For television producers that have spent their careers happily moving boxes of videotapes around, the transition to file-based (tapeless) video production can be something of a challenge.
Not only is there is a completely new way of working to get familiar with and a fresh set of technologies to get used to, there is also a whole new language required to articulate it.
And then there’s the innate fear of knowing that your precious, irreplaceable video footage no longer exists in a physical form that you know and trust but simply inhabits a mystical, magical space somewhere in the realm of digital’s limitless zeros and ones.
But don’t fret. It can be done. Here are ten tips for a successful switch to tapeless.
1. Ask questions
If you don’t ‘get’ tapeless, say so. It’s much easier to start from scratch with an admittance of ignorance than it is to try to muddle your way through and get someone to rescue you. Ask peers, camera operators, hire firms and post houses for advice BEFORE you start planning your shoot. Going tapeless should certainly not be an after-thought.
2. Trust your hire company
There’s a very good chance that the company that you hire your cameras from will be very familiar with file-based workflows. They will be able to provide you with vital tapeless information such as which formats will and won’t be accepted by broadcasters. This, in turn, will help you to determine which tapeless cameras are most suitable for your project.
3. Do a workflow test
Even if the schedule is tight, make sure you do a simple workflow test in advance of the shoot. This will help you to iron out any potential problems and avoid disasters further down the line.
4. Keep your post house in the loop
From a post-production perspective there’s little worse than a producer turning up with his or her tapeless footage saved in a myriad of formats, codecs and frame rates and using a mixture of file-naming conventions. This is the ultimate ‘fix it in post’ crisis but, with tapeless, sometimes it cannot be fixed. To avoid this scenario, take advice from your post house at the outset, set your parameters and conventions and every time you change a component or setting within your workflow let post-production know about it.
5. Make sure everyone on the team is up-to-speed
From runner to exec, your whole production team needs to understand the new tapeless way of working. They also need to be made aware of the benefits. As an example, when it comes to approval, the exec should be made aware that he or she probably will not be viewing a tape or a DVD. Instead they could be seeing a proxy version of the rushes on their desktop.
6. Employ experienced crew
Whether you are a tapeless novice or not, it is always worth bringing on board people that have worked on tapeless shoots before. It sounds obvious but they will not only be able to hit the ground running, they’ll also be able to guide you through the tough times.
7. Employ a media manager
An experienced media manager will be worth his or her weight in gold. They will do all the house keeping for you, looking after the masses of media so that footage ends up in the right place at the right time and that cards or discs are not accidentally wiped or footage transferred to the wrong format.
8. Factor in time (and budget) for back-ups and transfers
Allow enough time throughout the shoot for transferring your footage to portable hard drives (or the cloud) and to back up all your media. This doesn’t necessarily have to happen on location but it should be done regularly and be an integral part of your schedule. Also, if you haven’t got a media manager or a data wrangler on your crew, please don’t expect your cameraperson to do transfers overnight after enduring a 12-hour shoot. Instead, factor in extra time for that process on another day.
9. Don’t treat cards like tape stock
The cards and discs that are used for file-based acquisition are expensive. The prices are coming down all the time but compared to tape, there’s no comparison. So, as a result, be very careful with how you use them. It can be useful to consider the cards as part of the price of the camera rather than as stock. Then, work out in advance how many cards you will need for your shoot and transfer your footage at regular intervals so you can re-use them.
10. Don’t Panic
Going tapeless sounds a lot more complicated than it really is.