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Is Good Enough Good Enough?


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#1 Tim Tyler

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 01:37 PM

This is an interesting conversation from the guys who run AlphaDogs post in Burbank.

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#2 Kieran Scannell

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 05:25 PM

This is an interesting conversation from the guys who run AlphaDogs post in Burbank.

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Thanks Tim! That is an interesting conversation and is something we all wrestle with our whole professional lives!
For me, up until now, good enough is as good as I have been able to get it! If that makes any sense!

And you?
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 06:05 PM

"Good enough is the enemy of great"... true... but also "perfect is the enemy of good"... also true...

Now I've figured it out, we live in an imperfect world!

It was a good discussion, and relevant. One thing they hint at: digital tools start out at their worst quality due to limitations of data capacity, etc. but as that limitation goes away, people have gotten so used to the lower quality that they aren't automatically demanding a return to the higher level, at least in terms of audio. (I blame that partially on the fact that we have a whole generation of people going deaf from playing loud music in earbuds, etc.)

I see it as a synergistic event, people and technology meet halfway, each causes some evolution in the other to take place. People demand that digital images look more like film... but over time, they get more and more used to digital images as well, so in the end, they generally accept some sort of hybrid look.

So I don't think it's as simple as standards are always getting lowered, sometimes they are, but sometimes the demand alters into something that never existed in the past because the new technology allows new ways of using the image, music, etc. So there is a lateral move into new territory. And sometimes standards lower and then rise again. Up and down, side to side, the standards keep altering and mutating.

We argued for years that HD was not good enough for feature work and now that it's possible to shoot higher-than-HD for digital movies, it's possible to see a raising of standards, resolution-wise, closer to what we had in the past, and maybe beyond someday.
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#4 Tim Tyler

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 12:33 PM

The "good enough" attitude is everywhere too. You can see it in the clothes most people choose to wear, the food we grow and buy, and in the average employee's work ethic.

Many aspects of the feature film business are fortunately an exception to this rule, I expect partly due to the rental structure which requires things to last a long time to yield the most return on investment, and the lack of job security that most film professionals have. These situations clearly reward "better than good enough" and ensure that "the best" usually saturate the business.

The consumer video market and old-style television production world do not always strive for this longevity though. "It's good enough for TV!", right? "Good enough" can be seen in the proliferation of Bogen fluid heads, every DIY dolly, and the indie filmmaker interest in poor quality eBay "pro lights" from abroad. I don't mean to suggest that frugality is unimportant or that ingenuity and innovation should be dismissed, but 95% of the time you get what you pay for.

I don't think there's any question that the film vs. video debates have boiled down to video being good enough or not good enough, but that's not my point here.

Good enough is not good enough. Evolution proves that Better trumps Good Enough. There probably is no Best, but always setting the bar high and striving for the Best can create winners of those with patience.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 12:40 PM

Good enough is not good enough. Evolution proves that Better trumps Good Enough. There probably is no Best, but always setting the bar high and striving for the Best creates winners of those with patience.


I'm digressing... but I'm not sure if that is the lesson of Evolution, which is more that "if it has an advantage in reproducing, it will trump something that doesn't" -- in technology, this can mean ease of use and proliferation can trump quality. Evolution has little to do with continual or gradual improvement over time per se. In biology, it's more that random genetic changes may or may not give something an advantage in survival and thus reproduction.
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#6 K Borowski

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 01:02 PM

David: The sad thing is that good enough is probably a far better survival instinct than perfect (never good enough). Think about it: The caveman that is always in fear of the saber tooth tiger attacking is never going to go out and drag cave woman back to his cave. He'll always be too petrified with fear to go out.


Unfortunately, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. There are examples of the decline in quality of Egyptian Mummies up until the point the practice died out around the time of Christ. The process started on a primitive level, plateaued, then declined and died out.

That cycle has certainly happened in the stills world: Look at Facebook. I'd say the camera phone easily outdoes the grainiest, sub-miniature film size in terms of being the worst all time image quality.

The first permanent photograph ever taken, the courtyard shot where the shadows are on both sides of the wall the exposure is so long, is arguably better than some of the content produced today.




As far as clothes, Tim, I wouldn't speak too soon. At least in the U.S. we no longer view powdered whigs, black robes, bands or full-length dresses, high-heeled boots, bone corsets, and petticoats as more formal than modern dress clothes, except when we are getting PhDs maybe.

Maybe 200 years from now, a pair of jeans and an open button-down shirt with a faded T-shirt underneath will be considered formal. That's an exaggeration, but not by much.
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#7 Tim Tyler

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 01:44 PM

I recognize your point, David, but I was thinking in less biological terms.

I think we could agree that technologies advance and improve over time gradually due to sometimes unexpected or "random" changes. Our cameras and codecs certainly can't evolve on their own, but updated versions are often alterations with features and technological improvements suggested through field experiences and user expectations. Good Enough technologies that don't excel or that can't be improved upon won't survive when something Better comes along.

Evolution has little to do with continual or gradual improvement over time per se. In biology, it's more that random genetic changes may or may not give something an advantage in survival and thus reproduction.


Such it is for Genetic Drift processes, but does Natural Selection allow, for example, that a superior technology, skill set, or understanding might prove more successful in an environment over time (downplaying economic influences) than one that is simply good enough to fill an immediate need?
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#8 Tim Tyler

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 01:47 PM

...we no longer view powdered whigs, black robes, bands or full-length dresses, high-heeled boots, bone corsets, and petticoats...


Speak for yourself. ;)

Seriously though, I was thinking more in terms of quality than style.
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#9 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 01:58 PM

What I've seen missing from the discussion is an objective definition of what "good" IS. Who's to decide what good, better, and best is? The benchmark seems to be that "film" is the "BEST!" and everything else is automatically inferior and always will be.

Says who? These are all just opinions based on a variety of things, like a person's personal bias, experience, tradition, fear of change, etc.

What's ultimately important is the story being told and that the medium used to tell it is appropriate. Maybe film IS the best for many stories, but not all. Sometimes a "bad" quality format is "BEST!" to tell a specific story. Something like "Blair Witch" comes to mind.

Yes, we should all strive to achieve the "BEST!" images we can, BUT that doesn't mean "Film!" It means the "best medium to tell the specific story at that time within the given parameters."

Film looks good! For sure! But I wouldn't choose it to shoot something like a nightly news report. "BEST" is a subjective idea.
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#10 Tim Tyler

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 02:20 PM

To me, Good means Acceptable.

Like I said in my first post, the Film vs. Video debates is a reference, not a point. Please, let's not go there. I was just illustrating that our discussions here are often about specific Good Enough examples but not necessarily about the pervasive Good Enough attitude.
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#11 Kieran Scannell

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 05:09 PM

To me, Good means Acceptable.


So by that token if good means acceptable what is good enough? You all make very good points but ultimately gauging what is good is highly subjective.
Even in our field we try to make everything we do the best with what is available to us, but is it good enough?
Sometimes I think good enough is all we can hope for. But strive for better!
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#12 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 06:38 PM

There are often shots I do that I ultimately just have to be "finished" setting up. Not because I can't envision anything better, but because the time and other resources aren't available to make it "better" or "THE BEST!"

Often the best I can strive for is "the best I can do given the circumstances and parameters." So, does that means I've settled for "good" or "good enough"? I guess it depends on your point-of-view, but I'd say definitely not. Again, if the benchmark of "BEST!!!!" is 70mm 3D IMAX with Dolby THX Surround Sound, then yeah, I fail miserably every day because I've settled for "good enough." But in the realm I work in, I more often than not DO accomplish "the BEST!" possible given the circumstances.

Terms like "good," "good enough," "better," "best" are just so subjective and misleading in that they inherently ignore external parameters that potentially limit what could be achieved otherwise in a different environment with other circumstances and resources.

I had a couple of setups over at Fox on Friday that I wouldn't dare put on my reel (if I had one). But under the circumstances, they truly were the "best" possible on that day in that place with what I had to work with. If I did the same thing tomorrow over at Amblin, I'd likely never work again, but I know that my circumstances WILL give me more to work with so I don't have to worry about it. Tomorrow, anyway. Tuesday is another day. :)
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