It’s been almost 3 years that Camlist has been adopted by the community of cinematographers and camera assistants all over the world, and it now counts 4,200 active users. What a success for this little app out from nowhere!
These last times, you all have been experiencing some troubles with the app: bugs, random crashes… Although most of the time these issues could been fixed by re-installing the app, it is a terrible bad user experience which bothers us as much as you, and that we obviously want to avoid. We’re in close contact with our users, and we do our best to help you and to answer your emails - which is not always easy because of our job of camera assistants.
Recently, we’ve been overwhelmed by a global issue that affected all of you, preventing the update of the gear database and thus making the app out of order. We received hundred of emails, and thank to our lucky star we managed to make it work again together. But this event underlined a sadly undeniable fact: Camlist is becoming a victim of its own success - and such issues are likely to happen again if we do not make important decisions for the future of the project.
Camlist is celebrating its 3rd birthday soon. But in a way, the project has been existing for almost 10 years already, and we are arriving to a turning point of the adventure. To better understand, let’s jump back in time for a little history.
FLASHBACK - CANNES - 2011
I’ve been learning IT development since my 8 years old, and I always had side projects which let me practice and deepen my skills. Fresh out of my cinema school in 2011, I became interested in mobile development with the growth of the Apple’s iPhone, and I started to develop my own projects to discover this platform and this new kind of interactivity.
Like most of students I was not a fine cook, and I was tired of passing phone calls to order pizzas - so I had an idea of creating an app to do that with 2 taps on my phone (there was no Uber Eats, Deliveroo or Just Eat at this time). My app was simple, and relied on a directory of restaurants with their respective menu. It allowed making a quick list of what you wanted to eat, by checking boxes for adding items to the list and to customize them. Then your order could be directly sent to the restaurant - to make everyone save time. But I wanted to go further and to offer the users the ability to pay their order within the app - which would have avoided fake orders for restaurants - and that’s where my young age slowed me in the development of this project, as there were legal issues to be managed. I quickly gave up the project, to re-focus on my ambition to work in the film industry.
The year after, I’ve been working at the sales department of a rental house in Paris. I received tons of gear lists from customers, that I was in charge to transform into quotations. These lists were often sent on the fly, were missing details, and looked like drafts - so I had to make sure they were not missing anything, and what they were requesting would work as they wish. A lot of time passing at phone calls and emailing, to finally send a clear and structured PDF quote - and I realized all that repetitive work could have been improved and automated with a better communication and knowledge of the equipment. It would have been amazing if people were able to edit their lists without typing anything but just by checking boxes, so that everyone saves time, and more important, we would get the correct references and versions of the items they wanted to buy (like for online e-commerce websites).
That’s where I took my pizza app out of the hard drive, and started to re-think it around composing lists for the film industry. Instead of choosing between mozzarella and Gorgonzola for your pizza, you would choose between PL or PV mount for your camera. It was the same concept, and it took me quickly to a first prototype (that I renamed to « Camlist »). Time goes by and I was no longer working at PhotoCineRent but on set, as a video assistant, where I met Stella my partner. I told her about my app, and she was very enthusiast as she was always editing lists for commercials shootings, tired of copying/pasting lines from a project to another - and forgetting items or changes along the way. This is how we started to work together on Camlist, and to improve it by adding smart features like auto-completion, auto-translation, compatibility checks etc.
It took me years to develop these features, as I was on set most of the time, and I almost gave up (again) the project when I realized the investment it required compared to the small amount of potential users that would be interested in (I was thinking of a few tens, maybe a hundred to the very maximum). But I still saw potential in it, and even if it would help only a few people, I wanted to complete my project and give it a chance. I’ve continued the development of Camlist during the shooting of The Bonfire of Destiny (Le Bazar de la Charité) for TF1/Netflix in 2018, and I used this project as a full-scale test with my two 1st ACs and my DoP. They were so enthusiast with this prototype that I launched a wider beta-test session with some of our friends from the AOA, a community of French camera assistants that both Stella and I are part of. A few months later, Camlist was out on the App Store, in December 2019, and was officially introduced at the Micro Salon AFC show in Paris the month after, where it got an incredibly warm welcome. Everybody asked us « Why didn’t it exist before? »
BACK TO PRESENT - PARIS - 2022
Camlist is born from passion and has been made in a very artisanal way, during years and years, alongside our jobs on set. If it’s so acclaimed today, it’s mostly because it has been made by camera assistants - who know what they are talking about, and who put all their efforts to make the more intuitive and user friendly app possible.
The development of such an app, with its requirements in terms of features, structure, own cloud sync, and database, is very expensive. It would have cost more than $100,000 to develop - without speaking of the continued work of fixing issues, providing a responsive customer service, and maintaining the gear database up to date with the daily releases of new equipments, which also represent substantial costs. That’s why this kind of apps couldn’t exist, given the niche market it is targeting.
For us, it only cost a computer and (a lot of) time - as I did the development, filled the database, and provided support by myself (which is still the case today).
Speaking of niche market, it was difficult to establish a financial plan that would allow us to target the more users as possible (by selling it at a low price) while guaranteeing its sustainability and at least the financing of our company fees, development licenses and servers, and our representation costs. That’s why we decided of a one-time purchase plan, at a time we had no idea of the success this app would have, and the (growing) requirements it would need over time - instead of using a subscription model like all other dedicated apps are used to, making Camlist one of the more affordable professional apps in the market (while being the most rated app of the film industry, with more than 250 reviews on the App Store for an average score of 4.7/5).
Step by step Camlist has established itself as an outline tool in the world (our users are coming from more than 50 countries!), and 10,000 projects have been made with the app in less than 3 years. We didn’t expect that success at all, and I’ve quickly been dedicating more and more time to the development and exploitation of Camlist - which has now become a real second full time (but unpaid) job. But because of our lack of resources it’s still not possible to delegate some parts of the development to external developers, and I can’t neither dedicate myself to Camlist for the same reason, that we don’t get enough income to compensate my loss in salaries by leaving sets.
Next to that, Camlist is keeping growing by itself, without any control over that - leading unfortunately to more and more saturated server and sync issues, among the 7,000+ devices that are running the app.
Because Camlist has always been a side project from the beginning, it has not been designed for as many users (that I’m obviously proud of), so its core isn’t optimized and thought to deal with that. That’s why bugs are happening more and more frequently and randomly. And the same way sticking bandages on top of each other can help to heal a wound temporarily, a fragile member will still be subject to damages until it’s treated at the root, Camlist needs a complete re-write of its source code, its database, and more powerful servers using other technologies for its back-end.
This is why I decided to end the development of Camlist and its gear database, to let us focus on a brand new app, fully re-written, that we expect to replace it in the not too distant future - with new considerations in mind, and all the experience we got from this adventure. This doesn’t mean the app is being given up and will be removed from the App Store - it’s going to keep running as it’s doing today - we just prefer to focus on a more permanent and useful solution by restarting from scratch than keeping fixing bugs that keep us from moving forward.
This will take time, and require money - but we are more than never motivated to continue the little revolution we started with Camlist. Thank to you and to our partners, we gained the trust of thousands of cinematographers, camera assistants, trainees, students… as well as major companies such as ARRI, Leitz, Technicolor or yet Netflix in a few years. This should help us developing financial partnerships and to raise funds to « keep up the good work » you are many to wish us.
This rewriting will allow an even smarter and faster app, with a real-time collaboration (technically impossible today), reduced loading/updating times, improvements, new features (damages & pick-up history, script breakdown…) and of course a better stability. Starting from scratch also allows us to prepare the app for the future. We’ve been requested so many times for a Lightlist, a Griplist or yet a Soundlist app - and although this is not planned for now, we want to give us a chance to be able to open to other departments - to keep centralizing informations and make our jobs easier.
For all these reasons, I hope you will be as excited as I am to start this new adventure which already has a name: Cinelist.