Q&A: Seth Melnick, Independent DP/Producer
Why solid-state HD recording is more stable than tape
Melnick said he’s shot nearly 2,000 P2 cards worth of footage (starting with 4GB cards and now using 16 GB cards) and never had a clip lost. Other films shot with P2 include American Standard (
A: We shoot with one card in the camera (for features I find this best, although with longer form projects more then one card can be loaded). When the card is full we pull it and put a new card in.
The full card is put in its case and immediately wrapped in a strip of red tape, signifying the data needs to be offloaded. The card is inserted into a Dell XPS laptop by a 2nd assistant camera operator (AC), where it is copied to two hard drives connected via USB. This takes about 14 minutes for a 16 GB card. We also use a Duel Systems DuelAdapter to allow insertion of the PCMCIA P2 cards in the PCI Express slots of the laptop.
Once offloaded, a visual inspection of a couple of randomly chosen clips is done using a P2 Store viewer to make sure the data transferred properly. All of these actions are documented in the footage log by the AC, including what drives it has been copied to, the amount of data, the time code and the time the card was pulled from the camera. Once the footage is on two drives and confirmed visually, the card is taped with green so we know it is now available for use.
When time allows, the cards are then copied from one of the hard drives to a third hard drive location. This results in three redundant copies of the footage. At the end of each day one set of drives goes with production, one with the line producer and a third stays with me so I can review dailies.
Q: You’ve said tape is not as secure a storage media as hard drives. Please explain.
A: That single copy is the only copy that exists, unless you’re going to bill nightly dubbing into your budget. When I offload the data from the P2 card, I transfer it to three different hard drives. So I’ve got three copies in less time than it takes to make three video dubs. And the chances of loosing three copies is next to none. When I hand off that single videotape copy, the client may not know how to handle it properly, and I can’t ensure the safety of the recorded images.
Q: Looking at the differences between a tape-based production and using solid-state media, it seems that organization is more critical when using solid state. Is this true?
A: Not necessarily. You have to log footage more carefully on a tape-based production because you have to log it into the editing system and get it off tape. With solid-state, because each clip is its own file, you can be a bit more lax with logging. You have to know what hard drive it has been copied to, but I don’t think there’s any more organization with solid-state than with tape.
However, solid-state recording can necessitate a dedicated person on the crew whose job it is to manage the various P2 cards. It’s not that different than having a loader on a film production. On smaller productions, you may not be recording as much footage, so there are fewer files to keep track of and you won’t need to pay a separate person to do that.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception about HD production?
A: People underestimate the complexity of a HD production. Before you actually get started, you should always do a test with a camera and the sound person, then send the two elements to the editor and have them sync the two together to see what it looks like. Test every step in the workflow before you are on set. Many times I have gotten a call with issues related to not doing this.
Most of the people who are against solid-state recording are those that haven’t really worked with the format and experimented with it. I would say that you have to test the gear out before you start your first production with it. Once you get comfortable, there will be fewer problems and you’ll find your production goes a lot smoother.
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