Collaborative. Digital. Action!

In 2008 Canon released the EOS 5D Mark II. This was the successor to the synonymous (Mark I) camera that made full-frame DSLRs accessible to people unwilling to spend a small fortune to get one — the EOS 1Ds usually costs around $8,000 when a new revision of it is released.

But it was also the beginning of a revolution that went well beyond still photography, redefining an ‘art’ that was, until then, totally barred to mere mortals; a revolution in cinematography. 5D Mark II, and a year later 7D, featured HD video recording capabilities with quality that rivalled that of high-end professional digital camcorders. Canon had a winner in their hands, even though, by their own admission, they never meant to create a tool for cinematographers, but allow photojournalists to take short videos. Many of the limitations of the 5D Mark II were removed by community firmware, such as Magic Lantern and Canon itself paid some more attention to later versions of the official firmware as well as the 7D.

An increasing number of (largely independent) cinematographers choose DSLRs to shoot shorts or complement the production of features. They’ve got the flexibility, the lenses, the features and the quality. Sure, there are still missing features and you wouldn’t expect a 5D Mark II to replace RED or the higher-end cameras out there, but for stuff that remain within the limits of HD they’ll do just fine — with superb results. The increased power of software in post (for syncing, grading, etc.) largely negates them.

The HDSLR (a misnomer that has somehow prevailed since 5D Mark II appeared in 2008) revolution is a bottom-up phenomenon; Canon never intended or expected it to happen. But the company is not standing idly by. In 2010 they commissioned a collaborative film contest titled ‘The Story Beyond the Still’, whereby different people collaborated by filming/producing a single chapter in a six chapter story. The winners were picked by a commercial Los Angeles-based director, Vincent Laforet, the film was edited and the final cut appeared in the famous Sundance Film Festival (and, of course, Vimeo) in January 2011. You can watch the final, complete film here (or below); despite the fact that the characters are played by different actors in each chapter, that they were completely shot using Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 7D cameras, despite the fact that this is not a high-budget production, that it is the result of a collaborating community and not the work or vision of a single person, makes it — at least in my eyes — a unique achievement.

But it is much more than that; it is a prime example of how technology is making moviemaking accessible to a much larger number of people. We live at a time where anyone can cheaply create professionally looking films on a shoestring budget, distribute them for free on a website like Vimeo. Films that are artistic expressions in the truest sense, totally unrelated to the laws of the market, totally untouched by commercial concerns of profit, censorship or the star system. Films that compete on those classic values that made early cinema so intriguing, rather than the annoying techdemo exhibitions that define modern Hollywood.

Beyond The Still is not such a film. It is by no means a masterpiece, it doesn’t try to be and it probably couldn’t ever be one. It is, however, a fantastic example of what is possible with modern, accessible technology, love for film making and a collaborative spirit. It is proof that in 2011 independent film makers have little to be jealous of their commercial counterpartsm especially when it comes to the most fundamental aspects of film making: cameras, editing and distribution. I, for one, am looking forward to a world with more independent films, of higher production quality and fewer ‘stars’. Vimeo, and apparently Canon, seem to agree — even if their immediate goal fully remains within the realm of profitability.

You can watch the 38 minute film below.

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