Tapeless Workflows, a Jump to the Past?

We in the post world are on the verge of an explosion in media management, and it isn’t a pretty sight. The worst part is that even though it is billed as the future, it really is a bast from the past. That is going to be very trying on many of the new production and post crowd who haven’t been raised with the disciplines of the old workflows.

To better understand what I’m saying, let’s take a trip down memory lane. In the beginning, there was film, and all was good. Well, except that it was very expensive and that meant you didn’t want to waste any processing on it. So the the Script Person was invented and they took copious notes on the set about what the director wanted to keep and what he didn’t. The infamous “circled takes” were printed and the rest was ignored to save money. Then sound came along and another layer of complexity was added to the equation. Since it was recorded separately, it needed to be tracked carefully and then painstakingly married to the circled takes by an assistant editor. Then all of the various film takes were carefully organized by assistant editors so that they could be found easily when the editor needed any particular shot.

Then came videotape with picture and audio married, and all was good. Except that it was ridiculous to edit and involved actually using a razor on the tape after sprinkling on elements that allow the editor to see and edit in the correct part of the video signal. And, tape being cheap, the idea of carefully planning each shot went out the door. This meant editors now had to scan through tons of footage to find the precious moments needed for the story.

Then came videotape editing systems, and then timecode capable videotape editing systems, and all was good. Except that is was a linear process. Deciding to go back and trim a frame earlier in the show meant going down a generation of videotape. On the other hand, one could use timecode logs from the shoot, and easily cue to the exact frame needed for any edit. This eliminated the need for so many assistant editors handling and organizing the various elements. Aside from the linear aspect, this was a very efficient process.

Then came the NLE, and all was good. Finally, we had the best of both worlds. Tape with audio and video married, that was trackable by tape name and timecode could be captured into the computer and edited in a nondestructive, nonlinear fashion. The need for an assistant editor was reprised to carefully capture and organize shots from the tons of wasted footage that was captured because “tape was cheap.”

Then came file based capture and editing, and, well, all wasn’t so good. Now the files created on the shoot couldn’t easily be renamed without causing media management issues down the line. This made organizing footage a tricky and time consuming process. However, “drives are cheap” so the concept of “just leave the camera running” became part of the standard operating procedure for production. Which resulted in enormous quantities of media with meaningless file names. And some cameras necessitated the return to double system sound recording, which heralded the return of marrying sound to the aforementioned tons of footage.

And I haven’t even touched on the subject of archiving original footage which promises to continue to plague us until someone markets a reasonable solution.

Unfortunately, this blending of the worst parts of the film workflow with the worst parts of the videotape mindset, have created a monster for the poor guys in post. Many are using the solution of just ingesting everything at full resolution so they won’t have to worry about renaming files and the relinking problems that will cause down the line. This of course requires a LOT of storage. And it better be protected storage or one bad drive will mean potentially irreparable damage to the project.

Have we really moved forward?

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Terence Curren has had a passion for filmed entertainment since the age of 12, when he began creating home movies with an old eight-millimeter camera. He began his career in the early 1980s by directing,…