In the world of video production and filmmaking gear, sometimes it’s not a typical piece of equipment, like a camera or lens, that really changes how we work. For me, the Sony Digital Paper is a new gizmo that has already completely changed my production, and I think it’ll soon sweep through the creative industry.
For most people, it simply looks like an e-reader. Unlike the Amazon Kindle, which uses a condensed text format, the Sony Digital Paper can work natively with PDFs with graphics and fonts and all the formatting that you can’t get with a simple e-reader. And you can write on it, which makes it attractive for note taking.
That’s welcome news for places like universities and law offices, where people need to pore over tons of custom documents and heavy books on a regular basis. A digital device that promises to actually replace paper - including the look, feel, and usability of everyday documents - is a big deal for paper-heavy industries.
The Sony Digital Paper and Amazon Kindle display a document very differently
But when I first wrote my Sony Digital Paper review, I saw a lot of potential for creatives, and video producers specifically. Primarily, I think this device can actually replace all the physical papers you bring to production, as well as the documents you’re continually referencing on your phone or laptop. And after a few months of real-world use, it’s become an essential tool in my production workflow.
Doesn’t the iPad do all this already? Absolutely, and much more. But where the Digital Paper excels in productivity is in its complete lack of distractions - there are no apps - and because it’s an e-ink screen, the battery lasts up to several weeks. When’s the last time you could depend on an iPad battery to get you through one day of work, let alone a week?
Screenwriting and Collaboration
As a digital e-reader and writer, one of the first ways that a Sony Digital Paper can affect the filmmaking industry is with screenplays and project planning. It makes sense to have printed copies for reviewing and editing scripts and project documents - there’s no substitution for sitting alone with a document, free from distraction, with only a pen for making notes.
Well, that substitution is actually something like the Digital Paper, as long as it can mimic the productivity of working with real paper, which includes being able to read for long hours without eye strain.
One downside is the current model doesn’t have a front light, so it’s not readable in low light
The benefit that the Digital Paper has over a simple paper substitution is in being able to send and receive the edited PDFs between project collaborators. The companion app for Mac or PC can also be set up to update document versions automatically, so you’re always sending and editing the most recent docs.
Video Producers and Crew Calls
Although I can see the benefit for screenwriters, for me personally the Digital Paper has been incredibly useful during field production. One of the first ways I noticed it changing my workflow is I no longer carried a binder full of release forms.
You don’t want to run out of release forms on a production, and you also don’t want to lose them. With the Digital Paper, I’ve been able to just hand people the device, have them quickly fill out and sign the form, and then I can hand it to the next person or put it away. Back at home, I can quickly send all the release forms as PDFs to the client, as well as to the subjects if they wish to have a copy.
Another use is with crew calls and production schedules. As a producer, you can continually add or change the details of the production throughout the day on the Digital Paper, and then in the evening email everyone the most up to date copy.
That’s a much better alternative to having to rely on hotel printers, late night updates to the call sheet, distributing various versions of the printed schedule throughout the day, and so on.
A PDF crew call doesn’t just have to be emailed - it can be sent via text, or uploaded to a shared drive, and yes, even printed.
One Less Battery for Video Shooters
On the shooting side of production, I’ve found the Digital Paper to be super useful to replace most of the planning documents I usually bring to a shoot, such as a shot list, shoot overview, and camera/lighting layout.
And because you can print anything to PDF, you can print any emails, Google Docs, or other project files to your Sony Digital Paper and everything will be available for you, even if you’re without internet, or all your devices lose power, or you simply can’t find what you’re looking for. Let me just say, after having to deal with so many battery-powered devices on a daily basis, it’s a nice relief to be able to rely on one that can go weeks without a recharge.
Finally, one of the most important documents for the work that I do is the interview question list. We try to have them written in advance of the shoot, but changes are inevitable once you get to talk to your subject and client throughout the day. So being able to handwrite additional questions, while taking notes on responses throughout the interview is a treat.
Of course, paper can do all that. But after you’ve gone to digital paper, you’ll have a hard time going back to finagling printers, taking photos of your notes, and hoping your smart devices don’t run out of juice before the production is over.