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Only RX0: The New Scientific Filmmaker

The reality TV of the past is changing, and it’s happening, in part, because of technology. In the past, natural history filmmakers had to rely on “staging” events because it was simply impossible to capture action as it happened. This practice was rationalized by the belief that there was a greater good to be served. Behavior could be shown to a wide audience and even if that behavior wasn’t 100% “real” it was helpful in driving understanding. The downside was that there was a temptation to let a pre-determined, dramatic  narrative drive the science rather than letting the science drive the narrative.

Now, using small high-quality cameras like the Sony RX0, a new wave of scientific filmmaking is emerging. Donald Schultz is one of the filmmakers at the vanguard of this new wave. “Scientific filmmaking is where you have really rigorous science at work and that’s what you’re filming. Rather than asking scientists to perform for the camera, you're documenting these scientists with cameras. It’s a subtle difference, perhaps, but it’s an essential delineation. Scientific filmmaking is much more authentic.”

In his short film showing what’s possible with scientific filmmaking, Schultz worked with a small crew and Sony RX0 cameras. “The film was all produced with just myself and a cameraman in the field. It was all authentic. We went out for days with scientists from two different universities and we were able to work with them in the moment. Because we’re working authentically, the scientists are becoming more production friendly and allowing their research to be documented better. And with the change in equipment to the RX0, we have high speed, low light capable, deployable, waterproof cameras. And not just one, but 10 or 15 on a shoot. Things that weren’t seen before, now are routinely being documented.”

The shift to scientific filmmaking doesn’t mean the films are less interesting and entertaining for the viewers. On the contrary, because Schultz can do so much with a small RX0 camera, his films are even more engaging than the narrative driven, pseudo-science that has been dominating cable TV for so long. “When I started filmmaking, 2008,” Schultz explains, “we'd have four, maybe five cameras in the field. Two big cameras and two lesser cameras. And no more than two, or three cameras running at a single time. With the RX0 cameras, when we're in the field, we can easily have five or more cameras and because pixels are free, we can have them all going at once. We’re getting very high-quality images and we can afford to let them all run for an hour to capture 10 seconds of truly-interesting and exciting real behavior.”

He continues, “Animals, don't usually listen to direction, they don't usually do things on cue and they don't like people. Having a small camera with a small footprint gives us more opportunity to film natural behavior. If you have 10 cameras, you can film discreet little areas while you still have cameras on the main area of a scene. The more opportunities you have, the luckier you get.”

Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote about luck applies…”I’m a great believer in luck. I find the harder I work, the more of it I have.” As Schultz continues to work hard as a scientific filmmaker, and as he gets the tools to enable to him to see and record real behavior, his luck will continue to get even better.

Donald Schultz is a Sony Artisan Of Imagery. See more at donaldschultz.com