Not many things can get business majors and film kids to gather in large numbers in the same room. But Jim Jannard, the founder of Oakley, Inc. and inventor of the famed RED camera, brought students of both types to Hilton 100 last Wednesday, Oct. 26 for a Q&A session.
Jannard famously started Oakley, Inc. with just $300. He began in 1975 by selling handlebar grips for motorcycles and BMX bikes, and over 30 years later, he sold the company. He then moved on to another passion: cameras. Jannard's RED ONE, released in 2007, has created a legion of devotees in directors like Peter Jackson, Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher. And today there comes a big announcement from the RED Digital Cinema Camera Company concerning their newest camera, the SCARLET.
A lot was discussed at the Q&A, from Jannard's success in business, his trade secrets and why the announcement for the new SCARLET camera was made today on the heels of Canon's own announcement. (Hint: According to Jannard, his announcement is "going to make some really unhappy competitors.") These are a few of the questions attendees asked Jannard.
Q: When you started Oakley, what was the initial $300 spent on?
Jim Jannard (JJ): First $300, I went to a supplier that I knew of. I got a bunch of little stuff, put the Oakley logo on it, which was stupid but it was cool, went and sold it all, got some money. Put gas in car, got some food. Said hi to my family, got up and did it again the next day.
Q: Looking back at your career, has there been a risk you've chosen not to take?
JJ: I can't think of any. ... Where I've gone wrong is in trying to support someone else's vision. That has never worked out very well for me. But the things that I've targeted out to do, because it comes from a really good place ... and I want to make the best thing times 10 and won't stop till that happens - the results of that always seem to have been good so far. It's a really good recipe. ... Do good work, and it's hard to fail.
Q: Didn't you say that after the SCARLET you're going to stop announcing your products ahead of time?
JJ: Yes, sort of. We're not going to be as transparent about current development. ... We're not going to clam up completely because our customers appreciate being able to communicate with us. We can't just keep saying, "Nope, can't tell you that, sorry." So we will communicate; we're going to be a lot more careful about what we say.
Q: I think ... anyone who's following RED and has an interest in Apple sees the similarities - you're sort of like the carnivorous Steve Jobs, so to speak. [Steve Jobs had a long-term vision] and what I'm trying to ask is, where do you see yourself in 2021?
JJ: I knew Steve, and he was a closet carnivore. So there's two dogs sitting in an English pub, and one says to the other, "You know, it's not enough just to beat them, the cats must lose." We share that mentality, I think. ... I have a really clear vision of a radical departure that's only three or four years from now. Complete departure. Everything different, turn your world upside down on how pictures are captured. Trust me, I'm not making this one up.
Q: How do you deal with handing over control to other people?
JJ: I never did give it up. I fall under the Steve Jobs school of thought, which is a benevolent dictatorship. At some point you have to give some things up ... such as accounting and litigation. I just learned that I was responsible, and I should take more of the burden than someone else who perhaps doesn't have as much experience as I did.
Q: Why should I trust my stories with RED over film?
JJ: In the last six months, John Schwartzman, who was the cinematographer on "Spider-Man," said it was the best footage he's ever shot, the best images he's ever seen, looks like 65 mm film without the grain. Ridley Scott came in [and said the same thing]. Peter Jackson's shooting "The Hobbit" [on it]. ... There really isn't any reason to shoot film anymore, except if you love the process. If you want to load the film in, send it to the lab, get it transferred - it just has a look. But with RED you don't have to sharpen your footage. ... Having said that, I love film. That's why I built this camera. We wanted to make a respectful replacement for film [so] when it hit the retirement home, it would sit back and say, "Job well done. I'm sure glad it wasn't 1080p that sent us over here."
Q: What's your opinion on staying in college versus dropping out like so many visionaries of our time have done?
JJ: I don't think the problem for me was school, but it was just the wrong place for me. It was the pharmacy school, and I wasn't destined to be a pharmacist. USC was not the problem, college is not the problem. I was just in the wrong part of that school.