Use The Right Tool For The Job

May 11, 2011

“Mr. Natural sez, Use the right tool for the job” – was probably the most famous line ever uttered by R. Crumb’s archetypal character, none other than Mr. Natural himself.

You’ll notice Mr. Natural never said “Use the Shiniest Tool” or “Use the Newest Tool” – he was all about the “Right Tool.”

That implies getting the job done, and in our business (media creation and distribution) it means using the best you have access to when the story is happening around you or the creative urge strikes.

Personally, I have never been an early adopter.  I usually upgrade when my acquisition technologies are old enough to be relegated to the museum. By that time, I have finally figured out how to use a fraction of the capabilities of my gear.

And when I acquire, I look for the manufacturer shedding fabulous technology at a fraction of its premium price… after a new model comes out, or when some crazy marketing urge strikes them.

Media acquisition, editing and distribution technology is phenomenally good these days. But today’s technology will seem primitive by comparison to  tomorrow’s. How long do you want to wait?

See the video above? Let’s play guess the video acquisition technology:

  • Cell Phone Camera
  • Laptop/Tablet Camera
  • Point and Shoot in Video Mode
  • Lowest End Consumer Camcorder
  • Highest End Professional Video Camera.

Answer – really, it could almost be any of them. And if you are watching on a laptop, or a smartphone, or a tablet – the way more and more of us viewsers consume videos – it may not really matter which you use.

Commercials and feature films are now being shot on Digital SLRs instead of industry standard Panavision cameras. Our cell phones have better video quality than the camera that captured the “One Giant Step for Mankind” moon landing.  And the video images captured on cell phones are being used by news outlets every day. Think revolution in Egypt. Or Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. Or the images of all the passengers, awaiting rescue, standing on the wing of that US Airways jet miraculously piloted onto the Hudson River by Captain Chelsey Sullenberger.

Throughout much of my career I have worked with staff who longed for better gear. They always said – If only  I had a bigger lens or better graphics capabilities, or faster rendering times – they dreamed about better gear, then went back to work on the old stuff they had, and then went on to win an Emmy or AP Award or Golden Mike or some such.

Hell, I in my heart, I, too, lust, for newer, bigger, better specs.

But I have learned that it is not about the technology.

It is about telling the story with what you have… and basing your creative decisions on your experience, your instincts, and yes, the limitations of the technology you are working with.  It’s a much more practical, and satisfying way to approach storytelling.

If the story is good, it will transcend the technology.

And the right tool for the job will be what you have at your disposal when the story starts to make itself apparent.

So use what you have, get the story. Then tell it. Your perspective, your take does matter.



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Larsen May 13, 2011

Great article, Alex. We’re in the process of developing a video-based testing & training app…and it’s very easy to get lost in the weeds. The options are dizzying!
Mark L. (SOM ’96)

Viewser May 13, 2011

Thanks, Mark –
Let me know whether I can help with any weed-wacking!

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