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Managing your assets

Managing your assets
Jake Bickerton
03 May 2016

A group of highly experienced broadcast and corporate filmmakers came together to talk through their production workflows at a roundtable session at the Hospital Club last month. The lively two-hour session, sponsored by Sony, focused on the difficulties associated with managing the many assets created on a typical shoot these days.

Sprat is a creative collective that produces web videos, music videos and commercials and has worked with clients such as Virgin Atlantic, Avid, Cisco, Gibson Guitars, Premier Inn, Kodak, Google, The Ting Tings and Huey Morgan from the Fun Loving Criminals.

Based in Bristol and founded in 1992 by producer, director and writer Steve Humphries, Testimony Films is an award-winning producer of compelling life story based social history documentaries.

True Vision was formed in 1995 to make television that engages the viewer with issues that matter. Our aim is to bring the audience character-led narratives that entertain but also inform and educate.

Mike set up Propergander Films to work on marketing films running the gamut from George Cleverley Shoes to Sony Professional and The Courtauld Institute of Art. He also runs post production company DDF Post, which works on Big Brother.

Known for its long running blue light series, Raw Cut has had cult hits with Police Interceptors and Road Wars but has recently seen rapid growth into landmark observational documentaries and history features.

Nic Kemp is an experienced workflow consultant with a background in production, who specialises in helping teams at production companies maximise the potential of their workflows.

The raw material for all our productions at Testimony Films is our interviews. What these are recorded on has changed enormously over the last 20 years, but particularly in the last four or five years.

The change over to tapeless was a major change for us as we had such a big archive of tapes. Our main aim was to archive our large collection of interviews and to set up a system where we could archive at source.

Our workflow now is we shoot our interviews onto the camera’s media and simultaneously onto two Atomos devices, daisy chained together. We record DNx185 on the Atomos and use these for our rushes rather than the camera files, which are recorded at 50 Mb/s. The two SSD cards from the Atomos devices are also our mirrored back up.

Both the camera and the Atomos SSD files are ingested onto a RAID one drive. We then AMA link to the DNx185 files in Media Composer and create the MXF files from that.

At the end of the project, I do an LTO back up of the drive with the MXF files on and an LTO back up of the camera and Atomos originals, so I have two versions backed up independently onto LTO.

LTO is a good space saver – the last eight or nine years of films we’ve made still only takes up a couple of shelves of LTO. However, finding the data afterwards is still a challenge.

I was just jotting down what we’re filming on at the moment. Right now, we’re shooting on C300, C100, FS5, PMW, 5D, 4K Go Pro and A7S. So we’ve quite a lot of different codecs coming in and that’s complicated.

Shooting anything in 4K is a pain in terms of the volume of data you’re generating. It’s a bit irritating to deal with.

We do all our post in house, all the way through to delivery. In the field, everything gets backed up onto two separate hard drives every night. When tapeless came in, it was like, “Wow, fantastic.” And then you have to go and spend hours in your hotel room after the day’s shoot copying things across.

Everything then goes to Niki Whewell, our Office Manager, who’s very pedantic and very particular and is one of those people who loves detail. She renames all the files by date, a production code and a camera code. She then downconverts everything to a low-res QuickTime and that’s what we work on.

Much later, when we’ve got a picture lock, we’ll reconnect to the original codec, which will then be a mish mash of all different codecs on the timeline. So we convert all of that to ProRes HQ and do the final posting in ProRes HQ.

We archive onto LTOs, which seems to work pretty well for us as we very rarely go back to the rushes. On the odd occasions we do, we just say to Niki, “Tomorrow we’re going to need those rushes.” She knows what’s on each tape and has a detailed record of it, so she lines the tape up and leaves it ingesting overnight. 

I film marketing films on the Sony A7S with an Atomos recorder. I’m filming end-to-end UHD for some of these productions and I’ve actually really enjoyed that process so far.

But I’ve a problem having my own end-to-end solution for UHD. I’ve been working out how to shoot and edit in UHD but I wouldn’t say I’ve sorted out what to do with my UHD archive as yet.

I have 64 Terabytes of Raid 5 storage that sits under my desk at home and I sit my Avid Symphony on top of that. I hear the drives whirring away all the time, and I’m thinking, if they spin, they’re going to fail. We’ve all had that problem of sticking a hard drive in and it seizes, right? So what I want, I think, is a big chunk of Raided solid state media.

Workflows are very dependant on the craft editing system you’re using. I can’t see the point of going back to camera masters; I just go back to my Avid bin and relink back to my consolidated files – which in the future will hopefully be on some form of solid state library – so I can hit the ground running again in an instant. It’s hard to fault that media management system. As far as I’m concerned, you can bury the camera masters away somewhere.

We were at the forefront of the digital revolution, having gone digital in 2008. At the time it felt as though there were 101 ways to work a digital workflow. I didn’t even know what a workflow was. I was brought up on tape and you just kept the tape and put it in a plastic bag. That was the workflow. Now suddenly you actually had to think about how you were going to manage everything.

So our workflow now involves our shooters or, increasingly, the wranglers, putting the rushes onto a big hard drive on location. At the end of the day, we make a copy of that day’s rushes onto portable drives, which go to and from our post production office.

These are ingested into our edit systems and don’t get wiped until we’ve finished the production. So there’s always a mirrored back up in case something really catastrophic goes wrong.

As a company, we’ve gradually built up an aversion to spinning discs. So, at the end of each series, we back up onto Sony XDCAM/Professional Disc.

This was sort of an interesting choice at the time but we didn’t really want to start investing in LTO. It’s been okay but we’re looking at how much it’s costing us because we’re shooting more and more and at a higher resolution so we’re always increasing what we archive.

With the blue light stuff, legally we have to keep the stuff for seven years. So there are an awful lot of Professional Discs in our office. On an average series, we are using up around 130 to 150 of the biggest Professional Discs you can get, at a cost of almost £6,000 a series, just to do the archive.

So we looked at Sony’s ODA as the savings are quite startling. We’ve been using it for around a year now and only need around 35 ODA cartridges per series, which cuts our archiving costs to under £2,500 per series. There are a lot fewer cartridges to store on the shelf compared to Professional Discs, too.

Of course, as with any new system, you’ve got start up costs because ODA cartridges can only be read in an ODA deck. These are currently quite expensive, but the affordable media makes the whole system quite tempting.

We’ve even tried to do the maths with using flash memory all the time. To us, that would be the ideal solution – to keep each of the cards that come out of the camera.

All these systems we’ve put in place are all to get round the fact that the media you put in the camera is too expensive to keep as your archive media.

If they were cheaper, we would buy thousands of the camera media cards and simply keep them as our archive.

With my other hat on, as the owner of the post production company DDF, I have very different challenges to running a small production company. We provide post production for Big Brother and have done for many years. In recent years we’ve been backing up Big Brother content onto Professional Discs. Back in the day, it all used to be archived on tapes. We had £250,000 worth of tape stock and it went into a box somewhere with thousands and thousands of other tapes. We actually kept Betacam SX going well after its life. We used to put in an order for £300,000 worth of tape every year. It was a bit insane, both environmentally and also with the huge cost of the storage.

The Professional Discs we now use are recycled every couple of years. We bought enough discs for two to three years of programmes, then they are recorded over.

What we actually back up is the proxy media because you only really need to go back to what actually happened in the Big Brother house if there was a legal issue. Lawyers don’t need broadcast quality – for legal obligations we’re only contracted to keep all the proxy files.

Our workflow is pretty straightforward. We use mostly Canon cameras – the C300 and C100 – and, on the shoot, we copy the camera cards onto two field drives. One is a Raided system hooked up to an iMac, which becomes our working storage and the other is the backup.

At the end of the project, we copy all the project files and rushes onto the cheapest hard drive we can find, and this then gets added to our cupboard full of hard drives. We also give our clients a copy, again on a cheap drive.

All our jobs normally stay on our working drives for a further six months, as our Raided drives are quite big and if we’re going to need to re-visit the project again, it’s likely to be in this first six months.

The lifespan of traditional hard drives means there is a bit of an element of lucky dip involved if people need to get hold of a project that’s over four or five years old.

Once you’ve found the drive, you have to plug it in and cross your fingers it still works.

It’s definitely the weak spot in our workflow – I can picture all the drives in my cupboard now and I know they’re all slowly dying.

What we all have to think about with all the stuff in the cupboard locked away somewhere – your deeper archive – is how that footage is organised on those drives.

A well-organised human is equally as important as any machine. So whatever media asset management system you have in place, you still need someone who’s organised to design the structure of your metadata, your naming conventions and so on.

You need to really think about how valuable your clips are, as this relates to how much you should invest in your archive storage and the amount of metadata you put on to your clips to aid the ease of retrieval.

There are many situations where a production company will have petabytes of archive but they only know what two terabytes of that footage is.
So most of the archive will never be seen again as no one will have the time to go through all those petabytes of storage to work out what’s in it and add in all the necessary metadata to be able to find it again.

Media management takes time and somebody who is willing to take control of it. Only seven people work for my company and I certainly find there’s no one else except me who has much of an inkling about the way our archive is arranged.

We’ve got a quick turnaround series coming up that’s based offshore. We were thinking of using a cloud-based system to manage the media on that but aren’t sure it’s worth it. When you can buy a 1TB external hard drive from Ryman’s for £39.99 you have to compare this to a cloud-based system at a ridiculous price. It’s clear to see why the hard drive wins out.

Traditionally, cloud-based storage has been quite complicated and the cost structure quite expensive.

However, there are cloud providers coming out that are lowering the price and are much simpler to use as well. I think it’s only a matter of time before we see cloud storage that works well for media companies.

Pay as you go cloud storage with much lower cost for retrieval is something that would be more appealing. Ultimately, the security of what data centres can offer far outweighs the stacking up of old hard drives for your media archive.

Sony ODA and Media Navigator

Sony Optical Disc Archive (ODA) enables you to store your irreplacable data on a robust, safe archive format that will keep your content safe for more than 50 years. ODA uses the reliability of optical discs to store data safely and securely while keeping archiving costs low. Whether you have a small archive on a few shelves or a sprawling library of information, ODA is a scalable solution designed to grow with you. Sony’s ODA solutions include both long-term deep archive and near-online archive and fully integrate with broadcast workflows.

Sony Media Navigator is a powerful and affordable asset management solution that’s a perfect fit for smaller and medium sized production environments. Media Navigator orchestrates all your content workflow, from ingest, catalogue and editing to review, approvals, distribution and archive. It’s fully scalable, so is ideal for everyone, from single-seat users to large workgroups. Media Navigator enables a fast, flexible, and efficient workflow and provides both online and offline archive management of content using ODA media.

Robbie Flemming is the Sony contact for ODA and Media Navigator in Europe. Find out more at and

Finally, here's a demonstration about how Sony Media Navaigator works...

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