“I think it got deleted.”
These are the five worst words any producer or director can hear. Production shoots are chaotic and high-energy spaces where things are moving at a million miles an hour. This is especially true for documentaries, live events and sports, or indie productions trying to cram as much into a production shoot day as possible. In these instances, a good media management playbook will save your bacon in a hurry.
“Media management” covers a wide range of activities, but really it comes down to how you get your footage out of the camera and into your editing system. It’s also one of the most overlooked elements of a production.
Technology has helped mask a lot of bad practices, but my heart is in my mouth when I see how many young and small productions take care of their media.
Large productions have the budget to hire a media manager (sometimes erroneously referred to as a DIT, or more likely a workload simply added to that job). But most small and indie production companies just don’t have the staff to dedicate a person solely to this role, even though it’s crucial.
At Hurrdat Films, we’re still indie filmmakers at the end of the day, and with a few exceptions of larger-scale commercial shoots, even we don’t typically have the budget for a media manager.
So how can a small shop or indie production best manage their media—especially on a documentary? Here are six crucial elements to our workflow.
Two Is One & One Is None
Always immediately back up your shoot media, and do it on separate drives. For Hurrdat Films, we not only have two copies of the original media on two different drives, but we create a third version, and that’s what gets ingested into our edit bays.
Create a True Copy of the Cards
Your cards and/or media contain all kinds of valuable information you’re unaware of—especially us Mac users, who don’t see a lot of hidden files. Unless you make a true copy of the cards, you can miss that valuable, hidden information. Fortunately, there are a number of software products designed for fast dual media copying. We were using Offload by Red Giant, but have since moved to a program called ShotPut Pro. In a pinch, at least copy the card “folder” that pops up on your computer when you connect your card or media.
Have Dedicated Shoot Drives
We have a small fleet of drives exclusively dedicated to shoots, listed as Shoot Drive A & B. Their sole purpose is for shoots when we transfer cards onto them as an intermediary of our system. We transfer from these drives into our two drives that house all our original media (an “original media master drive” and a “backup” original media drive).
Avoid Unplanned “Media Dumps”
Ingesting media during long breaks between interview shoots is actually a good safety move, but having to clean a media card simply to keep shooting is a little dicey—especially without a dedicated media manager. It can quickly create confusion, and evoke one of the most dreaded questions any crew member can ask: “Wait…is footage already copied or not?”
To prevent this heart-stopping moment, stick to planned media ingestion so you have the time to prepare a second card if necessary—you can never have too much media! So, remember, two is one, and one is none. Whatever format you’re filming on, keep your eye out for deals on cards, and continue to add to your arsenal.
Green Means Go, Red Means Stop
Create some rules and as clear and simple a workflow as possible. This is especially true for small and indie productions that are likely using freelancers for additional support. We had a huge wake-up call about 15 years ago at a hotel after having one too many conversations with our camera crew where someone said, “Wait. Do clean cards go on the bathroom sink, or is that for full cards?”
Currently, Hurrdat Films maintains two pelican card cases for each camera operator. One is lined with green gaffer tape on the outside, the other with red. “Clean” cards go in the green case, and “full” cards go in the red. Camera operators are to never take a card from the red and place it in their camera. This may seem like a small thing, but in a fast-paced shoot environment, simple things like “Red means stop, green means go” can be a lifesaver.
Manage by the Day
Regardless of how much available media you have left on a particular card or drive, do not continue using it for multiple days on a shoot. You’ll want to “media dump” at the close of each day of shooting, at least. Two major benefits of doing so are (a) it helps you catalog footage, and (b) it’s a significant safety measure. If you have your entire multi-day shoot on one card, and that card gets lost or damaged, you’ve just lost your entire shoot.
This is the first in a series of blogs dedicated to media management. Next time, we’ll focus more on naming convention, folder structures, and what to do with your media once it’s in your editing system.
Dan Napoli is the Head of Creative & Post-Production for Hurrdat Films. He has over 20 years of experience in the video production and film industry as a writer, director, and editor with nearly two-dozen documentaries to his credit. He also co-hosts “Yellin’ In My Ear,” a podcast centered around ‘80s & ‘90s Gen X pop culture, and “Reel Life,” where he interviews fellow documentary filmmakers about how they took their latest project from the real-life event to the film reel. His two most recent films, Best Kids In Texas and 50 Summers, are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV.