When planning a show’s post production workflow, the most important thing to do is to begin with the end in mind. That means asking two important questions: 1) what do I need to deliver? 2) when do I need to deliver it by? The answers to these two questions will inform every other aspect of your post production workflow, schedule, and budget.
What do I need to deliver? is best answered by the people handling the client’s final deliverables. For a network show, the broadcast department should have a “tech specs” or “deliverable requirements”. For an industrial project, it’s best to look beyond the person who hired you. For example: if a corporation hired you to create a presentation video, find out who’s responsible for the AV projection. If you’ve been hired to create a series of web videos, talk to the IT department, perhaps they will have archiving specifications that differ from YouTube’s.
I like to get all of this down in writing. Networks will often have multi-page PDF documents that I markup while reading them beginning-to-end. Boring, but very necessary. If the deliverables are more informal, such as via email chain, I will actually create a document that outlines the final deliverables and send that to the client for approval. I can’t fully communicate how valuable the effort spent clarifying what is expected at the time of delivery is. Finding out that the final Master files are in the wrong codec at 7 pm on the day of delivery is a miserable experience. If the final deliverables are signed-off on in advance, then the 7 pm error becomes a billable overage for the client.
Answering the “when” question is a little more nuanced. One one hand, you might only need to delivery one file on one date. But having a more complex delivery schedule is often the norm. For example: when you work with a network, the public relations department may want a “press cut” to share with reviewers weeks before the final Master is delivered.
What’s also important is understanding the order of operations for the final deliverables. That is to say, some deliverables are logically locked into the completion of others. For example: if your master file is in a frame rate of 23.98, but you are required to deliver a subset of files at 29.97; then the frame rate conversion is a hard logic process that must be completed before other tasks can be completed.
The tool I use to navigate these tricky rapids is the Work Breakdown Structure. The WBS reveals the complexity of a project by showing you all of the activities required to create your final deliverables, and the order in which you’ll need to complete them. Recently, I’ve started to use the excellent OmniOutliner in order to create my WBS’s.
But you don’t need fancy software. A blank sheet of paper and a pencil are all that’s really required. I like unlined paper because it enables you to work horizontally and vertically. I also recommend using a pencil because you’ll probably end up needing to erase as you figure things out. Remember: creating a WBS IS the process.
Start by listing all of the final deliverables. Then start to work backwards and think about 1) any work that needs to be done in order to create the deliverable, or 2) any work that can’t happen until this particular deliverable is created.
In my handwritten version of the work breakdown you can see that the 23.98, xdcam, Texted and Textless files are in the center because the other 7 deliverables are created from these two master files. As mentioned earlier, the frame rate conversion creates a hard logic dependency, which means that some deliverables need to be created before others. This is important information in multiple scenarios. For example:
The Public Relations department wants to share a 29.97, h.264, Texted master with the press. If the PR department can’t wait until the 23.98, xdcam, Texted master is created, then you will need to perform additional work, just to satisfy the PR department’s deliverable requirement. Your production may incur additional expenses because the post house bills you for the additional labor.
One of the reasons I like OmniOutliner is because I can migrate my work into OmniPlan once the WBS is ready to be managed using traditional project management techniques. OmniPlan not only enables to you visual the work, but also create time estimates and run simulations that predict the likelihood of delays.
Beginning with the End in Mind is a mindset more than anything else. It’s a way of thinking that will enable you to plan ahead and deliver your projects on time with minimal hiccups. I’ve used this process on all of my shows and I recommend it as a foundational post production management technique. In future posts we’ll work backwards through Finishing and Editorial. Until next time, I’d love to hear about the challenges you’ve faced during Master delivery.