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DA VINCI for Free is the best marketing strategy ever

By Charles Haine  |  05-May-2011

Some colorists I have talked to have been very disappointed to discover that Blackmagic Da Vinci is about to be offered for free (or at least a slightly limited version). Even though I will still be buying the software (the limitations of the free version will be a bit too much for me to use it as I need), I think this is the smartest possible thing that Blackmagic could have done, and I applaud them for it.

I am a capitalist at heart, and I have a tremendous respect for free enterprise. Part of that is having a respect for salesmanship, which is creating value in your product that makes people willing to pay for it. And the best way for Da Vinci to do that is to give it away for free.

A friend of mine once suggested that Final Cut Pro is easy to pirate on purpose, since "Everyone who steals final cut pro has to buy a Mac." While that doesn't sound much like what I know about Steve Jobs (I think he'd like us to purchase both), but it raises an interesting point. FCP being very easy to pirate has both sold a lot of Mac's and helped increased market share.

There are many, many reasons that Final Cut has pulled ahead in the marketplace, but piracy is undeniably one of them. Any high school or college kid with a leisurely interest in editing or movies can crack it and play with it and learn it. Those same kids are the folks who later end up working as editors or starting their own production companies. And what do those editors and companies work with? Final Cut, which they then purchase, because they know it so well. This this scenario, piracy is a sales tool.

Software is a hard thing to sell, because no matter how cool it does something, its intimidating to the unitiniated. I personally feel a bit of reluctance learning new systems to grade on, despite at this point being able to work professionally on 3 platforms (Da Vinci, Scratch and Color). I thought about learning Quantel Pablo the other day, and I feel exhausted by the thought. Software always seems harder than it is.

How do you get potential customers to believe that software is easier to use and more powerful? Let them use it for free, become familiar with it, and they'll grow attached to it.

You might argue that Da Vinci and Mac are in different boats, since Mac has hardware to sell, but so does Da Vinci: Da Vinci for Mac requires a card made by Blackmagic, who, coincidentally, own Da Vinci.

Also, free Da Vinci is limited to the basics; enough to get you hooked, without being enough to really deliver professional level work.

Right now, Da Vinci's big competition is APPLE COLOR, which is effectively free. All of the post houses where I work paid for their copy of Final Cut Studio, but when they did so, to their mind they got a "free" copy of Color along with it; they would've paid the same to buy Final Cut without Color.

I have a pretty healthy number of clients who finish high-end, national broadcast spots in COLOR, hiring me as a freelance colorist to come in and do a grade. Why? Because they already owned COLOR, the clients are already used to coming to the edit room, and they can control time and costs that way. In all of those production companies and editorial houses, I've talked to the staff about Da Vinci, and they are all "thinking about it."

They were all reluctant to use Color at first, because they were used to going to traditional color grading houses. But then someone would start playing with that Color thing, realize how powerful it is, maybe finish a few small jobs in it, and voila, the world started to change.

Why haven't they jumped to Da Vinci? Because it's $1000 and they aren't sure what it can do. Once it's free, their assistant editor some post coordinator will download and install and play with it. See how it's better than Color (and it is, at least for now), and then when a spot comes in that needs the full complement of tools, they'll plunk down the $1K for full Da Vinci without a second thought.

More and more people will start to use Da Vinci, will start to feel comfortable and familiar with it, and it will gradually begin to infiltrate the whole marketplace. It's major competitor isn't even Color (though we'll see what happens with that app), it's Baselight's new Final Cut Plugin, that is supposed to give you a Baselight quality toolset right in FCP (saving you the roundtrip).

I can understand the frustration of those who put tremendous time and money into building traditional Da Vinci suites, but Da Vinci are making the decisions they have to make to grow and survivie in a rapidly changing marketplace. Like editorial went through when FCP hit the streets, the process of color grading is becoming more and more purely about the talent of the colorist and less about the tool used, but there will still be tremendous benefits to be the dominant tool, even if you're going to be making your money on volume instead of massive margins.

Charles Haine, lead colorist at, has worked in the film industry since 1999. After completely his MFA from USC in 2005, he has worked as a freelance director, cinematographer and colorist.

As a colorist he has worked with Radical Media, 47 Pictures, Boxer Films, Arclight films and many others for clients including Ford, Jeep, Honda, Mcdonalds, Burger King, AMC, St. Jude's Hospital, and many others, including several feaures, and numerous music videos. As a director of photography has has shot three feature films, his most recent receiving distribution through Lion's Gate, and has shot commercials, music videos, industrials and several short films. He also is an associate professor at Los Angeles City College teaching cinematographer and editing, and he teaches color grading, visual design and stereography at Columbia College Hollywood.

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Editor, 03-Jun-2011

The Blackmagic Design press release describing the free version can be found at:

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