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General

Blog Retrospective!

TL;DR – For the immediate future, my online efforts are going to be focused on writing for Assistant Editors’ Bootcamp. In the meantime I look back at the last two years of blogging.


Three Important Posts

The post that really got me started wasn’t even published on this blog, but Reality and Streaming television written for my friend’s blog Far From Reality is one of my favorites. I think time demonstrates that it has been surprisingly accurate in its predictions.

Unscripted television continues to vex streaming services. In many respects the “how do you create a successful scripted television” has been solved; in the sense that the list of well known scripted shows on every streaming platform is legion: Handmaid’s, Transparent, Stranger Things, etc. But the most successful unscripted shows (debatablely the Queer Eye reboot and Nailed it!) haven’t really been the talk of the town either.

Hollywood vs Silicon Valley is hands down the most important post I’ve written. I think this post helps organize the discussion around what these new streaming giants mean to the entertainment industry. If anything, time has only proved that Netflix is playing 4th dimensional chess here because their job postings (Link, Link) show that they are putting in place the systems that will allow us to understand how their shows are made. Towards a ‘lean’ television production model Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3. Builds on this idea of applying Silicon Valley ideals to Hollywood productions.

Scheduling, Workflow, and Project Management

Most of these posts were excerpts from my work journals and is my attempt at codifying my process. My series on Scheduling (1,2,3,4); Workflow (1,2,3,4); and Project Management (1,2,3) were also born out of thinking about post production from a Product Manager POV.

Motion Picture Production is logistically as complex as waging a small war and yet software that’s up to the task of managing a motion picture doesn’t exists. At least 70% of this is Avid’s fault. The closed nature of Media Composer isolates the NLE data into a silo that can’t be leveraged.

Biography

My most read posts are the biographical ones (Mexico, Detroit, Food Star). Another category of blogs that came from my work journal. I wish I enjoyed writing them as much as you all enjoyed reading them. But if I ever have five or six months in a hut without internet I’d probably edit my journals and write a best seller based on the stats (hehehe).

REVIEWS

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My reviews are the one area where I consistently fall short of my goals. Writing a good review is damn hard. Especially if set a high bar.

Netflix & Avid

The tags (Netflix & Avid) alone show that I’m obsessed with these two companies. Netflix because of how forward looking they are. Avid because of how backwards looking. I have Trello cards for blog posts in development titled: “Netflix the cultural contradiction” & “The End of Avid: The case for a Microsoft Buyout”. It’s probably for the better that neither of these make it to drafted, edited, or published lists. Maybe one day I’ll share the draft notes.

Resources

I’ve shared a few resources that I’ve created over the years. (Post Dashboard, Exporting Checklist, A.E. Curriculum)  Sadly, I’ve never received any feedback about them. I like to consider these living documents; meaning, that the evolve over time as needs change. I would love to hear if anyone is using them, and if any modifications have been made.

Assistant Editors’ Bootcamp

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AE Bootcamp presentation

I was invited to give a presentation on resume writing and job searching by Assistant Editors’ Bootcamp. The presentations sold out and I received outstanding feedback from both classes:

“Thank you for such a thorough review of my resume! Your recommendations are very helpful. You made me see my resume in a whole new light.”

“Hi Dustyn, thank you so much for reviewing my resume and my website. I don’t think I ever had a thorough analysis on me before so I really appreciate it!”

“Thank you so so much for your thorough and thoughtful review.I am definitely going to use your suggestions as I rewrite my resumes this week.”

The founders of Assistant Editors’ Bootcamp have asked me to manage their Social Media Strategy as they expand their community online and in real life. Their online presence is about so much more than assistant editing. Our future plans include profiles of industry peers, special deals on your other favorite software, Media Composer tips & tricks, and more. Since the focus of my writing energy is going to be with the Bootcamp I’d be delighted if you would click the following link and sign up to learn more.

Categories
Management Software

Adobe’s Project Rush: Reading, Writing, and Visual Literacy

If you work professionally in television and contemplate last year’s announcement from Apple that FCP X has over 2 million users, you are left asking yourself post production’s version of the Fermi’s Paradox: “Where is everybody?”

But I think we need to take an expansive view of post production for a moment. Something Philip Hodgett has been writing about for quite awhile:

Pre-printing press and general literacy – being literate (having the skills of literacy) made you a hot commodity. The work you did was appreciated by many although most didn’t understand what was involved. In fact, at that time, if you were literate, then your entire career was probably built around it: copying scripture (and other Holy works); reading it to people; interpreting it.

I think that’s where we are now: there are still those who use their “video skills” as their primary income: they put “Editor” on their tax return and employment questionnaires. For the record there are just slightly more employed as ‘Television, Video, and Motion Picture Camera Operators’ (26,300 in 2008).

His post is seven years old today. Go read the whole thing.


I used to teach nonlinear editing on Final Cut Pro 7. From my experience most of my students understood editing intuitively. It was the ingesting, media management, and exporting that tripped them up.

After my first semester teaching I made one important modification: before the first class, I would pre-load all of the media onto the computers. My first few classes would focus on what we traditionally think of as editing: insert, over write, trimming, etc. After giving my students the opportunity to build confidence, we’d move into the difficult areas. Rightly considered, ingesting and exporting, isn’t really editing anyway, it’s file management (and humans are generally very bad at file management).

Adobe recently announced Project Rush. This is a Very Big Deal for the future of the NLE! Project Rush represents a future without traditional ingest, media management, and exporting. Just like the new version of Lightroom, users can work on their phone, tablet, or desktop and have their work sync across all of their devices.

Project Rush will be a boon to IGTV creators. But will probably go unnoticed in traditional motion picture production in the near future. This is foolhardy. The ETC has already experimented with cloud based production workflows two years ago. The benefits of eliminating file management are going to be too great to ignore. (In a weird way you could argue that the Assistant Editor is the current solution for abstracting away the file system for Editors.)

Sooner or later, what we consider editing, and who we consider an editor, are going to change significantly. Are we in the middle of the motion picture’s evolution; from an art form created by a small number of specialists, to a medium of mass communication practiced by everyone?

Categories
Management

Post Production is a Zombie-class situation

Yes, a Zombie-class situation:

You can’t fight the ocean. In a zombie-class situation, heroes ultimately won’t get far trying to defeat their opponents, who have the advantage of both numbers and replaceability. Rather, your hero must set an achievable goal such as escape, survival, or retrieval of a key asset.

Sounds a lot like unscripted post, right?

Solid state digital recording has made it so easy for productions to create outstandingly high shooting ratios. From my experience, it is now common to hear editors and producers talk about a hundred hours of raw material for a one hour show. Shooting ratios of 200:1, once fables you heard about on films like Apocalypse Now, are everyday occurrences in the realm of reality TV.

No matter which tools we use, despite the help of loggers, assistants, and story producers, it always seems like we are one step behind. Because deep inside we all know this is a fool’s errand. Time and money make it impossible for the editorial to watch every raw minute.

In an interview with the New York Times, Andrew Jarecki, talks the Robert Durst’s “confession” that was discovered after it was recorded:

That was at the tail end of a piece of an interview. I don’t know if you’ve ever edited anything — things get loaded into the editing machine but not everything gets loaded. The sound recorder isn’t listening after a guy gets up and says he wants a sandwich. It often doesn’t get marked and get loaded. That didn’t get loaded for quite a while. We hired some new assistants and they were going through some old material. That was quite a bit later. Let me look at my list. It was June 12, 2014.

Like John August’s heroes, today’s unscripted producers and editors can’t wrestle down ratios of 200:1, instead they have to set an achievable goal and just accept that some really good material will go undiscovered, buried in the sub-sub-folder of an unlabeled hard drive organized by a logger you never hired.

Categories
Management Pipeline

A Heritage Docusoap XDCAM Workflow (Part 1: Production and The Hand-off)

What makes docusoap production unique?

The docusoap is a unique subgenre of reality television that draws on techniques from documentary production and news gathering. Specifically, it is a direct descendant of Cinéma Vérité. You can witness this heritage if you watch The Queen of Versailles (1, 2) and compare it to any of The Real Housewives. Truthful subjects presented behind crude reality.

But if the docusoap, perfected by Bravo, can claim such a noble pedigree; we also need to acknowledge its scamp father, Electronic news-gathering.

The production of a docusoap scene has more in common with the techniques used by a news crew, than anything resembling a film shoot where shots are carefully blocked and rehearsed. The recording of a good docusoap scene has the mise-en-scène of a professional football team (either one) playing around a UCB improv troupe. Reality just happen; and the crew is always just a half step behind.

And of course you have genre defining sit down interview present in both documentary and news productions:

Bravo interview
Lisa Vanderpump in the iconic Bravo “confessional” interview.

The influence of Electronic news-gathering on the docusoap production is especially predominant on this heritage workflow. “Heritage” (borrowing a term from LightIron’s Michael Cioni) because it is based around the Sony Professional Disc and the XDCAM HD422 codec. It utilizes the shoulder mounted F800 camera; a 13 lb beast that you were as likely to see carried by the local news crew, as you were on location with the Real Housewives. This workflow is fast! And very stable.

This in-depth workflow write up is meant to provided a solid foundation for crafting your own workflow. What is presented here is as much a way to think about workflow, as it is an actual how-to.

Acquisition →

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Note: although the term “XDCAM” is used interchangeably, the actual physical media is technically called the Professional Disc and the audio & video media is recorded with the XDCAM codec in a MXF wrapped file. Image by Dylan Reeve, CC BY-SA 3.0

Our acquisition tools are the Sony PDW-F800 ENG style camera and the Sound Devices 788T audio recorder.

F800
The tried and true Sony PDW-F800.

Video is recorded on Sony Professional Discs, the media is MXF wrapped, 50 Mbit, HD422 XDCAM at a 23.976 non-drop frame rate.

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The tried and true Sound Devices 788T.

Audio is recorded at 16 bit 48 kHz B-WAV mono track files, because Avid Media Composer does not work well with polyphonic files.

The production team is instructed to “roll fat,” i.e., keep the cameras rolling as much as possible. The post teams needs this because each time the camera stops recording, a new clip is created, creating more work for the assistant editors during episode preparation .

The ‘F800’ and ‘788’ are workhorses. Both devices are extremely reliable; have a large user base, therefore finding a crew is easier than some of the more exotic cameras; and are well supported throughout the global, especially within the United States, Europe, and Asia.

The F800 was designed as a news camera which further speaks to its reliability. But there is one additional feature that makes this camera a time saver further down the line: proxy video recording. The F800 is capable of simultaneously recording a low-resolution 1.5 MB/s MPEG-4 file that can be used for offline editorial. In this heritage workflow, the proxy media is copied directly to our Avid Isis shared storage system at four times real-time (i.e. 1 hour of footage requires 15 minutes of ingest for editorial).

Contrast this 4X speed with a modern tapeless workflows which requires a specialized DIT cart, or a lengthy transcode process that is usually one and a half times real-time (i.e. 1 hour of footage requires 1:30 hours to ingest for editorial). ‘Ep Prep’ is the stage most likely to introduce ‘lag’ between production and post, so any tool that adds efficiency is most welcome.

Side note: I once read that Formula 1 race cars are required to be designed within such a tight specification, that the most efficiency one team’s car can have over another is only one or two percent. However, that small 1% efficiency, whether a little less drag or a little less weight, is what separates a winning team from a middling one. The same dynamic is at play here. If the average show tapes between 1,500 – 1,800 Professional Discs; if a technique is able to save me 2 minutes per disc; then the result is 55 saved hours. That is entire week of Assistant Editor time.

The hand-off: Dallies & Tape shipments

This docusoap workflow doesn’t have a dallies stage in the traditional sense, because the field team rarely has time to rewatch the taped footage. The most common reason a field producer will look back is for wardrobe continuity purposes when taping a pickup scene.

That said, the Professional Disc is a nonlinear digital format (as opposed to a linear digital format like DVCProHD tape) and each disc can be cloned digitally. In this case each disc is loaded into a Sony U2 drive and copied on a 2TB G-Drive by our Production Coordinator before the hand-off. In the unlikely event of a shipment loss, these G-Drives  function as a backup of the master footage; while also giving the field team the opportunity to look back on taped footage like dallies.

Simultaneously, the audio team transfers each day’s audio from the 788T recorder to a 1 TB LaCie Rugged hard drive. The audio team also includes a Sound Report, which is a csv file generated by the 788T that lists which cast members were recorded on each channel, the number of takes, and additional metadata that is useful to the Assistant Editors during episode prep.

After all of the day’s discs and audio have been copied, the Production Coordinator packs them into a box and ships them to the post department via FedEx Priority Overnight. On rare occasions, the discs are sent via courier service. Equally important is that the Production Coordinator sends the Post Coordinator a detailed email listing: tracking number, a list of packed discs, and any additional information about the assets.

When the package is received by post department the Post Coordinator will check that all of the listed assets in the Production Coordinator’s email have been received; or address any discrepancies with the field team.

There are three primary considerations when planning the hand-off of footage from Production to Post:

  1. Geography.
  2. Time.
  3. Staffing.

Let’s review these one-by-one:

1) Geography will probably have the greatest influence on hand-off considerations, because a show that tapes and posts in the same area will have it considerably easier than a show that shoots on one side of the country and posts on another. Shows that tape ‘off-the-beaten path’ and therefore don’t have regular FedEx or Courier services available; or internationally, and therefore have to contend with customs; will have an additional level of logistical complexity to deal with. As a rule of thumb, the further apart production and post, the more this consideration comes into play.

2) How quickly footage needs to be turned around is also very important because it will determine whether you need to use FedEx or Courier. Every production should work as quickly and efficiently as possible; but there is a difference between producers wanting to work with footage quickly, and having your back against the wall because of air dates. You should make an effort to understand how real your deadlines are.

3) Finally, the size of your team affects what is possible. A production team can accomplish great things if one coordinator’s entire job is to work split shifts and backup discs, review the tape lists, and package assets for shipping. But if you only have one coordinator who’s getting clearance releases, buying craft services, and dealing with the tapes… well you’ll need to have more modest expectations.

These three factors interplay. If your show is taping on the other side of the country and is up against air dates; then you need to make sure that there is adequate personnel in place to handle tape shipment quickly and efficiently. If your show is taping down the block from your post house, the A.E.’s can handle most of the hand-off responsibilities.

In the next post we’ll discuss what to do when the discs and audio hard drives are handed off to the Lead Assistant Editor for Episode Prep.

Categories
Management Media Theory Pipeline

Project Management in the Motion Picture Industry

Interesting paper by the Project Management Institute from 2008 that surveys the state of project management practices in the motion picture industry. The entire paper is worth a read for two reasons. Firstly, it frames the challenges of production into traditional “project phases”. Secondly it compares film production to other creative endeavors (video games) and other industries (pharmaceutical R&D). Below are a list of highlights with my thoughts in bold. Now if only I had access to the underlying research…

  • The motion picture industry, not often represented in the project management discourse, is an industry that is expected to provide a unique perspective for the study of project management. I chose to research film project management due to its wide appeal yet limited presence among project management references, academic sources, and published literature. This paper attempts to uncover and capture the significance of project management practices to the motion picture industry. My goal is to contribute these findings to a wider project management community.
  • DeVany (2007) also compared film production to pharmaceutical research, where both industries have had statistically similar results in producing successes.
  • They asserted that traditional management strategy was inadequate for explaining the existence of the motion picture industry, whose project-based and mobile structure left parent organizations such as film studios lacking long-term knowledge, experience, and permanence. I am curious to see how they compared production to traditional manufacturing. Contrast with the smiling curve.
  • They used interviews with a small number of film professionals to show the importance of trust, available hierarchy, and trade jargon to the efficient operation of the film crew as a virtual enterprise.
  • In a study of more than 300 films to determine whether marketing could overcome poor quality, Hennig-Thurau, Houston, and Sridhar (2006) found that quality was the stronger driver of long-term revenue. Reminds me of the quote from James Cameron: “No audience was ever won over because a film came in on budget.”
  • Simon (2005) explained that the management of creative projects such as film production involved specialized leadership skills. Such as…
  • In a controversial and more extreme position, Zackariahsson, Walfisz, and Wilson (2006) asserted that a formal project structure actually inhibited the natural creative process. This assertion wasn’t adequately proven by their work in the area, which was limited to a single case study. Interesting!
  • Because of her background in formal project management, Cheklich was able to bridge the two professions of project management and film production, drawing parallels and reiterating the importance of financing, scheduling, budgeting, and communications.
Table 1. What Film Phases Map to the PMBOK® Guide?
Source Film Phase Project Phase Comments
Brook, 2005 Clevé, 2006 Postproduction Executing, closing Production and postproduction overlap; editing of raw film, sound, effects, printing, delivery
Worley, 2005 Postproduction Controlling Primary phase; less risky synthesis stage

 

  • As a primary concern of project management professionals, risk management appears to be a key and driving force behind the practices of today’s film production projects.
  • Their answer to the financial risks endured by remaining in a much less lucrative, unstable, and unpredictable movie market was to restructure the business of filmmaking into what it has primarily become today, a purely project-driven business Does this represent an opportunity for studios to hire cheaper labor by offering stability and healthcare?
  • [Studios] They were free to utilize a broader resource pool of talent, and they were free to control the amount and frequency of films they undertook (Jones, Lichtenstein, Borgatti, Hesterly, & Tallman, 1999). Both benefits theoretically would appear to mitigate the greater financial risks of film production experienced in today’s business climate. However, Phelan and Lewin (1999) arguably claimed that this flexibility was more costly to the studio.
  • Table 3. Who is the Film Project Manager?

Who is the Film Project Manager?
Too many cooks?

  • “The producer’s role is to turn story ideas into profitable cinematic entertainment, and to persuade others to share in his or her commercial and creative vision”
  • In addition, an entire staff known as the production office is typically required to perform project management duties (Producers Guild of America, 2005
  • In many cases, the unit production manager handled the logistics of production while the line producer worked to manage payments to contractors and vendors during production and served an accountancy role.
  • Motion picture production has been deemed similar to other industries such as software development and pharmaceutical research. … What makes motion picture project management different from many other industries, however, is the degree or intensity in which these fundamentals are applied, and by whom. Film production is unique because it is a logistically complex and difficult undertaking, much like waging a small war. Urgh… the comparison to violent endeavors really needs to stop.
  • Primary research in the form of a motion picture industry survey, with an adequate sample size, would help to clarify, expand, or dispute the findings in this paper.