Short, But Sweet: Proper Data Wrangling

When I compile questions from the Video Assist email inbox, sometimes, I just respond via email because the question can be answered so quickly. I mentioned this to a friend. He said that just because a question has a short answer doesn’t make it any less important.

He was right. It got me thinking that some questions others ask may not be ones you’ve even considered. Or maybe this month’s column is just a way to clear out the old mailbag. I’ll let you decide.

A CAUTIONARY TALE

Q This really isn’t a question, but a way for me to shout from the rooftops about making sure you pay attention to how your data is handled. I recently had a project with a short time frame and a tight budget. I didn’t have real control of who was going to be on the shoot and what their responsibilities would be. That was handled by the person managing the budget. One of the decisions was to hire a production assistant who would also double as the person responsible for off-loading all the footage to drives during the day. To make a long story short, we ended up with about 95% of the footage that we shot. Not bad, huh? Of course, 99% would have been good, and 100% would have been ideal.

Not only that, but it took the editor a day to get things reconfigured so he could ingest everything properly. I’m not sure what he ran into, but there were grumblings of renaming and not following the folder structure. In the end, we got something done. It was painful, and there was at least one shot that I really could have used. Learn, and live to shoot another day.
M.L.
Via email

A Thanks for the note, or should I say horror story. It’s a good reminder to us all to pay attention to all the parts in the machine. As you noted, all it takes is one flaw to affect the whole process. I understand budgets can be spread thin. I’ve noticed that some people think having a DIT or even just a data manager is a luxury. Instead, a production assistant is hired and then trained to do the job of wrangling the data.

I’m not saying a production assistant can’t be trained to do the job. The problem is that people assume the PA is on the shoot so they can do all sorts of things, with data management just a part-time job. That’s where problems can happen. Instead of focusing on the job at hand—making sure the data is off-loaded and verified—they have to multitask. For example, they might start the file copy process and then run off to do something else the director or producer has asked for. As a result, they might not have been at their computer when someone tried to look at a shot and stopped a process or moved a file. Or they might not have noticed when someone accidentally moved a memory card from the waiting-to-be-off-loaded stack to the ready-to-use stack.

As you said, 100% would be ideal. The way to assure that is to make sure the person handling the data is 100% focused on that job.

SHOOT 4K Or 2K?

Q For some projects down the road, I’ve been given access to a 4K camera for capture. I feel like this is some sort of “Twilight Zone”—”be careful of what you wish for.” Now, I seem to have more dizzying options than ever before. My struggle is mostly centered about the format I should shoot in. With one big project, I’ll be shooting a ton of footage. Actually, I won’t be doing the shooting, but want to make sure my camera dude is getting what I need.

I don’t think I really have the storage, both short and long term, to shoot it at 4K. Since my final delivery is HD (and it doesn’t have much shelf life), I thought it might make sense to meet halfway and shoot 2K. That would allow me to push in on a few shots and give me some flexibility with framing during the edit.

Before you start questioning why I would even choose the 4K camera since I’m not going to use all of its resolution, I do have an answer for that. We’ll be traveling for a while on several different projects and my cameraman doesn’t want to keep switching cameras midstream. He thinks it makes sense to keep with one camera so he can be “used to it” instead of switching back and forth and trying to remember menus and switch placement.
F.D.
Via email

A I’m glad you’re asking this question now. Thinking about storage and postproduction, and how it’s impacted by choices you make in preproduction, is smart. I remember hearing a post supervisor commenting, “When you rent a camera, they don’t charge you more when you toggle the resolution from HD to 4K. But that little change can have a dramatic effect on your post budget.”

I also think your camera guy is wise because, if he only has to deal with one camera, he doesn’t have to keep switching gears. Although switching cameras in the middle isn’t a deal breaker, getting used to a camera day in and day out can lead to great efficiencies when shooting.

But there’s one error in your thinking about which resolution to shoot in. Although 4K is said to be four times the resolution of HD, don’t assume that 2K is two times the resolution of HD. Perhaps you don’t think that, but since you mentioned that you wanted the flexibility to “push in,” I assume that you think 2K is a big step up over HD in terms of resolution. Unless you want to start scaling up your footage beyond 100% (you’ll also start to lose image quality), you won’t be able to push in. HD and 2K share the same vertical picture count, which is 1080; (full) HD is 1920×1080, and 2K is 2048×1080. Note that the vertical pixel count is the same.

With the larger horizontal pixel count, you do have the flexibility to pan left or right. But that extra space to the left and right doesn’t give you the flexibility to dramatically change composition (probably to the delight of your camera guy).

That flexibility also comes at a cost. As you can see from the pixel count, 2K isn’t at the 16:9 aspect ratio that 1920×1080 is; it’s more like 17:9. So, if you don’t want small black bars on the top and bottom of the screen, you’ll have to crop the captured image on the left or right side—or on both sides.

If you monitor with a 16:9 view during capture, this won’t be a problem. But if you don’t, you may be frustrated with how the final composition turns out.

EXPLOSIVE!

Q I’m to shoot a corporate video for a company shipping chemicals at sea. I can shoot the way I usually do on the bridge, but I can’t shoot anything outside because, at times, the ships carry highly explosive chemicals. I’m to use an “intrinsically safe” camera, which stands for explosion-proof equipment. Problem is, it’s hard or almost impossible to find one to rent—and I live in Burbank, California. Is there a way to make one of my cameras explosion-proof? I own a Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the normal barrage of GoPros. I’m ruling out my Panasonic HPX500. What are my best options on the “making of” or the rental side?
D.A.
Burbank, California

A I think the “making of” option is off the table, for several reasons. First, you’ve probably read various online discussions about using underwater cases (or other styles of cases) as a means to segregate electronics from an unsafe atmosphere. This comes from the assumption that preventing explosions is all about eliminating sparks when buttons are pushed or cameras are turned on. So let’s go with that assumption. An underwater housing might seem like the solution. But what about static electricity? We know that causes sparks. Cases that are made of plastic might be just the right formula to build up static electricity when they react to clothing that you’re wearing. The cases are designed to keep water out, not to keep static electricity from forming.

Second, even if you get past the “spark” issue, “intrinsically safe” means much more. For example, the rig has to be designed so that, if there’s a hardware fault—such as a component failure or if the battery shorts out—nothing will happen that could cause a reaction in the potentially explosive atmosphere. Once again, underwater housings are designed to keep water out.

Third, let’s say you could meet the various technical specifications for creating an intrinsically safe camera. You won’t have the certification documents that a safety officer could sign off on—and they always err on the side of caution for obvious reasons.

As you can tell, I think specially designed equipment is really the way to go, but this is an extremely narrow niche product with incredible liability issues. CorDEX (www.cord-ex.com) makes a unit that you could consider. You might be able to locate some places that rent them.

To have your video production technical questions answered, send an email to [email protected]

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