Media Management: The Elephant in the Room

It's been an incredible shoot day. Your three camera scene, including a Sony F5, a RED Weapon, and a Sony a7s with an Odyssey 7Q+ on a Movi M5 got you everything you wanted and more. That's a lot of media though...

Hopefully, there was a media manager on set. Oh, nope? Here we go.... eight hours before tomorrow's call and there's about 1.75TB of 4K media. Sleep? Nah, that's for wimps, except you've got a four hour pre-light and four hours worth of slow interviews tomorrow. And let's remember, falling asleep in the middle of an interview with the client's president is not good form. 

First, let's back track and think about where we started... Remember those days of tape-based workflows? Bringing pelicans of tapes to each location? There may not have been late night media management in the field, but we did need someone to pop tapes into the decks when they got back to post. So let's transition our thinking from having a night assistant editor who's job it is to process tape-based media to a field media manager. BONUS: This person can also be inputting invaluable metadata, organizing, and even processing proxies in the field so when it gets back to post, it's ready for edit. When planned out and executed properly, it can actually make things more efficient.

But sometimes, it's not efficient to have a media manager in the field, so it's camera's responsibility to manage media. Totally cool - it makes sense, and we're happy to do it. We just need to do it right.  Here area the few basic rules of media management that shouldn't be broken, even if it is 3am:

1) Use a Checksum (and a proper offloading software): I use ShotPut Pro. Yeah, it's got its quirks, but it works. There are several checksum options, including  XXHash-64 and the classic MD5, which both verify the transition of bits from the source (card) to the destination (hard drive). If you haven't used any sort of offloading software, make sure you take time to learn and test it. Don't go on a shoot cold - that's the worst time to mess up media management. 

2) One, Twice, Three times a Verification: Cool... ShotPut gives you the checkmark saying your offload was verified and successful, but don't stop there! There are two other, very important verifications you should do for each volume you offload. The next is a simple byte check. Just select "Get Info" on the source and destinations and verify the total number of bytes is the same at the origin and the destinations.  The final confirmation is opening the media in an NLE or other type of media viewer. Make sure that the media is able to be read by the software and that it plays both video and sound. At the very least, make sure the first, middle, and last clip of each card play properly. Also, don't forget to download the proper software for corresponding cameras before you start a new project - sometimes you won't have internet and not having the XAVC AMA plugin for AVID isn't a good thing. If something doesn't seem right, make sure you flag that card, so it doesn't get formatted, and make sure post takes a look at it when you return from the shoot.  

3) Don't Drink and Offload: Yeah, it was a great shoot day, and everyone is sitting in your hotel room drinking beers, but let's remember what's at stake here... The incredible content you captured today doesn't matter if you can't get the media properly backed up. Media Management can seem like a relatively simple job (and a lot of times it is), which is why you shouldn't drink and media manage - a beer or two may loosen you up, but it can also make you offload the same card twice or forget to verify the bytes on the destinations. Once you've verified your final offload, go ahead and pull out the whiskey. 

The easiest, and unfortunately, worst thing you can do is take Media Management lightly. It's important that during pre-production, there is a full conversation about media management... from drive and interface types to offload and turnaround times to offload naming syntax and proper organization. 

You may not get a pat on the back for doing this right, but you'll definitely be the unsung hero of the shoot. 


Gear Lists: Don't Slack Off

It's the Martini shot, and all you need is that extra Flex Fill so the crew can wrap for the day and grab a few local craft beers, but unfortunately, it's no where to be found. It's obviously not in the small pelicans because it won't fit in there, but that's about the only lead you have. Now, everyone is staring at you, waiting to roll, and you're going through all twenty one cases in hopes that you didn't leave it in the production vehicle that's parked on the sixth floor of a parking garage twelve blocks away.

It's the AC's responsibility to manage gear, and the best way to do that is to have a place for everything.

Each company and each project is going to have different gear needs and casing options, but it's important to create a system that makes sense to you. I like to create grouping and tiering systems for all my gear. It sounds complicated, but once you create the schema, it's very simple and very quick. For example, Group One would contain all camera-related gear, such as camera bodies, lensing options, bricks, monitors, etc. Then, I create a tiered hierarchy of related gear, so Case One would be the camera body, while Case Two has the lensing, and Case Three has the Odyssey 7Q monitor. It allows me to remember where things are in certain places based on their proximity/importance to the camera. Then Group Two would be lighting-related cases; Group Three has grip-related equipment; Group Four is Sound, and so on...

Also, it's just as important to log all of your gear in a spreadsheet or list. The spreadsheet should be broken down by case and what each case has inside of it. This way, there is a record of the gear that was brought, so you if can't remember where something is, you can pull the list up and check (I keep my iPad with me, which contains the gear list and camera manuals on it)... I've got a quick draw on finding gear (and camera solutions). 

Depending on where I'm traveling, I also like to tape a short list of the contents on the outside of each case. If you're traveling internationally or in very public places, you may not want to promote that you have a Sony F55 with the with hundreds of thousands of dollars in lenses inside, but if you're on a closed set, it can help help you find things quickly, as well as giving you the added bonus that there is a guide for where everything goes at the end of the day. You can also place that list inside the case if the location is sensitive (I like to to put it above the top foam).

Let's be honest, we can't expect for our brains to work perfectly after a 36 hour travel day or 14 hours in the Southwest Sun. Your questions have answers, so make sure they are written down and logged. A half hour on your prep day can change that feeling in your stomach that you forgot something on your 15 hour flight to India or help you find that cheeseplate (and help you get to the cheeseburgers) at the end of the day.