Perfecting the Tapeless Workflow

There often comes a point in a shoot day, or week, when the value of the footage we've shot exceeds that of the equipment we’re using to shoot it!

You look at the tapes and start to think of the work that was done to capture the footage, the lighting, the heartfelt storytelling by the subjects, the efforts of the actors and production team.

Or what about the one-time events - the release of the weather balloon, the breeching whale, the explosion, the expensive aerials?

The tapes become – “The Money.”

They’re the only thing I know that can start out the day with a value of twenty bucks, and end the day worth thousands!

So what happens when we’re asked to shoot onto CF Cards, hard drives, P2, SxS, or flash media? I can tell you for those of us who have been shooting twenty years or more, it’s a little unnerving. The footage seems so vulnerable there – bits and bytes of it floating around on little cards and drives. Now granted, tapes have problems too. But at least at the end of the day, you have something physical to look at!

The challenge then is to get over our neuroses and fully embrace the tapeless workflow, and make it as safe (or even safer) than shooting onto tape or film.

Here’s how we do that here at Big Pictures:

First we always have at least two portable drives on the set. One of them can be ours, and one can be the client’s. We carry Lacie 500GB Rugged Firewire drives (or similar). With us, it’s just part of the package when we’re shooting with our nanoFlash, 5D, P2 camera, F3, or any number of our other tapeless configurations. We have created a "Media Management Kit" that includes all the adaptors, drives, and cables we need - along with a Macbook Pro loaded with Shotput Pro.

Then we simply download the cards to one of the drives via a laptop, and then copy it over to another. Or download to both drives concurrently (there’s some great software that helps with this – like Shotput Pro.) One drive goes with (or gets shipped to) the client, and the other stays with us. Once the first drive makes it to the edit suite and is backed up, we can release the second drive.

Now this of course begs the question of who does all this downloading and backing up in the middle of the busy shoot day. If it’s a big enough shoot, and there is a lot of footage, it’s great to have a Media Manager on the set who can handle this. This can be anyone from a well-trained PA to a Media Manager. Sometimes the producer takes on this role. Otherwise, it’s up to the camera crew. We just build it into the day.

Our HDX900-nanoFlash combination gives you the best of all worlds - as we can concurrently roll on tape, and the nanoFlash's CF cards. This gives you the tapeless workflow with the extra protection of tape backups and archiving.

If done properly, tapeless production can be an amazingly efficient way to work. But for those of us who have worked with film and tape for so many years, it takes a little getting used to. Instead of handing the client a box of 30-minute cassettes at the end of the day, you hand them a drive. And if something happens to that drive, you always have a backup – which is more than you can say for that box of tapes!


This Article first appeared in the March 2010 issue of Big Pictures News, and was updated in 2012. Written by Tom Miller. Copyright 2010, Big Pictures Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved