Michael Cioni, Founder of Light Iron, addressed a seminar in Tokyo to celebrate Panasonic’s 100th anniversary and warned the company to stay close to cinematographers

As the head of a post production house that edits 150 movies and 500 episodes of television every year, when Michael Cioni talks film people tend to listen.

Recently acquired by Panavision, his company website proudly states, “Light Iron didn’t invent post production services; it merely perfected them.” Given that a mere 80 people process three movies and ten TV shows a week, they’ve earned the right to make the claim. 

Cioni won five Emmys by the age of 22, predominantly because he saw the transition to digital cameras before the rest of the industry. It is this future gazing that makes him one of Hollywood most inciteful thinkers.

At the Panasonic Cross Value Innovation Forum, held in Tokyo October 30 to November 3, he took a look back at Panasonic’s contribution to the industry, and cautioned over the company’s next step.

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Keep the Creatives Happy

The Chicago native urged Panasonic to listen to creatives when developing the products of the future, claiming that without creative buy-in manufacturers are bound to fail. 

He spoke of the industry needing to address a “Technative” audience, in order to find a balance between technology and creative. “Sometimes creatives are left out and that leads to products that don’t fit the bill,” he added.

Get the Workflow Right

Purchasing decisions will be made less on how cameras look and more on how they work. How fast can you offload data, how does it work underwater, will it work in a fast car on a crane, are all considerations. In 2013, Cioni worked with session moderator Taka Mitsui, Chief Engineer of Cinema Camera Development, on the development of the VariCam 35. 

“If you have the best camera in the world, but it doesn’t have workflow, very few people will use it,” he warned.

Cioni pointed to the dual native ISO on the VariCam 35 as an example of technology that helps the cinematographer, referencing Theo Van de Sande, a graduate of the Dutch Film Academy and an award-winning Cinematographer, as an advocate of the faster workflows that can be achieved through shooting in low light at 5000 ISO.

Digital Streaming a Threat to Both Cinema and Creativity 

According to Cioni many cinemas are adding more speakers, double stacking projectors and adding rumble seats, reacting to a decline in movie goers by trying to make a trip to a movie theater an experience. “It makes superhero movies better,” he said “But it won’t make a comedy funnier or a drama more emotional.”

Such decisions mean that ultimately the technology will drive the content which could in turn mean the likes of Amazon and Netflix will be the domain of genres such as comedy and dramas, which won’t be suited to this new world of cinema.
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A Three Line Part

“There are only three lines in the movie business, the bottom line, the deadline and the horizon line,” in the opinion of Cioni the last is the most important, as it’s the guys who are able to look past the current and predict where the industry is headed.

Quoting co-owner of 2929 Entertainment and chairman of AXS TV, Mark Cuban, Cioni said the “in the tech industry, the one constant is change”, horizon thinkers are able to “anticipate where things are going.”

Such an example came in 2001, when Panasonic launched the original VariCam, in the process creating a new market of HD documentary. The camera’s use on the BBC’s Planet Earth, started a trend that continues to this day and has evolved to shows such as Manhunt for Discovery which  crosses the line between documentary and movie, and is filmed on the VariCam 35 in water and outdoor tough conditions.

The Greats, Make Enemies

“When you make a big impact, you have fans,” says Cioni. “When you make a huge impact you have enemies. It takes courage to make some enemies in order to remain a leader.”

Looking back to prove his point Cioni referenced Panasonic’s decision to ignore the market in 2005 with the launch of the HVX200. “Panasonic was a forerunner in file based media, while the rest of the industry was going tape and optical media.”

He urged Panasonic to ignore what people want, rather anticipate what they need. “People hated you at the time, but look where the industry is today, Panasonic was right on the money predicting the future,” he added. “People will follow you because of your courage.”
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The Panasonic Cross Value Innovation forum, the fifth and final official celebration of the company’s centenary year is taking place in Tokyo this week, 30 October – 3 November 2018. There is loads of content on the event microsite: https://www.panasonic.com/global/100th/forum.html