Film, Pixel, Point
- June 6, 2019
The following is a guest post from Glenn Gainor, President, Innovation Studios, Sony Entertainment & Technology
Let me take you on a journey and start off by telling you that I’ve never publicly shared this story… until now. Some 20 years ago, on a film called “Happy Texas,” I had a problem the night before shooting. It seemed like everything was in order – we had the cameras on the truck, we had the grip and electric equipment loaded; the crew was ready—I had personally spoken to each department head and we had the locations all lined up. Just one thing: we had no film. Imagine that: it’s the night before shooting and one staff member has made a little mistake and forgot to pick it up.
The film provider, in this case Kodak in Hollywood, was closed for the night. I thought for a minute when the solution came to me: “Call the guys who sell short ends. They’re open late. We’ll buy enough to get us through the morning until Kodak opens and we can buy full rolls of film.” And that’s exactly what we did.
It was a potentially devastating problem – but one that is highly unlikely to happen today since we rarely shoot on film. It wasn’t too long ago when filmmaking was a creative process surrounded by mechanical apparatus. Film was threaded manually through sprockets. Mel Brooks once joked that the hardest thing about making a movie was poking all those holes in film reels. I’m happy to say, purely from a romantic standpoint, that we still call our movies “films” even though most people coming up in the business today never had to thread the cellular halloid chemical strips though the sprockets that pushed this film through the gates for exposure. Today it’s hard to imagine making movies without cutting edge technology. It surrounds us in the preparation, shooting, and post-production process.
A generation ago, most innovation came from the backlots, including camera, sound, and lighting departments and the studio color labs. Today, innovation is global and comes from a vast array of industries including technology from the auto world, aerospace, computer hardware companies, cloud services, just to name a few.
Innovation Studios, Sony Entertainment and Technology, embraces the history of the film industry that I grew up in and builds upon it utilizing state of the art technical and digital achievements born in the 21st Century. The company that I oversee is poetically located in the heart of Sony Pictures Studios, where I made my first Screen Gems movie, “Vacancy,” starring Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson. We shot on film, on Stage 15 at Sony Pictures and built a small motel with rooms and an office, and a road that led to it and a gas station and even put a large oak tree on the stage. My friend who ran the backlot of the studio told the director and me, “This is how we used to make ‘em. This is how we should make ‘em.”
And I agree that there’s nothing like building a village or any kind of large set on a soundstage, but the marketplace in our industry is changing. Quite frankly, we’re running out of space on our stages to shoot our movies and shows due to the rise in content creation thanks in part to streaming services and the overall uptick in production coming mostly from episodics.
Our industry has also become much more global since the days when I started making motion pictures. We’re all over the world. We’re in London, New York, Vancouver, Toronto, in states like Massachusetts and in countries like Bulgaria and Australia and France and Thailand.
That’s in part why I saw the need for a new way of thinking. What if we could collapse geography and digitize the physical world so we could bring locations far and wide to one stage, wherever that stage may be, and find new and more efficient ways to tell our stories. Hello Innovation Studios.
This was a grand idea. And we knew we shouldn’t do this alone. That’s why we partnered up with two tech giants—Intel and Dell. We also brought in an enterprise solution partner in Deloitte Digital. Computing speed, processing speed, storage, cloud services, and the steady hand of Deloitte Digital to help guide us through this emerging world of high tech, are all critical components in our need for global storytelling. Yes, this vision requires a group effort, one that can help storytellers with great ambitions tell their stories like never before.
At the onset of Innovation Studios we have focused in on the core principle of digitizing the analog world. We utilize a process called volumetric image acquisition which aims to empower film and TV production with virtual sets. As we have developed this end-to-end process through our proprietary software, we have leaned into our partnership with Dell and Intel to help us solve processing and production challenges that never existed before. We are able to design and define new infrastructure solutions that bring a new approach to how technology can be integrated into film and TV production. As we continue to push the boundaries, we look to the skills and experience of our partnership at Deloitte Digital to help not only extend the technology to new industries but define processes and approach.
Our partnerships aren’t just about what we do at Innovation Studios but are about leaning into each other outside of our day-to-day work. We have become a sort of extended family. What I mean by that is that it takes all kinds of talented people to help us tell stories. We need engineers and craftspeople who understand each other’s needs. We all know one thing is certain in the entertainment industry: the need for speed so we can move our data quickly from camera to editorial to consumers.
I admire those who help us figure out the pressing needs moving enormous amounts of data that help us build digital worlds or in our case, capture analog worlds that we turn into trillions of submillimeter points that are so small… How small are they? You could split your hair seven times before you get to one of our submillimeter points. That’s pretty small. Now imagine trillions of them that you can film in on our stage that utilizes our virtual sets.
I shared this concept with my extended family at Dell Technologies World, their biggest event of the year. As I got to spend time there, I realized that Dell Technologies is also collapsing geographies and industries with the amazing and diverse set of partners they assembled. From AI baristas to top photographers, Dell Technologies was bringing everyone together through its technology and services in this field. It was inspiring to see the creativity, enthusiasm and community around our partner.
So much of what we do is mechanical, whether it’s opening a new business or preserving valuable assets, and what I noticed at Dell Technologies World was a consistent theme: to get things going, we need a strong technology partner ready to help bring our visions to life through data management, data storage, and the processing of this data. In my case, it’s storytelling that ends up on a screen.
When I finally met with Michael Dell, I was happy to say, without hesitation, that he has one heck of a team of people who all share his passion for technology, but they also understand the value of the relationships we make and keep are equally important.
President, Innovation Studios, Sony Entertainment & Technology
Head of Physical Production, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group
Glenn Gainor oversees Innovation Studios, a state-of-the-art facility housed in a sound stage on the Sony Pictures Studios lot. The space features the latest in research and development from Sony Corporation and others in areas including volumetric video and customizable set scanning to help storytellers around the world create content in radically new ways.
Gainor is also head of physical production for Screen Gems, a label under the Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group umbrella, and has been involved with several #1 movies such as The Perfect Guy, No Good Deed, Think Like a Man, Friends with Benefits, and Obsessed. Since joining Screen Gems in 2007, Gainor has overseen the label’s physical production and has served as an executive producer and unit production manager on films such as 2015’s The Wedding Ringer, which held as America’s number one comedy for three weeks.
A cornerstone in Gainor’s innovative approach to film production is the intersection of technology, sustainability and filmmaking.
Gainor shepherded the first-ever use of Sony’s flagship consumer-based alpha 7SII cameras to produce films. He also executive-produced the romantic comedy Think Like a Man, which was the first feature to be shot exclusively with LED lights. Gainor’s dedication to maintaining environmentally sustainable productions began in 2007 when he oversaw the construction of the super-structure for the movie Quarantine. The same structure was repurposed for seven productions including The Stepfather, Takers, and Obsessed. Gainor also swapped out traditional wood based sets for ecofriendly fiberboard panels on Proud Mary.
Before joining Screen Gems, Gainor produced three pictures for Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison: Strange Wilderness, Grandma’s Boy and Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. He executive-produced Nicolas Cage’s directorial debut, Sonny, and served as line producer on the critically acclaimed Panic, directed by Henry Bromell. Gainor coproduced George Hickenlooper’s The Man from Elysian Fields, as well as the top selling Sundance picture, Happy Texas.
Gainor’s efforts in sustainability and technology have been recognized by numerous organizations. Most recently, he accepted The Sir Charles Wheatstone Award on behalf of Sony Corporation from the Advanced Imaging Society. Also, the Environmental Media Association awarded Screen Gems with the Green Seal for implementing sustainable production practices and raising environmental awareness; LA’s City Council has twice recognized Gainor’s commitment to environmentally friendly production practices in Los Angeles and implication of new technology in the motion picture industry; and Gainor received the California on Location Signature Award, for his efforts to preserve California’s film industry and culture.
Gainor is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the Directors Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, and a contributing member of the Motion Picture & Television’s Funds Next Generation.
He is a graduate of the film program at California State University at Northridge, and recipient of the 2010 Cinematheque Award from the Department of Cinema.