camera designed for film and still images. It is perfect for creators who want to make content that will live online forever and according to Winn, is especially versatile and useful for the types of run-and-gun shoots creators like himself and friend Devin Supertramp have become famous for producing. Its relative affordability could also help usher in the same type of democratization of content for filmmakers that “recording studio” software has already done for musicians.
In order to shed light on the emerging technology behind the content we sometimes take for granted on YouTube, ZEFR Insights spoke with filmmaker Scott Winn and Canon Marketing Manager Len Musmeci about the company’s new XC10, 4K content, brand partnerships, and the future of digital video.
ZEFR Insights: Describe the process of making “Battle for the Ages” (aka, “Old Man Parkour”). Did early access to a prototype of the Canon XC10 change any aspects of your filming and production process?
Scott Winn: For all of our productions, we spend quite a bit of time making it as high-quality as possible. Usually they can take anywhere from four to six weeks—from conception to pre-production to editing. But this one was a little bit different, we put it together a little bit quicker and part of that was because we were shooting it on this Canon XC10 prototype. The camera hadn’t actually come out yet. We had a very small window to put something together. The good news is that this prototype from Canon is this super-lightweight camera, so that instantly got some ideas flowing on my end, as far as thinking about what we could do that was more run-and-jump style. We normally shoot with big heavy rigs and and transoms. But for this one, honestly, from pre-production to post, it took about two or three weeks. It was very quick. We got the camera just a few days before shooting, so we had to navigate the Japanese menus to figure out how the thing even worked.
ZEFR: What were some of the challenges you faced making “Battle for the Ages”?
SW: Really, the biggest obstacle with this video was that I wanted to make a parkour, action-adventure video, but I wanted it to stand out from the thousands of other parkour videos online. So I decided to make it this little narrative and turn one of our parkour athletes into an old man. Our biggest task was creating the old man. I’ve got a really good friend who is a prosthetics, special effects, and makeup artist. He was stoked. He jumped right in, took a mold of our actor and within a week had the mask made. Aside from that, we assembled our stunt team together and location-scouted for a day, about nine or 10 spots. The day of the shooting, we shot the whole video in like seven or eight hours, just in available light. We were bouncing from location to location as quickly as we could because there were people calling the cops on us, most likely. People don’t want us doing parkour on their roofs [laughs]. So, it was very quick, run and gun. We hit six or seven of the spots. We turned an edit around in under a week. It was quick.
ZEFR: How did you achieve some of those super-high, aerial shots?
SW: A good friend of ours, Zac Eskelsen, has this company called Helivate Films. So we got a drone and the nice thing is the Canon camera is so small and lightweight that flying it on a drone is very simple. You can get higher and faster and run for longer periods of time. Especially on a run-and-gun shoot, it was nice, because in a matter of minutes, we were locked in and ready. We actually shot the whole film only on aerial and MōVI (a hand-held camera stabilizer). We were just running around with a MōVI all day long.
ZEFR: As a genre, why has parkour become so popular on YouTube, attracting millions of views over thousands of videos?
SW: That’s a super-good question because I don’t even know the answer [laughs]. Sometimes these trends on YouTube just come out of nowhere. Parkour has been around for a very long time. Some of the stunts are in old Jackie Chan films. I think someone just finally decided to call it something. Putting a name on it and making videos and putting them on YouTube—it just turned into a trend. Like all trends and fads, I don’t know if it’s going to last forever. There was a year or two where these parkour videos were really popular and getting huge [view] counts. I think we’re kind of on the tail end of it. Everyone’s seen parkour videos. That’s a big reason why I wanted to approach this one a little bit differently.
ZEFR: What is the benefit of having a camera like the Canon XC10 available to creators that make similar content? Why film in 4K when most of us with slower internet access and/or lower resolution screens cannot yet watch this type of content in its intended format?
SW: This a very important aspect for me. We are a pretty niche side of the YouTube world, with YouTube being primarily vloggers. We’re this filmmaking corner of YouTube and 4K has become really important to me online. In one aspect, it’s just saying, “Hey, we’re one of a few channels making 4K content.” So, 4K buyers and those with 4K TVs, they come and look at our stuff. In one sense, it’s just showing that we’re creating content in 4K and then, for me, it’s just future-proofing it. These videos are going to live on YouTube forever. We’re already turning 4K. Monitors are turning 4K. TVs, everything is turning 4K. And down the road it will be 6K and 8K. So, while we can shoot in 4K, why not shoot it in 4K and put it up on YouTube in 4K? It’s going to live on YouTube forever so at least in the next couple of years, people can start enjoying it in 4K.
ZEFR: With so many options for creators out there to upload their content and get it seen, why did you choose YouTube as the platform for your channel?
SW: Honestly, I accidentally fell into YouTube. I’m a filmmaker, I’m a songwriter. I was really going about my career in a more traditional avenue, that is, trying to work in Hollywood and going the film-festival route. So, I made this video about flying cats. It was a concept piece. I just thought it would be fun to make. I wrote a piece of music for it. Several months later, I was sitting on the project and thought, “I should put this on YouTube.” I had friends who were making YouTube content and having quite a bit of success. I put it on YouTube just to see what would happen and one week later the video’s got a million views, the song is in the top 100 on the pop charts and people are asking me to make more content. So, over the course of the last two years, it’s just been a place for me to grow a fanbase and create videos that are getting spread worldwide. Even though YouTube has become kind of my bread-and-butter and I’ve been putting a lot of my focus into it, it’s also allowed me several opportunities to work outside of that, working with brands, like Canon and Ford and all sorts of big brands I’ve always dreamed of working with. What is appealing about YouTube, for the most part, is creative control. If I were to go make a commercial for Canon, an agency is going to be involved and creative and this and that. On YouTube, I get to do whatever I want and that’s the beauty of it. I really, truly get to make what I want. Then, when a studio executive calls up and says, “Let’s talk about making a feature,” that’s what makes it worth it for me.
ZEFR: Has your experience working with brands been mostly positive? Can you share some of what you have learned about partnerships after working with a wide variety of brands?
SW: I think brands are become more used to working with YouTubers and are trying to understand them. In fact, I have gone and spoken at Google and a couple other big companies and I’ve spoken to brands about the importance of letting the creator be creative. That’s something a lot of brands are still learning. As for creators, we’re getting to work with brands for the first time. Some brands are still expecting an agency to be involved and to help write the script, so it’s definitely a learning experience on both ends. The first few brands that I worked with was definitely a punch in the face experience for me. My first brand collaboration ended up being a straight-up commercial. It is one of the worst-performing videos on my channel. From that, I’ve learned—and brands are learning too—there is a fine line. We’ve got to create the content we’re already naturally creating, that our audience wants to see, but then subtly and creatively work in product. Sometimes it works out great and other times it’s like every other comment below the video is like, “Sell out!” [Laughs] It’s just about finding that right balance.
ZEFR: So, how have you been able to work with brands without losing the trust of your fanbase and staying true to yourself? How do you find that right balance?
SW: The more involved you get with the fans, the more fans get to know you and your personality. They know I’m a filmmaker, they know I’ve been chasing big, Hollywood dreams, and a lot of my fans are also young filmmakers who want to be like me and do the things that we’re doing. I have found, even with this thing we did with Budweiser, it became heavily branded. So, there were a ton of comments about it being a Bud commercial. But, they were all extremely positive! The were like, “This is the best Bud commercial I’ve ever seen! Awesome job, Scott. You’re working with a huge brand!” So, they are becoming more accustomed to the brand stuff, but as long as I’m able to have the creative control. For Budweiser, I really wanted to make a Western dance battle. I just wanted to do this Western scene that turns into this totally unexpected bar dance-off. My fans got that. They were like, “This is hilarious. This is totally a piece of content you would make. And it has a bunch of Budweiser in it.” [Laughs]
ZEFR: Arguably, even with all of the complicated stunts, the best moment in your collaboration with Canon–“Battle for the Ages”—is when the Band-Aid falls from the old man’s neck. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s hilarious.
SW: [Laughs] The band-aid was kind of a running joke throughout the whole film. When we were in makeup, early in the morning, someone thought, “We should put a band-aid on his neck. That is so ‘grandpa.'” So, we put it on and in every scene, it kept falling off and falling off and falling off. At one point, someone was just like, “Just take it off! No one is even going to see it!” I thought it was funny. I was pretty adamant about keeping the band-aid on. You never know, it could be funny. Of course, when we get to the alley and he hits the wall in that shot, the band-aid just fell off so perfectly. It was doing that exact same thing all day long, but it never really showed on camera until that moment. It could not have been more perfect.
Interview with Canon U.S.A. Marketing Manager Len Musmeci.
ZEFR Insights: Reading about the XC10’s specifications, it’s perfect for YouTube creators. ScottDW even commented on the camera’s weight and versatility and that it allowed him to do a complex short film in much less time than he usually needs to produce content. Who is the market for a camera with this capability and did that market inform your decision to align with a YouTube creator for this short film?
Len Musmeci: The new Canon XC10 4K Camcorder offers a host of features that lends it to a wide range of markets and applications. Given its size, compact form factor, and 4K video with 12 stops of dynamic range, we feel it is well suited for online content creators, filmmakers, and multimedia journalists. The great video quality, size, and autofocusing features set the camera up to be a great tool for online creators like Scott, while the camera’s ability to extract 8 megapixel still images from 4K video (in-camera) make it a great go-to option for multimedia journalists in the field. A camera like the XC10 will find a home in many markets, but we felt partnering with a talented filmmaker and YouTube creator like ScottDW would help showcase the XC10’s ability to help tell a stunning visual story in 4K.
ZEFR: What value does Canon see in aligning with a YouTube creator, or other “influencers” in social media? What strategy is implemented when making decisions about who or where to establish these collaborations?
LM: YouTube, and social media in general, has helped democratize the art of storytelling. Canon is, at our core, in the storytelling business. Partnering with influencers is a natural extension of that, as social media is the vehicle with which millions of people share their stories every day.
Our strategy for aligning with creators has always been about authenticity. We look for talented visual storytellers who organically use our products. We are not looking to buy advocacy but instead partner with talented individuals who can help us tell our product story to the market through their own creative style. We are fortunate to have a brand and a portfolio of products that many talented creators use and appreciate which helps us tremendously. We feel it is essential to work with storytellers that are technically proficient and whose storytelling styles lend them to the product attributes.
When it came to Scott and the XC10, we felt it was a natural fit. He is a talented shooter himself and someone who is personally involved in every step of the creative process for his productions. He is a great speaker and knowledgeable about his equipment, his process and his vision. We were fortunate to partner with him on “Battle of the Ages,” which we felt would represent a fun example of the type of visual story that this camera can help tell.
ZEFR: Is Canon comfortable allowing creators the freedom to make the content they want, without making the “brand” impression too strong? You mentioned that “authenticity” is an important asset. How do you find that right balance of preserving that authenticity while still making the collaboration worthwhile for Canon?
LM: We try to have as little brand impression as possible when it comes to creator content. The collaborations that we engage in are meant to showcase the features of the camera, and how those features enable the creative minds of the artists. The footage is the star. In the behind-the-scenes videos, we like for the creators to speak authentically about the creative process and the role our product played in it. When partnering with artists like Scott it is important to let them do their thing, they did not get where they are by conforming.
I will admit, we still are a bit conservative and corporate, there may be a scene or phrase we may not want to use for our demonstration purposes, but that should not impede on Scott’s vision for the finished piece. It is ultimately his work and we are happy to be a part of it.
ZEFR: With so many amateur “photographers” out there, thanks to the vast improvements made to cell phones, Canon appears to be investing in a future that caters to high-quality digital video creators who use platforms such as YouTube, journalists, and travelers. What does Canon think that future looks like, as digital video and social sharing of 4K content becomes even more widespread? How does Canon plan to adapt and continue to participate in this fast-moving evolution?
LM: Canon continues to invest heavily in both the digital still and video markets and is proud to bring to market products that feature new and advanced technologies. With so many amateur photographers today wanting to create not only great still images but high-quality video too, there is now a generation of very talented creators looking to tell and share their stories.
The traditional barriers to becoming a filmmaker or photographer are gone thanks to the accessibility and affordability of high-quality digital equipment as well as the popularity of social sharing platforms like YouTube. Today, anyone with a passion and a story to tell can do it. It is our challenge to continue to produce advanced imaging equipment that allows them to grow their art.
As 4K continues to grow, its adoption curve will likely resemble the SD to HD transition, but faster. Advances in streaming technology have made transmission of large video files much easier, and will continue to help the growth rate of 4K content online. There will always be stories to tell and we will continue to produce high-quality technologies that will help people tell them.
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