Camera to Cloud has Changed How I Work as a Cinematographer
I first saw Frame.io Camera to Cloud when a friend of mine invited me to join a demo that Michael Cioni was doing at the Zeiss showroom in early 2020. It was still a prototype, and Michael said he’d been working on it for years.
I remember they had the camera set up, and they rolled a few takes and then Michael took us into the next room to show us what we’d just shot. And our minds were just blown.
Not long after that, I went to work for Frame.io, and I couldn’t be more excited about my job and this opportunity every day.
Plotting a course
I was nine or ten when I first got interested in photography. I would grab my family’s point-and-shoot camera and take pictures of flowers, focusing on things like a drop of dew on a petal. Instagram had just come out, and I’d post my terrible pictures on it (it looks a little different these days). But that’s when I first started to fall in love with photography and composition.
Soon I became known as the family photographer and got a Nikon DSLR and would shoot all sorts of family get-togethers. Then, when I got to high school, I took Darkroom and Yearbook, and was that nerd who really got into the process of developing film.
I took a couple of pictures that I was really proud of, including one of my grandma. I submitted it to a competition and out of more than 17,000 submissions, it made the final 100. That encouraged me because it was something I really loved doing.
When I was applying for college, I thought I might major in photography. But then I went to Biola University to tour their production center and saw their edit bays and that was it. It was the only school I’d applied to for production, and I got in.
I did a lot of camera assisting on student productions and then started getting outside of school and meeting people because I knew how important it was to do that. And then, early in my sophomore year, I was asked to shoot a project and really enjoyed it. Thanks to my photography background, and understanding things like composition and natural light and where to look for it, I was getting positive responses and it gave me a good grounding for shooting.
I kept developing my skills and shot a lot of college and outside projects over the years, and did some internships, and that’s how I eventually met Michael Cioni. Michael was at Panavision then, and I did some marketing for them through Light Iron—working on their website and helping with social media.
About a year after I’d been out of college I got a job shooting documentaries for The Salvation Army that involved doing lots of interviews, and that was a major step forward in my career. While I was there, Michael saw me growing in that role and asked me if I would shoot some interviews for Songbird [the first Union-crewed film shot during COVID in July 2020].
Apparently it went well, and Michael asked me if I wanted to shoot the Camera to Cloud launch video on the Paramount lot. Which was insane—when I was growing up my mom and I went to tour Paramount and Warner Bros., and now I was shooting there!
A few weeks after that, Michael offered me a full-time job at Frame.io, which honestly changed my life.
The first time I saw Camera to Cloud, it was obvious that it was a game changer. Before C2C, like when I was in school or even at jobs outside of school, it was always all about having to back up drives and carry your media around.
A lot of the projects for The Salvation Army involved flying, and we were traveling with these big drives in Pelican cases. They’re huge. They’re heavy. You have to lug them around and if you lose them that’s horrible because it has all your media on it. Now that I’m using Camera to Cloud it seems like an extremely antiquated way of getting your footage around—literally having a carry-on that goes in a luggage bin above you.
Then, those drives have to get to the editors or the post house, where they’re making proxies of all of the raw media, which takes hours, if not days. And then you have everything sitting on drives after the project, degrading. I still have drives just sitting on my shelves collecting dust. I’m never going to upload it anywhere, and if I wanted to get it to anyone I’d have to ship it to them.
It took me a while to fully understand all the ways Camera to Cloud would change things, but what immediately struck me was that I had access to my footage right away. Monitoring on a shoot is generally pretty good so I always had a good idea of what I’d shot, but being able to have my footage with me and watch it at home that night or on a lunch break was really cool.
“What immediately struck me was that I had access to my footage right away.”
If I’m doing a multi-day shoot I can just scrub through my clips and then, the next day, I can make different decisions to make it even better. I can also keep all my reference photos in Frame.io. I can keep my scripts in there, and my lighting overheads. It’s great to be able to have everything I need in one place in Frame.io, and if I want to I can share it with other departments or creatives.
Then, last year we went to the Cannes Film Festival to do our Camera to Cloud presentation. I had a RED Komodo and a Netgear Nighthawk in my backpack with an Orange SIM card, and I was basically walking around Cannes shooting all the clips to the cloud. Michael was directing from L.A., and he could see exactly what I was shooting at the same time, and he could be, like, “That’s great” or “Can you reframe that?” And it was all happening while I was shooting! He was leaving me comments right in Frame.io, on the clips—in real time—so I could make any adjustments right there. That just couldn’t happen with cinema cameras before without handing a card to someone who’s running to someplace with Wi-Fi, plugging it in, and uploading it to the cloud.
And it just blew my mind all over again. Our editor was in Italy, and our other editor was in Ireland, and they were all getting the clips as I was shooting them and cutting them together later that same day.
More recently, we had our editor, Sarah Katz, on set with us for our NAB video shoot. It was a pretty complicated production and we were choreographing a lot of transitional moves to look like a single take. Sarah was there and was able to stitch pieces together to see how it was working while we were shooting. Michael could just walk over to where she had her setup and see what we had to do to improve the transitions.
That experience really solidified in my mind the idea that if you can have your editor working in tandem with you, especially if you’re shooting something complex like that, why wouldn’t you? If you can see a rough cut by the end of your shoot day, you can make better creative decisions—whether it’s getting more coverage, or realizing you actually have everything you need and don’t need anything else.
It’s saving you time and money because you don’t have to go back for pickups, of course, but it’s also helping you creatively. I can’t imagine any producer not wanting to have access to that kind of information as they’re shooting.
I know some people don’t necessarily want everyone’s eyes on their shoot, but for me I think it’s great that stakeholders can see what they’re getting. Someone’s putting a lot of money into that shoot, and they need to be happy with the results. When I know, for example, that Michael’s happy with what I’m shooting, that relieves my anxiety. I’m a person who’s always second guessing whether what I’m getting is good enough, so now that I’ve got that confirmation in real time I can feel confident as an artist that I’m putting out my best work.
What’s also great is that having that kind of instant feedback ripples into other departments. You can adjust your lighting, or change a costume, or fix an actor’s makeup, or whatever you need right there. Or for script supervisors—they can literally look at the actual clip! There’s no guesswork anymore around continuity. A script supervisor can create a database within Frame.io if they want and have the clips of each setup or angle.
And then there’s the idea that you don’t have people crowding around video village. You have different crew members or stakeholders who are interested in different aspects of the playback or something they particularly want to look at. Now they can just have it on their individual devices and can look at whatever clip they want, as many times as they need to. It’s not getting in the way of what anyone else needs to see and they can do it from wherever they are.
“They can just have it on their individual devices and can look at whatever clip they want, as many times as they need to.”
Another thing that happened on that NAB shoot was that we were doing a behind-the-scenes mini-documentary. I was going to be interviewed on camera, so I had to go over to the makeup truck to get ready. And even while I was in the chair while they were glamming me up, I could see what Michael was doing on set. I wasn’t even in the same space, but I could keep track of the lighting setups. It was amazing.
Better creative collaboration
Working at Frame.io means that we pretty much live in it at every stage of a production. From the camera all the way to the final mastering, Frame.io is an essential part of our process.
For one thing, the team is spread out. I’m in L.A., but our colorist is in Vermont. For the past 18 months I’ve been doing color sessions remotely, and I rarely have a face-to-face conversation with him—we do everything through Frame.io. I leave notes and draw annotations to describe exactly what I’m thinking, and it still blows my mind that it’s so easy. It’s also convenient because we’re in different time zones, so I can leave notes at night if it’s late and he can see them in the morning. Or we can work together as if we’re in the same room.
I actually love doing color sessions in person. But what if you regularly work with a particular colorist and you can’t travel to be in the room with them? It doesn’t matter anymore. You can still work with the people you want to work with wherever they are.
Another example is when we did the case study with Old Fast Glass. One of the cinematographers we talked to told us about how she needed to see a lens test. Old Fast Glass is in Burbank and she was prepping in Atlanta, but with Camera to Cloud they could show her the lens test in real time.
What was cool about it is that they came up with that workflow, and it was something that even we hadn’t thought of! My experience has definitely been that the more you use it, the more you realize you can do with it.
The future of filmmaking
When I first started using Camera to Cloud, it was only for high-end cinema cameras. But thinking about how now pretty much any camera can use that workflow, like smartphones with FiLMiC Pro or the kinds of cameras that wedding videographers typically use, it just opens up so many possibilities.
You could be at a wedding, capturing the ceremony, and your editor could be at the wedding or even across the world—it doesn’t even matter. But by the time your guests are at dinner, you could already have a video of the ceremony ready for them to watch.
We’re a visual society that’s built on the idea of instant gratification. With TikTok and Instagram and social media in general, it’s really exciting that so many more people will have access to creating stories. Before, you had to have access to a certain kind of camera to shoot and edit something high quality. But now, it’s wide open for younger people and students. Or for anyone, really.
One of the things I love about working at Frame.io is that I get to share this new way of working with other people in the industry. Recently, I did a demo for other cinematographers at an ASC master class. I stepped through a bunch of the ways that C2C and Frame.io have changed the way I work and I could see how it was blowing their minds.
In fact, we’ll be at Cine Gear this week doing demos and we’d love to show you what we’ve been up to. We’ll be at booth #329, so please stop by and say hello.
I hope that people keep coming up with new ideas for how it changes the way they work and then tell us about how it changes their lives for the better. Because I know it’s definitely changed mine.