Since the dawn of filmmaking, the leading media for capture was celluloid, what you may commonly know as film — to this day it remains one of the best archival formats, and ironically retains an incredibly flammable composition, especially the early nitrate based films. Proper film preservation requires physical storage, climate controlled vaults, loads of space and a certain amount of care, you can imagine the expense adds up.
With the digital onslaught of image capture, things changed, dealing with storing the physical aspect of film reels wasn't an issue anymore, but rather the equally enormous task of storing media in a non physical space. And while you might not risk exposing film and ruining an entire shoot by mishandling the magazine after the director calls cut, digital footage can still be just as volatile!
Enter the role of media management: When dealing with production of any sort, a proper workflow has to be established in order to stay organized and efficient. On a large scale production, oftentimes a Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) and/or Data Wrangler will be tasked with bridging the production team with the post production team and handling the footage as it is captured. While production on a smaller scope may not be afforded a sole person in charge of this task, a lot of the rules and practices can still be applied, for our intents and purposes we will focus on a a smaller scale, without file standards given by an outside editor or post house.. Here are some tips that I use.
Okay, let's be real, there's a thousand ways to skin a cat, this is the process I've used on multiple projects with admittedly no footage lost, your workflow may vary so I'd love to hear how you handle your specific workflow!
Let's imagine we have 1 camera shooting on SD cards. Even if it's a single camera shoot, the sole camera will always be designated "A camera". If it was a multi cam shoot, the main camera is A and the second camera is B, you get the gist. Therefore every card, or reel, will sequentially follow, starting with the 1st shot of the project as roll A001, then to follow, A002, A003, A004 and so forth and so on. Later when anyone looks at the project, or the editor sits down he knows which footage was shot first and which footage was shot last.
1. Create a workflow
- When a card goes in, A001, the slate is updated accordingly and some spike tape labeled A001 seals the camera memory door. This ensures anyone can look at the camera and without ejecting media or bothering the operator the reel information is clear. It also makes it impossible to remove the card without handling the piece of tape we'll use.
- Preferably before the cards fills up, A001 will come out of the camera and the same tape on the card door will be stuck to it, usually in a way that prevents it from being inserted into the camera or reader without removal. The operator, DP or whoever will communicate they are moving onto A002 and the slate will be updated accordingly. Rinse and repeat.
- I use a clamshell style Pelican face to protect the media and organize it, on one side I have safe cards, these can be formatted and shot on, on the other I have cards awaiting ingest, these have the roll number taped on them and are inserted into the case upside down.
- Once it is time to import I'll start with A001, or the first card shot that day, I'll remove the tape and slap it on top of the card reader so if I were to get distracted I know what roll I am dumping and when I'm finished I can match the number of tape labels to the rolls I imported. I'll check the slates on a couple clips to verify and make a folder within a project folder with each individual roll as its own folders, there is much to be said about file organization and naming conventions, that's for another conversation. While drag and drop probably suffices for copying your selfies over, you might want to look into an application much more geared to copying multiple files in a safe manner by running file verification, like an MD5 checksum. There are a number of such applications, ShotputPro, R3D Data Manager, Data Import Utility, that will make the job much safer and organized. In addition you can make sure file sizes match byte to byte, Command ⌘-I will show you the file size for disks and folders.
- After everything is imported, a good rule is to have it in 3 places! Redundancy is your friend, and hard drives are a hell of a lot cheaper than reshoots! Typically I'll have a copy on my personal MacBook, which should have its own backup, time machine is a great utility for that. Then the second copy, an external hard drive, will be given to the director or producer. The third drive will be put in a secure place if one is available or if there is high speed internet access, will be put on the cloud using an FTP service. The distribution of hard drives follows the old adage, don't put all your eggs in one basket, rather one get stolen, broken or combusted than all of them. The specifics will definitely change but ultimately redundancy is key, and hard drives ARE NOT immune to Murphy's Law, so the takeaway is cover your ass at all costs!
2. Follow that workflow!
Don't start changing naming conventions and folder structures halfway through your project.
3. Back it up.
Spend money on good hard drives, buy nice or buy twice.
4. BACK IT UP!
RAID, LTO Tape, NAS, FTP. You'll soon find yourself familiar with all of these acronyms and initialisms.