Tech Overhaul for Filmmaker Follows Industry Trend

A scene from “The Darkest Matter.” Credit: Dawnrunner

It didn’t occur to filmmaker James Fox that his production company had been using the wrong computers until he was in the midst of his most ambitious project to date.

Fox and his crew at Dawnrunner, a film and video production company based in San Francisco, were assembling the company’s first feature film — “The Darkest Matter” — when the speed of his Macs began to slow under heavy workloads.

The Apple products struggled to process the complex special effects Dawnrunner wanted in the film, a project that largely functioned as a marketing vehicle for the company to demonstrate its versatility and story-telling chops to Hollywood, Fox said.

Fox can joke now that his crew got better at the video game Rock Band while waiting for the Macs to catch up with the creative process.

But time is money in any business, especially for a small business competing in a massive industry, and Fox got serious once production wrapped up.

Fox said he switched to Dell and now recommends to others in the industry that they also quit Mac cold turkey.

“The worst part of it is standing at the edge, looking at that cold water,” he said. “Just do it. You’ll be a month in and say, ‘We should have done this years ago.’”

The overhaul at Dawnrunner in early 2012 followed a trend that was precipitated by Apple’s release of a new version of the Final Cut Pro editing software.

Professional video editors and producers have complained that Final Cut Pro X excluded features and could not import projects from previous versions.

Moving to Dell Precision Workstations equipped with Adobe Premier for editing and Adobe After Effects represented a major shift for Fox, who began using Macs for production work as a college student more than 10 years ago.

Fox’s evolution during his work on “The Darkest Matter” suggests the importance that powerful technology holds among filmmakers.

The film, a sci-fi survivor story involving children on an abandoned space station, was “99 percent green screen,” Fox said.

“The actors and whatever they were holding in their hands were real,” he said. “Everything else was computer-generated.”

Many production companies that have made the switch have eased through the transition, but Dawnrunner opted for an immediate change over.

“We just kind of ripped the Band-Aid off, and I think we’re better for it,” he said.

Fox recalled seeing workflow speeds jump immediately, even with the initial learning curve. Dawnrunner today is working 30 percent faster using Dell Precision workstations, he estimated.

Faster production times have enabled Dawnrunner to accept more projects and boost revenues, he said.

The company is now looking to Dell for help in establishing a way for its employees to work remotely.

A new arrival at the Fox household seems to have something to do with that.

“I have a 6-month-old at home so I’m trying to spend as much time there as I can,” he said.

Nick Clunn is an award-winning journalist who has worked for several websites and daily newspapers, including The Record in New Jersey. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at Montclair State University. Follow him @NickClunn.

Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn is a journalist covering the tech beat and an adjunct professor at Montclair State University. He lives in New Jersey, where he had worked as a staff writer for several leading daily newspapers and websites.
Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn
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