BSC 2020 Roundup

BSC Expo 2020 continues to grow in strength. Full of talks, demonstrations, and the latest kit, this year’s BSC Expo even had film on show.

Anyone who was willing to spend enough time on airliners could probably go to a film and TV industry trade show once every few weeks. The preeminent example is probably the National Association of Broadcasters’ show which takes place in Las Vegas every April, which was always a slightly unusual choice in that, in the days when seasonal production was the only way, NAB coincided neatly with the Los Angeles pilot season when everyone who worked behind a camera was too busy working behind a camera to attend. The list is endless, though; in June, Broadcast Asia takes place in Singapore, with Siggraph, the graphics and visual effects conference, in Los Angeles in August. In September, Europe convenes in Amsterdam for IBC and Cinec in Munich, and then in November it’s back to East Asia for InterBee in Tokyo. There are many more.

That makes the BSC Expo, which this year took place in London from 31 January to 1 February, possibly the world’s first camera and lights show of the year. It’s not clear whether that means much for equipment, in the grand scheme of technical development in the film and TV industry, but given its affiliation with the British Society of Cinematographers, it’s no surprise to find a focus on high-end, single-camera drama. In some ways, it’s almost the British equivalent of Cine Gear expo which has done so well in Los Angeles and, now, Atlanta, in June and October – only without the sunshine.

One of the benefits of timing is that January is traditionally a quiet period in London, and the event is typically a talking shop for crew as much as it is an exhibition of technology. The show has been successful, growing year by year until it outgrew its traditional approach of simply hiring a sound stage. The BSC has perhaps even done something to displace another London show, the Broadcast Video Expo. BVE was traditionally less than a month later until it moved just this year, perhaps to get out from under the BSC’s shadow.

Still, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that a trade show so closely associated with an industry so dependent on freelance interaction should do well by providing a talking shop. Some of the best-attended events were set up by the UK’s crew union, BECTU, for new entrants to the industry, and a lot of film schools were listed on attendee badges. Anyone wanting to get into the film and TV industry is doomed to be bombarded with advice from all angles, much of it dubiously reliable, but turning up to something like that will do nobody any harm, especially since routes into the industry have traditionally been so chaotic. The only concern is how sustainable the current production boom proves to be once someone wins the fight that’s been going on between the over-the-top distributors, at which point they might stop pushing so much money into production. It’s not clear what long-term prospects that offers for a rash of new people.

Anyone loitering by the union and guild exhibits near the entrance might have been distracted, however, by a joint booth run by rental company Take 2 and Cinelab, the film processing facility. With an Arri 435 Xtreme at one end and an SR3 at the other, the booth was one of quite a lot of references throughout the show to shooting film. Arri showed a gigantic 765, the 65mm camera system. It’s hardly news, having been launched in 1989, but film cameras of similar vintage from both Arri and Panavision were shown on cranes and remote heads all over the exhibition. Probably nobody was surprised to discover that Kodak film were there to promote, but overall the 2020 BSC show was heavier on photochemical origination than any major trade show has been for probably a decade.

That’s still not very heavy. It’s not as if every other camera was a film camera, and it’s not clear that there was any master plan behind this. It’s quite possible that some enterprising PR person from a film-relevant company planned the whole thing, and it’s equally possible that it’s a huge coincidence and, as such, a barometer of feeling across the industry. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out at upcoming shows, and, of course, if we actually start seeing more film turned on sets in London or elsewhere.

There’s often a feeling that a trade show should be a place to identify trends, but it’s often hard to get beyond the obvious. The unexpected film overload was obvious, as was the continued interest in cameras with sensors considerably bigger than the super-35mm frame. That’s not unexpected. One thing that does continue to amaze is the apparent demand for lenses, and specifically PL-mounted lenses in a format designed for single-camera work. The busy people at True Lens Services seem to have a new rehoused lens design ready for almost every expo, and Sigma has been doing effectively the same thing, albeit building lenses around glass elements the company manufactures in house. The owner of Sigma attended BSC Expo personally, which says something about the importance with which the company views a market that, in contrast to Arri and Cooke, it has really only just entered.

There’s been lots of other movement in the lens world recently, too, with Canon hinting at a rundown of new EF lens designs and both Sigma and Panasonic releasing very capable mirrorless cameras with the newly adopted, and even somewhat standardised, Leica L mount. The sheer demand for glass is perhaps understandable, though the financial realities are harsh. Even a rehoused stills prime often costs as much as a Panasonic S1H, and a Panasonic S1H, capable as it is, is not a camera likely to be used by people at the high end of feature filmmaking where five figure lens sets are the norm. Still, while it’s perhaps not quite clear where the market for these lenses is coming from, it’s abundantly clear that the market exists.

Sometimes, expensive things even save us money. Such is the case with some of the upscale lighting that was shown at the show this year, and those savings do not necessarily come from sheer power savings. Yes, studio power can be expensive, and there’s no harm in cutting down, but LED area lighting – things like the Creamsource Sky or Panalux’s Sonara - are also much faster to rig and power. It’s sometimes dangerous to speak of this sort of thing as an efficiency, since we’re too used to politicians using the word “efficiencies” as a euphemism for “cuts.” Still, it might not be too great a stretch to suppose that the sheer visual achievement of many current productions is at least partially fuelled by this sort of cost saving, which frees up money for more visible, on-screen niceties. We’d hope so, after all.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised at all this extravagant gear. The BSC expo is, as we’ve seen, a high-end show for high-end production, and we live in a time of much high-end production. Many of the tools being exhibited were the sort of thing that many film crews will be aware of but don’t often encounter. Cars carrying cranes carrying stabilised heads are not everyday tools on most productions. Most shows still won’t shoot film, much as many people would like to. Still, companies such as Helicopter Film Services, whose services include a lot more than just helicopters, report a busy calendar.

It’s hard to shift the impression that this is a boom, and booms are traditionally followed by only one thing, but everyone – from film camera specialists to helicopter crews – seem ready to go while the going’s good. And in glorious 65mm, too.

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