Archive for the ‘Archiving’ Category

How to ruin your career and embarrass yourself in half a second flat!

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Here’s something we encounter all the time, a major client with an insane deadline sends us a precious file of their motion picture to be laid off to BetaSP or Digibeta for use in a critical film festival screening where the audience includes top studio scouts and distributors.

At the screening, the lights dim, the projector fires up, and the film hits the silver screen with all its glory and charm. The distribution execs are cracking up at every joke and displaying the perfect body posture for the dramatic parts. The screening is going to be a hit… until… OH MY GOD! THERE’S SCRATCH DIALOGUE COMING FROM THE CHARACTERS’ MOUTHS! AND, WHERE DID THE MUSIC GO IN THAT SCENE? AAAAAK! A TEMP TITLE CARD THAT SAYS “SCENE MISSING”!

Poooof. There goes the distribution deal. There goes my life!! Anyone need a bartender out there?

But how could this have happened? The file was proofed and re-proofed and watched by several people. The film was perfect back in the online bay. And the file that was transferred for the screening was called “LOST IN PARADISE NEW FINAL VERSION REVISED”.

And therein lies the problem: The file name. The wrong file was used to make the transfer.

This is a dramatic illustration of the consequences of naming files without the use of a clear emnaming convention.

I don’t understand why so many actual professionals name there files things like:

Now when there are a bunch of discs floating around the office with various versions of these “FINAL” masters, it is really easy to see how things could go terribly wrong at the dub house when the incorrect file shows up for transfer.

For that matter, with everyone working from servers and hard drives all over the world, it’s super easy to see that a mis-named file in a folder could be mistaken for the correct one. In fact, people accidentally delete critical files all the time on their very own computer for this exact same reason.

So the trick is, ALWAYS NAME EVERY SINGLE FILE WITH A VALID NAME. Here are some excellent ideas to include in your name:

1) The date the file was made. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL! If there is no other info in the file name, you must use a DATE. With the real date in the file name, it is almost impossible to grab the wrong one since an actual date is so easily cross-referenced by invoices, production schedules, and other records of processes. Also, make the date read in reverse European-style syntax: YEAR/MONTH/DAY/TIME (military). That way, the date will always sort in perfect order and it will be crystal clear which file is the latest one.

Example: 2008_12_31_1325

2) The project name or abbreviation. “Lost in Paradise” becomes ”LIP”.

3) The status of the project, such as “RuffCut_No_Music” or “ColorCorrected_Master”

So your wonderful new, final, final, really truly master corrected revised file will end up looking like this:

Ain’t it a a beautiful thing? And if that file name is too long for a given purpose, you can still get by with:

God, that’s clean. MMMMMmmm. It’s delicious to behold and to archive. Oh, and by the way, you will be able to actually keep your job if you name files like this.


Computers are great, but we are losing our video shows forever!

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

We transferred some footage recently from Hi-8. Actually, I’m guessing the “master” was actually a sub-master from another Hi-8… or worse… (please don’t say it) a VHS master! The footage was absolutely loaded with blurry video noise. It was really important footage for an educational project and the footage was in really bad shape.


Then the thought dawned on me that our culture is losing so many valuable tapes everyday due to video disintegration and poor storage.


Back in 1980’s, movie film ended it’s century long reign as the archiving/mastering format of choice. Producers and studio vice presidents decided that video was here to stay (not to mention 10 times cheaper) and hundreds of thousands of television programs were mastered on 1″ reel-to-reel tape. Often times, the original film negatives were literally tossed in the trash to make room on the vault shelves for the shiny new videotape masters. Giant post houses across Hollywood were churning out telecine film transfers to tape at a break-neck pace.  And the footage actually looked amazing. Plus it was so fun and easy to manipulate, adding color saturation and playing with contrast and compositing all with a couple keystrokes on a computer.


Cut to 25 years later. Every time we transfer one of those 1″ masters to a current format, it makes me almost want to cry because the image has become so soft and noisy.  People worked so hard to make the original program, and much of this footage is valuable to our cultural history and entertainment. But the beautiful 1″ tapes just didn’t hold up to the test of time. It’s like a kind of extinction, the extinction of a whole era of visual gems.


So maybe I wasn’t so surprised to see the hi-8 footage also looking so badly after all these years.  But it makes me wonder if we are on the right course with all this digital media and everything on hard drives. Consider an event like Hurricane Katrina. If your masters were there on a hard drive and flooded with water, that would be that. However, if it were backed up on film, it could be salvageable.


The loss of this part of our culture really strikes a sad chord with me.  One of my favorite documentaries of all time “One Foot”, a 1979 PBS program produced by San Francisco’s KQED is gone forever. Nobody can every see it. That’s that.


Moral of the story… it makes a lot of sense to have redundant masters in different formats and locations. In other words, store a set of important masters in your mom’s attic and another entirely different format in your own closet.