Exploring Workflow, Storage & Archive in M&E – Isn’t This Someone Else’s Problem?

ProMAX Systems’ Jess Hartmann helps us dig into how professionals across the industry can and should think of asset management

The nuts and bolts of the creative process are not my specialty. When I worked at a post house, I had my own system for versioning, and it was not one my coordinator appreciated. Even when I’m grabbing footage at places like NAB or IBC, I know I should be backing up everything, but I rarely take that extra step. Ultimately, these are things that could reflect poorly on me, since going back to v4 when we were at v8 meant a different and unappreciated process for my coordinator, and if something happens to the footage at those trade shows, I’d literally have nothing to show for my efforts.

It’s not that I refuse to take those extra steps or am totally opposed to institutional policy, but the way they wanted to save versions meant a lot of the updates that were final decisions weren’t reflected in old project files. When you’re at NAB trying to publish a few articles and be in three different places at once, who has time to make sure everything is backed up correctly?

A lot of these issues can be eliminated or eased with a system or process of asset management, but that’s a borderline dirty word in media & entertainment. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like when we start talking about “asset management”, we’re talking about something that’s complicated and/or nonsensical, and that’s all stuff I can come back to and deal with eventually, right? But as I dug into this topic with Jess Hartmann, the CEO of ProMAX, it was easy to see that mentality isn’t the correct or best way to look at such things.

“There’s a big misnomer out there that gets people to think they’re going to come to a point where they say, ‘now it’s time to do asset management’,” Jess said. “The reality is you’ve been doing asset management all along. You may have been doing it badly, but you’re managing the assets one way or another. You’re getting stuff done, but it’s your approach to asset management and your methodologies that are either good or bad that’s going to get you a better result.”

And of course, he was right. Much as I might not want to admit it, I was already managing those assets at NAB, I was just doing a poor job of it. But as the old saying goes, if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right.

I’ve talked with Jess before about some of these storage and process details, but I wanted to break this topic down with him as far as it could go, and really try to figure out why it’s something that isn’t top of mind for many professionals while also being an issue that many people struggle with. And some of that might start with the terminology we’re using.

“Asset management” might be cringe-worthy, but if you’re talking about storage, archive and workflow, it’s a much different sensation. There are entire digital asset management (DAM) systems out there, and their main purpose is to handle or manage essential aspects for storage, archive and workflow processes. The problem is that while many of those systems are undoubtedly great at what they do, they can be complicated or difficult to learn. But it’s not just about systems or technology. It’s simple and easy enough to start a process or practice that ensures everything is where is needs to be, and that’s a critical aspect of asset management. Regardless of the scale or complications, all that matters is whether or not that process or system is actually being utilized. And that’s where things can get tricky.

An example of a simple digital asset management process. From CatDV

 

“If there’s two guys in an organization, they can pretty easily agree to a process around where new assets go, what folder is going to hold their deliveries, etc.,” Jess explained. “But when you get five, ten, people working together, now you’ve got to create a systematic process, and you should use some technology around that. And frankly, the more capable a DAM system is, the more complex it gets. And that’s where we start creating rules and process, and it’s where people start getting turned off.”

“It’s not that creatives are unorganized or hate putting things where they’re supposed to go,” he continued. “It’s just that they don’t even think about doing a lot of that in the moment. I’ve definitely seen creatives embrace a system that works for them and for their process. So long as you don’t force a creative into a difficult, technical or time consuming process, they appreciate it because then their life is better. Organization isn’t rejected so long as it meets those criteria. I don’t think there’s too many creatives who wouldn’t agree that it would be great to be able to find everything they wanted and make their process more efficient. But there’s a gap between that concept and how hard it is to make a reality.”

That creative mindset might be the core issue here, and it’s one practically everyone involved in M&E at some level possesses. There’s a reason video professionals put up with 18 hour days and having to sleep at their desks to wait for a render to finish up. There’s a reason editors often cut multiple projects at once and filmmakers max out their credit cards to make passion projects a reality. Anyone who didn’t have that mindset isn’t long for the industry.

The need to focus on the creative aspects of a project is what professionals want to spend their time doing, which means they don’t want to get mired in details about backups and how information is going to move from one location to another. But it’s very interesting to step back and consider what that means in terms of what does and doesn’t work.

Screen shot of the ProMAX Platform MAM UI

 

“There are a couple angles IT companies or software developers have taken when it comes to building things out.” Jess said. “The one most industries landed on was to create a product or piece of software that can do anything for anybody, and you then have to figure out how to use it in your way, which you develop your process around. When it comes to the creative industry though, many of the principles don’t want to have to think about how or why they use something, or what would be the best way for them to use it. They just want it to work. That’s why they need something that’s defined as, ‘this is the way it works’. That difference in philosophy is one of the reasons that, generally speaking, the creative people love Apple, and the tech people love Microsoft. And in this industry I think we have to have systems that are much more like the way Apple works. ‘Do it this way, and that’s the way it works.’ So it has to be simple and easy, with little to no training involved.”

You don’t need to look any further than Apple’s Time Machine to see how well something like this can work. If you set it up properly, all you have to do is plug in an external drive and it ‘ll automatically backup your files. That’s a simple example, but it’s the sort of process that works especially well for anyone who doesn’t want to take the time to deal with a couple extra clicks that would otherwise be needed to initiate the process.

That automation and ease of use are the key elements of this entire conversation though, because they’re both essential in a way that not everyone realizes. If there’s an easy but bad way to do something, people are going to do it versus a difficult but better manner. But Jess had a few more details to share about what that means and how it can and does impact the way we work.

“When it comes to asset management there are 2 typical reactions,” he went on to say. “One is that most people simply avoid dealing with it, but the second part of it is related, since many aren’t doing it because it’s so hard. It’s complex. It takes IT-analyst type thinking to organize things in these categories and buckets and processes. And that’s anti-creative. It’s not how people in this industry think or operate. We don’t want to draw in the lines. We want to create our own lines. Speaking strictly about production/post environments, asset management systems are too complex. They’re just too hard to use. It’s about process change, and you have to get people to agree to it. It has to be something that’s easy to do, so we’re talking about iPhone-like simplicity. If and when things are that easy, creatives will adopt it willingly and without issue.”

That concept is something ProMAX has adopted with Platform, because they’ve seen and have recognized that the market is demanding this sort of process. Folks like Scott Simmons have showcased some of those details in the past, and it’s clearly resonating with professionals.

Figuring out a better process is something many of us want to do, but there are instinctual concerns that different is going to mean more difficult. That doesn’t have to be the case, but the differences in terms of capabilities also represent another aspect of this conversation.

As the technology changes, capabilities and process change as well. What’s possible with updates or new hardware and software products has become a factor in a way it never was before. Just take storage capability as an example. With so much more space on our computers we don’t have to be as cognizant of what info is being kept where. And that can become a problem from an organizational standpoint, but also from a practical one.

“For the most part, we’ve converted to all digital workflows, and that’s been happening for awhile now,” Jess explained. “It’s not extremely new, but it is starting to compound. Simply put, more and more data is starting to pile up. In the older days we would put it on a firewire drive and put it on the shelf. But since more stuff fits we keep that stuff around. And it creates problems. Those are from an organization sense, but from an individual perspetive, you’re just trying to figure out what goes where, or not caring about it. When you’re in the middle of trying to produce content, you don’t worry about the stuff that isn’t immediate. But it adds up.”

One of the questions I wanted to get into with Jess was around some tips or advice that are universal around this subject, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that it’s kind of silly question to ask. Because any tip or advice that’s relevant for an individual isn’t going to mean much to a team of ten people. And those ten people are going to be collaborating and working differently with one another if they’re all in a single location versus across the world. And of course, that’s without even mentioning what these issues look like when the scale is exponentially higher.

Nonetheless, I thought it was worthwhile to break things down as far as they could go, and even if the info sounds rudimentary when you get this basic, it’s info that we need to hear.

“Let’s start at the beginning, which is in the world of ingest. When we’re bringing content in from sources, whether it’s an SDI feed off a camera or a digital transfer off of a card, what’s critical as a best practice is to get this stuff transferring and backed up. What we should all know as users of storage technology is that all of these devices are fallible. The majority of the time you don’t have a second chance to capture this stuff. There are also requirements from insurance companies around backups, so there are practical, financial and even legal ramifications if it’s not something that’s taken care of. And I think that info should be organized and set aside in a set location so you can always go back to it.”

I know how important backing up my info is. I’ve heard it over and over, and I’ve even experienced data loss. The fact is, we’ve all heard how important it is to backup our files, and not having to dig through countless folders to find what you’re looking for is ideal, especially when the files we’re looking through are huge. But even with all of that in mind, I don’t take the extra step when I’m at NAB. But that “extra step” is an especially relevant part of this topic.

Because sure, awareness of what we actually should be doing is important. But that’s not enough. It goes back to the concept of everything we do being asset management in one way or another, and needing to realize we’re doing it anyway, so we might as well do it right. But how do we do it right?

“Do you have any kind of technology that helps you do handle your backups?” Jess asked rhetorically. “Part of the answer to implementing best practices is implementing simplistic systems and process to help create these best practices. If you do something enough times it becomes a habit, so you need to make an effort to make those things good habits that create a process around things utilizing technology to make things easier. That’s the goal of workflow efficiency.”   

In short, the answer to my question in the title of this article is no, and that’s as true for a person working on a one-off project as it is for someone collaborating with a team. No matter the scale, you should be aware of what files are going where, how they’re being utilized, stored and archived. Sometimes you can get away with not knowing those details. And sometimes you can’t. But in both cases, you’re better off with that knowledge and expertise. 

“These issues do resonate with people,” Jess concluded. “When you talk to them about it they get it. It’s not new, but it’s also not something that’s come up urgently; it’s more that they know it’s something they’ll have to deal with at some point. But many of them are struggling with making a determination around when that can or will happen.”

Figuring out when and how professionals at all levels come to that decision is something I’m looking to explore in this series, so check back here for more of those details. You can also send us an email, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook to let us know how you’d like to see these topics analyzed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Jeremiah Karpowicz

Jeremiah Karpowicz moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter but quickly realized making a film was about much more than the script. He worked at a post house where films like Watchmen (2009), Gamer (2009), and Green Lantern (2011) came through the door, but settled in as the Executive Editor of ProVideo Coalition, a publication which pulls together content from working professionals across media & entertainment. He’s shot, edited, and posted video content from various trade shows for PVC and writes for the site regularly.

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