Here at Australian Videocamera, we recently had the opportunity to interview Grant Petty, the CEO of Aussie company Blackmagic Design about his thoughts on the industry in Australia and abroad.
We covered ground from the NBN to da Vinci Resolve and Aussie movies to television in this wide ranging interview.
Many thanks to Grant for his time.
Blackmagic Design has grown in leaps and bounds – and stature in the industry – over the years. To what do you mainly attribute the success to?
I feel the reason we have grown quickly is because we are customers. I spent years working in the television industry and dealing with equipment manufacturers.
However I was an engineer, so my job was to make the editors and colorists look good for their clients by ensuring all the equipment worked smoothly. I have continued that culture into Blackmagic Design.
We are not here for ourselves but to make our customers look good. I don’t think people understand how hard people work in the television industry. It’s not an easy industry and the hours are very long. But it’s exciting.
My job and Blackmagic Design’s job is to help as much as we can. To help customers get their work done and to help them explore new ways to be creative.
Some time back now, Blackmagic purchased Resolve and Fusion. What was the game plan behind those decisions?
When we originally acquired DaVinci Resolve, it was mostly because the company was legendary and it was in trouble. We thought we could help turn it around.
However, the DaVinci Resolve software you see today is very different to the product it was when we acquired it 10 years ago. It has evolved quite a lot. Originally, it was a color correction only system that was sold at a price of $250,000 to $850,000, depending on the configuration.
After our acquisition we transitioned it to a software only product because we knew modern GPU’s could be used for the image processing and we ported it from Linux to Mac and Windows operating systems. We massively expanded the engineering team, redesigned control panels and modernized the user interface to improve quality. Selling control panels meant we could make the DaVinci Resolve software free of charge to help get people into color correction. This has worked and most program productions now use color correction.
We then expanded DaVinci into editing. Originally we just needed better interchange between other NLE’s and DaVinci Resolve, however the NLE market started to change in ways the customers were very unhappy with. So, we worked hard to add really good editing. DaVinci is a major NLE in its own right and many people use it just for editing, even when they don’t need to use the color correction tools! We then continued on that path and have integrated Fairlight audio post production tools, as well as Fusion visual effects tools.
Where do you see VR going? Do you, like many, see it the same as 3D was – in other words a dead duck? A nice idea looking for a reason?
I always feel you need to be careful not to get overly excited by new technology. Often new technology is used to sell products but it’s not really that important for most people. However the problem we have is we just have to adopt all new technologies because with DaVinci Resolve, we need to ensure major film studios can deliver into all formats they need. Including VR and even 3D!
VR itself is exciting for remote use applications and for some kinds of shooting. Of course, it’s also wonderful for gaming. There is no clean answer to some of these questions because there is always part of the industry that needs these technologies. So I do think VR will continue to grow because there are more opportunities for different uses for it.
Although Australian in origin, BMD is well and truly a global player these days. But on the Australian front, how do you view the future of streaming – both live and on-demand – considering our abysmal state of the Internet with restrictive speeds, bandwidth and in the real world, an almost unworkable system in the regions and country? (Satellite etc)
I think the idea of doing the NBN was a good one and optical fibre is essentially future proof as you can just change out the equipment at each end and keep upgrading its speed. The cost was laying the fibre and that was a nice idea.
Also, it’s important to understand the state of the industry back when it was initially proposed. We had a government telecom giant that had been privatized and essentially owned everything. That did have to be broken as Telstra was horrific and much worse than they were during their government days.
However, it became politicized and turned into a mess. It’s now a bit clunky and chaotic. You have the government rolling out a national infrastructure to ensure low cost because it’s hard for private industry to do it at an affordable price. But then they run it like a business to get a return on investment to help pay for it so the prices go up. It’s idiotic and incredibly badly run.
But this is common in Australia and every infrastructure project is destroyed by fighting as everyone tries to get their greedy hands on the money to be made from it. I think people in Australia need to start creating wealth instead of fighting over it.
They would have done a lot better by just contracting for ships to lay as many undersea cables as they could to as many counties as they could. In times of conflict, the internet cables will be instantly cut. The more links to the country the faster access everyone will have and the better protected the country will be from attack.
How important is broadcast hardware – apart from cameras – to Blackmagic’s game plan?
It’s all part of a wider range of gear we build to help customers get what they need. A good example is converters. There were other companies building them, but customers needed a monitoring solution when using our HD capture cards. So we built an SDI to DVI converter to use a computer display as a HD monitor. That was unique at the time.
But we also had other companies trying to block us out of sales channels and resellers by telling these resellers they could not sell our products if they wanted their products. These companies would use access to their wider product range to block us. So we just built those products and the problem was solved. Resellers could just purchase from us.
The manufacturing side of the television industry really sucks. Some companies behave terribly and make up the most amazing stories about their competitors and I think it’s because their sales people are all on commission. If they don’t sell they don’t eat. We don’t do that and Blackmagic staff are not on commission.
Do you have any thoughts on the movie industry here in Australia? Are we in the world league? Can we successfully make content here for Netflix, Amazon and the upcoming other streaming systems such as mooted from Apple etc?
Of course. I think if anyone does not believe they can produce a television show or feature film that has worldwide appeal then they are totally denying their humanity. Australia has to get past the Crocodile Dundee era. Although, I do think The Dish was the most perfectly crafted filmmaking I have ever seen. Perfectly cast, perfectly shot and an amazing story.
I might get into a bit of trouble here by saying some of my thoughts on the film industry in Australia, but why do so many Australian films seem to be based on some smart city person going to a county town where all the local people look stupid. It’s very strange and it’s condescending. People in country towns do have the Internet. They are not that different. I grew up in a country town.
People don’t want to watch Australian films because there are Australians in it. They want great stories. Films showing Australians acting like idiots is really repetitive and boring.
Australians travel a lot so most people around the world have met an Australian at some point in their lives. The world knows Australians. What people love is great stories and there are lots of good stories here. Focus on a good solid story with worldwide appeal. There is nothing wrong with that and it’s exciting because it keeps the film industry busy and profitable. The quirky stuff can then happen in amongst the profitable films.
When filmmakers are doing great stories, the film blows people’s minds. The talent is here and able to do the work. It’s all about the story. When you think back to the films that have done well in the past, the truly great films, it was the story that did it. That’s why the original Crocodile Dundee was so surprising. Sure it has great panoramas of Australia, but it was a great story. That film still holds up today and I watched it recently on Netflix.
For more information on Blackmagic Design, please visit www.blackmagicdesign.com