Proliferating Content Sources Challenge Postproduction Pros

The good news in postproduction is that there are more ways than ever to get source material that makes for easier storytelling, whether it’s cellphone video, Flip cameras, or higher-end Sony HDCAM SR and Panasonic DVCPRO material. The bad news is finding ways to efficiently handle all the new ways content is acquired.

This was the essence of the conversation at SVG’s Sports Entertainment Production Summit this week when postproduction professionals discussed the current state of technology as it relates to creating reality, commercial, and feature stories surrounding the big game.

“We struggle with the variety of formats and how to integrate them into a workflow,” said Mark Raudonis, SVP of postproduction, Bunim/Murray Productions. “It’s a tower of babel, and, for shows like Real World, we have 6,500 hours of material to deal with. The raw material has to be logged, stored, managed, and that is the pain point: the massive amount of media we have to deal with.”

Brad Boim, postproduction operations manager, NFL Network, noted that the challenge is exacerbated by the move to digital files and tapeless recording. In the era of tape-based recording, camera people would have a limited number of available takes. Today, he said, a simple shoot of a stadium will produce 18 takes, with the camera person hoping one is in focus.

“Shooters now have enough cards to record anything,” he added. “There is no real limitation, so they end up doing a pan of a stadium over and over until they get it perfect.”

And then there is the issue of organizing those 18 takes for postproduction. More often than not, filenames are nothing more than something along the lines of “DSC012584,” which requires that each clip be opened and viewed by a logger.

“You used to get five tapes for a show, and now you get a carton with 25 [drives or discs] … and you need to wrap your head around 2,100 clips, look at the shots, and get the material transcoded before it can hit the postproduction environment,” Boim explained. “We need to be able to take the clips from the cards and flatten them into Quicktime files that are watchable and easily trackable.”

The good news is that cameras from Canon, Panasonic, and Sony are all getting better at generating metadata that can be used to organize content. Tim Okon, director, Broadcast Operations Group, MPE, pointed out that naming conventions are often subjective, with one group ingesting files with names that mean nothing to the editors and others in the facility.

That is one reason the media manager is critical to any facility, serving as the enforcer and making sure content does not get lost. And with most facilities today relying on a freelance workforce, the media manager is a steadying presence that can help troubleshoot and prioritize jobs.

The NFL Network has taken steps to prevent editors and others from simply plugging a drive into a server and dumping content without its first passing through the media manager.

“There is some complaining, but … we would rather control that process,” Boim said. “It is a lot more work, but the execution is right.”

Todd Daly, SVP of strategic operations and production, Fox Sports, said that it is also important to pick the best-of-breed tools for the job and standardize across an entire operation (for Fox Sports, that means both regional and national networks).

“You can deal with the wants and wishes of the producer,” he added, “but you need to be practical and minimize transcoding.”

The workflow challenge is exacerbated by the uncertainty over the role Apple Final Cut Pro will have in the postproduction community going forward. The Final Cut nonlinear editing system reshaped the industry most notably by offering a price point that helped it steal market share from Avid and Quantel systems.

But the latest version of Final Cut Pro, version X, is focused squarely on the consumer market and eliminates many features required for professional productions.

“You can’t fault Apple for their decisions,” said Raudonis. “They aimed Final Cut X at exactly the audience they wanted. We just don’t happen to be that audience.”

Okon says NAB 2012 will be an interesting one, with the professional post community hitting the show wondering whether it is time to look to other options. However, many freelance editors make a living on the previous version of Final Cut Pro.

“We have 50 freelance editors,” Boim pointed out, “and only two have looked at [Final Cut Pro, version X], because there is no viability for it in the broadcast space.”

Click here for SVG’s comprehensive coverage of the Sports Entertainment Production Summit!

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