No Shortages In Las Vegas, Report on Apple Final Cut Studio vs Avid seminars (Dallas Smith)

[Editor’s note: the following is an abreviated version of an entry Dallas submitted some time ago. As is too frequent, my apologies for the delay in posting.]

Las Vegas Blog

April 20, 2008

Overview: Having just returned from Sweden on April 14, I had one hectic day at home before flying with Susan to Las Vegas to attend two conferences enabled by Susan’s doctoral studies: the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) and the BEA (Broadcast Educators Association). Susan and I flew back to Reno on the 18th. Today, the 20th, I’m in the van with my friend Bill Storey from Columbus, driving back to Las Vegas, via Death Valley, on the first day of a one week video trip to the national parks of Southern Utah.

Las Vegas

There is no shortage of anything in Las Vegas…no energy crisis, no lack of money, tourists, glamour, new construction, fantasy…Fantasy is the guiding principle in the development of Las Vegas…the fantasy of winning in the casinos, the fantasy of a wild sexy holiday. (The most recent slogan: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.) How else but fantasy to explain building a city of almost two million people in the middle of the desert? The newest casinos are based on fantasy themes: New York New York (complete with a fake skyline and statue of Liberty), the Venetian (with gondolas), the Luxor (an Egyptian pyramid), the Excaliber (a medieval castle), the Treasure Island (with daily pirate ship battles), the Hilton (home of the Star Trek experience), the Rio, the Paris, the Bellagio, etc. Single casinos elsewhere may mimic the grand scale of Las Vegas casinos. But the sum total of this concentrated casino development will never be equaled anywhere in the world.

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Prices for rooms and meals are moderate, due to the fact that the casinos just want you to come in the door, knowing that when you do stay with them, the typical tourist will spend money gambling. The scale of Las Vegas tourism is amazing, around 40 million tourists a year who spend an average of several hundred dollars each. There are at least 22 new hotel-casinos under construction now, so if the world falls into an economic slump, Las Vegas will be the last place to notice.

NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) & BEA (Broadcast Educators Association)

Las Vegas hosts the largest conventions in the country. The NAB must have 50-60 thousand attendees…I’m not sure exactly how many. I do know that the largest convention is the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which attracts around 200 thousand attendees. During that convention, all the hotel rooms are booked up, and the hotels double their prices to exploit the visitors. Indeed, prices regularly double every weekend when there is a conference in town.

The NAB caters to people who work in electronic media, i.e. television, radio, movies, film/video production, etc. All major electronic manufacturers exhibit their latest goods. I love checking out the latest video gear, from cameras, to displays, to software. Susan and I met professional contacts in person at the conference that we had only spoken to on the phone over the years. This primarily concerned the hardware vendor from whom we previously purchased our CARE Channel broadcast hardware. Since we are now manufacturing our own hardware, we have not been doing any business with this hardware manufacturer during the past year. However, we must maintain a good relationship with them, due to the fact that we have over two hundred clients to whom we had sold this company’s hardware, and so we must support these clients and their legacy hardware. Last year, when I attended the NAB for the first time, I made contact with a Dutch-based company that provides the internet radio through which we are starting to deliver our music channer, CARE With Music, to hospitals and clinics.

The BEA conference overlaps the NAB and caters primarily to educators who teach media production in all its forms. There were various seminars and classes associated with both conferences. For the second year, I took advantage of the fact that Apple Computers offered a full day of workshops in Final Cut Studio, the video editing software that I use for the CARE Channel. This week of conferences was a quick transition from my career as a musician to that of being a video producer. I love the conferences because they make me feel like I am connected to the cutting edge of the industry, not isolated in Reno.

Interesting Seminars

Apple Computer sponsored a free luncheon for BEA attendees, preceded by an interview with a top Hollywood editor who uses Final Cut Studio. I forget his name. But he is working with Brad Pitt on his newest movie. And as a demonstration, we were shown the editor’s Nike shoe commercial, featuring video clips of some of the world’s most famous athletes. One interesting fact was the announcement that there are now over one million uses of Final Cut Studio. The latest version costs $1200. But just assuming that the users spent an average investment of $1000 each, that means that Apple has grossed one billion dollars from this one software program. Apple was proud to announce that Final Cut is used by 80% of all independent film makers. Apple places its products in as many universities as possible to train students and thus develop future customers.

Apple’s primary competition in video editing software is the original giant company in the field: Avid. Avid systems are still the leading high-end systems used in making Hollywood movies. They cost much more than Apple’s systems. As Apple has entered the competition, it has democratized the movie industry in the same fashion as has happened in the music industry. The affordability of editing systems has brought video and music editing within the affordable range of the average person, rather than the technology being limited to multi-million-dollar studios owned by large companies.

Not to be outdone by Apple, Avid sponsored a cocktail party with free drinks and snacks followed by an interview of a film editing team that works in the production of “reality TV” features. I’ve never been a fan of “reality TV”, which refers to the various competitions and contests featuring “real” people, as opposed to professional actors. Reality TV was given a boost by the recent Hollywood writers strike, during which the productions of various dramas and serials were halted. The other factor supporting reality TV is that the shows are much cheaper to make, due to the fact that the amateurs are much cheaper to work with than the professional actors employed by successful series, such as Law and Order, or Desperate Housewives.

Though I am not a fan of reality TV, I now have a greater respect for the “art form” due to having learned more about the process of making it. When a typical drama is made, the episode begins with a writer’s script; then actors are hired and sets are created; and finally, the story is filmed, typically at a ratio of three hours of film/video shot for every hour of edited footage. By contrast, with no script or actors, the reality shows characters are put in a room, or on a tropical island, or wherever, and are surrounded by a film crew who records all their interactions. The typical film shot to edited footage might be 200:1, instead of 3:1. It then becomes the editors’ job to sift through the massive amounts of footage to develop characters and create a story.

The editors interviewed in the Avid seminar were hip Hollywood guys in their thirties, who had worked their way up through the industry to their current heights, based on their successes along the way. They shared with us their creative processes from concept to realization. Their demonstration included a showing of the various steps in transforming a simple interview into a complex production with sound effects and many quick edits to shots that illustrated the story that the interviewee was telling. For a visual medium like a movie or television episode, the telling of the story is the key element. We don’t want to be distracted by technical considerations or editing tricks…the viewer just wants to enjoy the story being told. I think there is an analogy from the movie world that can be applied to the music world: Too many musicians are caught up in the process of making the music, such that they lose sight of the basic musical “story” that the listener hopes to enjoy in the course of the concert.

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