How Shed Media and Catalyst Post Ramped Up for Reality
Executing a Whiplash Upgrade from Avid Meridiens to the Nitris DX
Darin Kerby: Shed owns some technology, I rent some to them, and we provide them technical support on a 24/7 basis. And we do a lot of talking. I’ve been in the Avid business for 15 years. The first Avid ran on a Mac Quadra 950 and used to crash every two minutes, and it had only local storage. The biggest change since then, probably, is shared storage – which allows a production company like Shed to operate multiple shows simultaneously. Four years ago, when I did the first season of Supernanny, and we were on Meridien systems. Paul came on for season two. We’re on season five right now. It’s been quite a progression to get the right level of trust between the two companies, and then to figure out what was going to be in both of our best interests.
Paul Rosenthal: At some point, it makes sense for companies to start to buy their own equipment rather than continually renting everything, and Darin has really helped us along. Some vendors might have been taken aback when we said, “We’ll have to rent a little less and buy some [systems].” But he stepped up and said, “Well, let’s find some good solutions based on your workflow.”
DK: Especially considering that the Meridiens were already out eight years previous to that. We were dealing with a lot of obsolescence. Third-party software programs were no longer working on the Meridien because they were no longer supporting OS 9. We needed to be on new versions of OS X. It got to a point where the older Avids worked fine, but we had waited long enough and we needed to do something.
PR: And it didn’t make sense to buy Meridiens! We had acquired a couple of Adrenalines over the years, but they’ve been really hard to integrate into our workflow. They ran on PCs and everything else here is Mac. When we started to buy more equipment, Avid was already moving to the DX platforms.
DK: I had already had three different shows around town on the DX. So I could recommend it because I already knew it worked. With Shed, we started off small – about five systems.
PR: Now we can have about 30 offline suites.
DK: The other thing that’s affected us recently is budgets. Simple economics. With the recession, and with ad revenues being lower at the networks, it’s about getting it done in a more cost-effective way than we did just 12 months ago. Our next job comes out of the fact that we can do it as well, but more economically.
F&V: Could you have saved money by moving to Final Cut?
PR: We didn’t investigate that too thoroughly. Doing a lot of bigger reality shows, with lots of footage, lots of cameras, and lots of shared media, I felt more comfortable in the Avid world. I had spoken to some other people who felt Final Cut was great for feature films or smaller projects without as many users, or that weren’t going out of house for online. But assistant editors tell us media management is a little tougher. So we knew it was much cheaper, but we weren’t comfortable with it in our workflow. And we knew that if we wanted to start doing picture online, the DX systems, like Final Cut, would give us the ability to upres the picture to full HD quality, spit out a tape, and go out of house for sound.
F&V: So you’re not onlining in house now, but you can see that happening?
PR: Probably in the next six months. With the number of hours of television we’re doing, there’s a point where it starts to make financial sense.
DK: The other thing about Final Cut is there’s no Unity. Everybody says the Unity is probably the best product Avid has invented. It’s bulletproof. It’s expandable and retractable. You can have up to 24 users on one Unity. On our show share, we’re running 32 TB now. It’s managed well and it has to be. [At press time, a second Unity had been added to the mix after Shed ran out of available seats on the existing system. - Ed.]
F&V: What resolutions are you working at?
DK: As of today we’re still cutting all HD shows in SD for storage reasons.
PR: We’re doing all the shows at 15:1s resolution. We’d like to go higher, but Avid hasn’t quite supported 10:1m with these new DXs. With Real Housewives, we really need to see the footage, and we’re doing that series at 4:1. We shoot in New York City, we’re all over Manhattan, and there’s brands and billboards everywhere. Because the networks are so particular about brands and clearances and logos, we really need to be able to see them to pop them out or blur them or get a clearance agreement. Supernanny is shot in people’s houses, so we can control the logos and brands that we see a lot better.
F&V: What are some other challenges that differentiate reality TV from episodics?
DK: The sheer amount of footage is probably the biggest difference, along with tighter deadlines. Both of those things are working against you. Scripted shows have a lot less footage and usually longer edit schedules.
PR: We’re seeing the turnaround between when you’re shooting and when it airs shorten up quite a bit. Some shows shoot and ship tapes, and that night we’re digitizing them in so that on the next night editors are cutting on them. Depending on the flow, they may shoot for a week and go down for a week and then come back and shoot for another week. For Darin to be prepared, he’s got to have a bunch of decks on hand. We may be renting six of them one week, the next week we don’t need them, and then the week after that we need three or four just to get the footage in. As far as cutting, you end up piling a lot of editors on the same material. You may have six or seven editors on the same episode – or even the same segment.
F&V: Are the editors doing much in the way of composites or FX?
PR: It depends on the show. Some are a little more elaborate than others. We’ve done a few History Channel shows where the graphics and FX were much more intense. But Supernannies is a fairly basic show. We have a few scenes in there were a woman is looking at laptop as if she was looking at footage of the family, and it’s just a burn-in. Nothing too elaborate. On some of the other shows, we will do more keys and that kind of stuff.
F&V: Does the new DX technology expand the range of what you might be expected to do?
PR: I think it speeds it up a lot. Render times are much quicker, and you have more real-time effects. In editing it speeds up the process quite a bit.
DK: Some of our other clients have shows with more effects. On our old systems, the rendering time on an hour-long might be two or two-and-a-half hours. Replace those Meridiens with DXs, and the render time is 10 or 15 minutes per hour-long show. They render more quickly, but they also play more in real time from the get-go so you have less to render. And that’s a huge time-saver.
F&V: Have there been any other time-saving advances lately in terms of technology or infrastructure?
PR: Yes. PilotWare is now able to pull files from the Unity directly into their server, thus eliminating the need for us to digitize the footage into the Unity and into the PilotWare server. And we have been using Avid’s ScriptSync feature on The Real Housewives of New York. The editors love it. They can search for sound bites and it will match back right to the footage. It’s a little bit more work for the assistant editors to sync up, but it’s a big time-saver for editors.