Noone’s Going To Bring You A Hard Disc

Extending on from the last post, the Old Post businesses actually can see the threat that’s posed from the New Way of working, but wonder how they can get involved to protect their market share. Generally, the approaches are the same, but prioritise the Old Post systems and ways of doing things to the detriment of the New Way.

An example: Many managers, in thinking about how to deal with digital cinematography, have looked at the way their existing business is structured around film dailies, and in their mind have only taken the leap as far as exchanging a film can with a hard drive, but everything else staying the same. The trouble is, once you swap film formats for digital acquisition, Everything Changes.

How many times have you seen the following press release in the last few years:

Facility X is adapting it’s processes to the new digital shooting technology, and now would like to introduce their new Data Lab/ Digital Dailies/ Data Processing/ Digital Data Lab Dailies Processing service to the local market. It works exactly the same way as a film lab works- all producers need to do is drop off a hard disk of dailies before11pm every night, and send a runner around the next morning to pick up another hard disk of editorial files and your DVDs. It’s That Easy.

Hey Good Lookin'..
 Fundamentally, this is the Old Post model tarted up a bit to feel sexy. It doesn’t realize yet that:

  • The images are no longer intrinsically tied to the format. This is the most important thing to understand, and that few traditional places get: Unlike 35 or 16mm film, the hard disk doesn’t actually determine characteristics of the digital file- it’s just the transport mechanism. A transport mechanism that can be interchanged without loss of quality of the images themselves. Begs the question: nowadays, with internet speeds what they are (and even once-prohibitive satellite now being relatively cheap) why do you physically have to take anything anywhere? And do your bond insurers really want a hard disk getting around town with your images on it? Really?
  • As above, why is your material being delivered back on a physical format? Why on earth are you still making crappy DVDs with burnins to evaluate your images during the shoot? If you needed a physical format at all, why wouldn’t you be able to download a disk image that’s relevant, and burn it on your own laptop?
  • With the cost of the equipment dropping to near commodity prices every day, what’s stopping traditional post operators getting out onto set and working directly with production. This person can be processing the images and handing to your editor straight away after being acquired onset. With a good pipeline designed beforehand an editor can be cutting a few hours behind shoot, which will lower reshoots and continuity problems, and increase shooting speeds. I’ll cover some of the great hardware that’s coming out now for this purpose in future posts.
  • Why is it an overnight service? This was typically a chemical-lab imposed deadline, because you needed to chemically process everything in a linear fashion all at the same time, and you needed to impose a cut-off so that everything could be delivered and then be set off for the evening. With digital processing now able to be done at least at runtime, why do you need 7 hours to ‘process’ two hours of dailies?
  • Asset management and online services are usually an outside service that is an optional extra, and not at the very core of the system. It’s not about the processing anymore, if it ever was, because everyone with Final Cut can process. It’s all about accessibility now, and online should be at the centre of the service, not at the periphery.

 Of course,  RED users have been doing this for years with the DIT position on set, but this near-set or cloud workflow is now breaking through to become available for higher-end cameras as well as affordable for indie productions.

Not everyone wants to own gear at the end of their show, but still want to work in the new way and there are a variety of businesses now emerging to compete with the existing players on their own terms. As just one example:

I’ve had a few chats with Michela Ledwidge from Rack & Pin (@rackandpin), and think that these guys show that they understand the new environment for post, which isn’t about physical facilities and gear, but networked cloud computing. At their heart, they refer to themselves as a “Cloud service for media productions”, and focus on the client’s interaction with their own material, not the processing. Sure, they have a physical address that you can still drop your hard drive into if you want, but it’s not the office- they find partners in existing storefronts that upload onto R&P’s cloud based server system. And their business isn’t just the walled garden of dailies- as the website says, it’s ‘Useful Screens To Manage Your Data’. Within the one system, they can service dailies, vfx approval, production management etc, and even offer to create bespoke applications and workflows for their clients, so that as new business models emerge from an increasingly digital approach, they can adapt and scale accordingly.

They don’t have one hard product to sell you, developed around existing film infrastructure they are still madly trying to keep relevant. They are mobile, adaptable, in the cloud, and are focused more and more on people managing media directly as a subscription service where ever the clients happen to be. They and businesses like them are going to have an increasing impact, especially on the Old Way businesses waiting for your hard drive, and on an emerging filmmaking community that is looking for web-based secure services and has grown up with online services.