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Appily Ever After… pt 3

Posted July 18th, 2011 by Ben

Most interesting and sadly least ready of all the apps I’ve noticed recently is ShotList. This would be a killer app if only it didn’t break my first law of apps – just being an app is not enough.

ShotList first caught my eye because I’ve recently been struggling with an old-school Movie Magic schedule produced by my production manager. A few details of the shoot had changed and there were also a couple of sequences that we wanted to film later than scheduled for creative reasons. As ever with a schedule, what started out as a couple of tweaks soon left us chasing that metaphorical bubble in the philosophical wallpaper and before you could say “print it out and attack it with scissors” we were printing it out and attacking it with scissors.

There’s something clunky about a computer screen when it comes to rearranging production strips, something unnatural. Once everything was off the desktop and onto the table top things got a lot easier. So the thought of an app that would enable me to recreate this fingertip shuffling process in the digital realm made me very excited.

And in principle it still does. However, like the DSLR Toolkit, ShotList is still in first release stage and has a lot of growing up to do. Similarly, as with the DSLR Toolkit, the developer, in this case Peter Johnson of SolubleApps, is responsive and keen for feedback from filmmakers so the app can quickly grow. This is all very positive as there is a great deal of potential for ShotList to become an essential tool.

It already has some cracking ideas behind it. You can store storyboard frames/location photographs and associate them with each scene in the schedule. You can email updates from within the programme. You can save the whole project to a dropbox for ease of sharing with your crew. And of course in the middle of it all, you can, as I hoped, rearrange your filming plans with the flick of a finger. Beautiful.

There are though two big things that currently stop it being truly functional. The first is that there’s no import or export function. The second is that there’s no import or export function to or from anything. So, in my earlier situation I’d have still been printing out the schedule on real paper, cutting it up with real scissors, sticking it back together with real sellotape and then getting my real brother to retype the whole damn thing into his real computer. This is frustrating because, as I said before, as soon as you start having to retype digital data you know that there is a problem with the workflow.

I mention the import/export problem twice just to underline that what I would never consider doing ever is retyping the information my PM sent me into the app using my iPhone touch screen keypad. On the SolubleApps site Peter talks about using the app either for small shoots or to make a day-by-day “to-do” list for a bigger production, so clearly they don’t imagine anyone would input an entire six-week shoot direct into the app. But I really can’t see myself even typing up a morning’s schedule using only my iPhone. Perhaps if I had the app on an iPad it’d be different but whilst I think of the iPhone typepad as an exceptionally responsive and easy-to-use keyboard for a display not much bigger than a business card, it’s still a tiny fiddly thing and a film schedule is a lot of typing, each scene is a lot of typing. Again I come back to my second fundamental principle – if you’re ever retyping digital data something has gone wrong.

As I said at the start being an app is not enough. Mirroring existing technology or processes on the iPhone is of no value if it doesn’t bring additional benefits. What’s also strange about the current design of ShotList is that it seems to imagine the production process ending when someone shouts “Cut!”

The real smart work of the Movie*Slate app is that the shooting notes you create in it transfer directly into the edit. How much better would that be if the notes started out in the schedule? Yes the Movie*Slate input system is well designed and full of handy short cuts for instantly throwing in common details like “close up” or “tracking” or “interview” but considering most of these notes will pre-exist in the form of the shooting schedule this is still really just extraneous retyping.

The process of making a film is about the flow of information from the mind of a writer into the mind of a director into the working day of a camera crew and on into the edit suite. A wireless, digital, paperless way of passing this information seamlessly through that chain would be blissful.

I don’t want to damn ShotList too much. Like I say, this is the first release and it does represent a solid start. Regular updates are planned in the coming months and apparently import controls will be coming, depending on take-up levels and the accessibility of each particular file format.

I do though have to say that £17.99 is far too expensive for an app without these features. When fully functional I really can see this being an essential piece of kit and something that would justify that price tag… if my PM could do a schedule in MovieMagic and I could put it into ShotList, fiddle with it, send it back so she can change it again, then send it to the crew who then add in camera details, time code and shoot notes before once more beaming the information over to the editor who drops it seamlessly into the edit programme… well I’d gladly pay double for that! For the time being though I think that encouraging people to try it out with an introductory price closer to the DSLR Toolkit’s £4.99 would make much more sense.

Having the schedule and storyboard linked and updated on my phone is a very tantalising prospect. Being able to update everyone’s schedule at the touch of a button is very very tantalising. Being able to reorganise data with my hands is gorgeous. This app has a lot of promise and a potentially very bright future. If it was cheaper I’d tell you to buy it early and help shape the direction it takes, sadly as it stands I don’t have to remind you that you can still pick up decent scissors for £3.

  1. Ben Blaine

    As I hope is apparent, I’m writing these reviews with the soul intention of bringing great app designers closer to great filmmakers so that the two can make each others lives better. Knowing this review was not wholly positive I sent it to Peter, the developer of Shotlist, in advance.

    Here are his comments…

    ShotList was originally designed as a free-standing solution for small projects, and is the only app of its kind to allow you to do this on mobile devices. I can see why import and export from other formats would broaden its appeal and, if possible to do in each case, this is planned in additional modules further down the road as you mention in your review. First to come will be the ability to import and export to spreadsheet format, which will be included in our second free update. As you mention elsewhere, you can already output the schedule via email, and share it or work co-operatively via Dropbox with others who have the same app.

    Although very low app pricing in the hope of reaching a large market is common on mobile, ours has to reflect the fact that this is a much more “niche” audience than apps aimed at, say, shooting films directly on your iPhone, or even DSLR photography for that matter. At £4.99, say, (which nets us £3.33 per copy after Apple’s cut) it would be difficult to recover our six months of development time already invested from this small potential market, which would not in turn be good for ongoing development. I think what we offer is worth more than a few cups of coffee, and our current pricing compares extremely favourably with the (undeniably far more capable) desktop version of Movie Magic. It would also be fair to point out in your review, for comparison, that their iPad-only companion app cannot enter scene data, only view it, but is priced the same as ours.

    That said, we may try out different pricing strategies in the future, so watch out for any special offers.

    Our current pricing also provides scope for user support, which we have a great reputation for, and the addition of features and changes over the first few months to meet user requests from the real world. Our first update, due for release in a few weeks, improves usability by allowing selection and moving of multiple strips at once and duplicating strips singly and in groups, it also shows storyboard thumbnails on the scene details page, and more. Further additions and enhancements are already being planned for our second update the following month.

    I hope you get the chance to revisit ShotList in a few months and see how it has developed.

    ***

    Just an update to say that we didn’t expect the app price rises that happened across the UK in the App Store today- this pushed us up to £20.99, which does sound rather steep.

    I revised the pricing band downwards to £17.49 just now, and we will see what effect that reduction has in other territories over the coming week (most of which haven’t changed price structure, and will therefore see an effective reduction) before deciding whether that will be permanent.

    Cheers

    Peter

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