The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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After last month’s column about language and set procedure, we are still thinking about language. It seems to us that language can lead you astray or lead you to knowledge.  We are struck by the current use of the word “technology” as a stand-in for anything related to electronic devices. According to Wikipedia, “Recent technological developments, including the printing press, the telephone and the Internet, have lessened physical barriers to communication and allowed humans to interact freely on a global scale.”

So, “technology” refers to almost any machine or technical solution to a problem, from the printing press to the Internet.  The original printing press was not an electronic solution, but still a technology. What is “high technology,” we wonder, and what is it higher than?

We have also tired of the terms “transformative technology” and “disruptive technology.” All technologies are potentially transformative in one way or another. Take the invention by Bell Labs of the touch-tone keypad in the 1960s. The father of human-factors engineering, industrial psychologist John E. Karlin, figured out how to position the keys 1-2-3 across the top — a design alive and well on your iPhone. This also facilitated all-digit dialing. As a result, the wonderful phone numbers that combined letters and digits disappeared: MAin-1-2345 became 621-2345. Soon, area codes were added, creating 10 numbers per phone. At a party Karlin attended, a guest reportedly said to him, “How does it feel to be the most hated man in America?” That’s “transformative technology,” big time, if everyone hates you.

Precision with language makes us better communicators, and on set, that makes us more efficient and sometimes safer. Recently, we heard of a cinematographer who became frightened by a helicopter pilot’s aggressive maneuvers while riding next to him and operating a nose-mounted camera. As they came around for another take, the cinematographer said, “Cool it on this take!” Of course, he got another hair-raising take, because “cool it” meant one thing to the pilot and another to the cinematographer. The cinematographer should have been more specific, or, as he noted in his post on the Cinematography Mailing List, “I needed to not do another take and diplomatically suggest we land for a time out.” That way, more precise words could have been used without the roar of flight noise, and the shot could have been redesigned to be safe. As we mention this, we are sad to note that we’ve heard of five pilots and cinematographers who have died in aerial-filming accidents in the last month.

We have many ways to send words around the world quickly, including e-mail, texting and, yes, even print. Because words are often traveling so fast, perhaps we should think longer and be more precise with them before we press “send.”


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