I’ve been traveling around the world with Elton John for the past 17 years as his drum and percussion technician. Over time, as I became more and more immersed in video production and post-production outside of my work with Elton John — at Wraptastic Productions, the production house I co-own with my wife, Nicole — I started applying that expertise to my role on the tour as well.
In modern production and post workflows, with so much data being created and transferred among a multitude of devices, the possibility for data loss is all too real. I have friends who don’t know what has become of their master drives for feature-film projects! Simple backups with known data integrity are a must in the data-driven film and video world. From the moment you pop a card out of a camera, the clock is ticking to duplicate, protect, and verify that data so the card can be cleaned and overwritten for the next pass in the camera. We started using Imagine Products ShotPut Pro for data offloading on tour about three years ago.
Advice for the Working DIT
A while back a respected colleague indoctrinated me into the world of being a DIT. He met us with a camera rig at a rental location and walked me through the nuts and bolts of getting the media off the card and creating a system to verify not only the data transfer, but that the card had been prepped for return to the camera. He taught me some tricks of the trade, such as using colored electrical tape to be sure the card wouldn’t be returned to the camera unless it had the right color.
Then he got very serious and asked what transfer and backup program I was using. I had nothing. He told me that dragging and dropping is not secure. Especially with high-resolution data — 5K in our case at the time — the drag-and-drop method just isn’t good enough. He said the only program he trusted in a high-pressure on-set environment was ShotPut Pro. That was enough for me, and I’ve been using it ever since. It ensures everything gets copied just as it should be. The latest version, ShotPut Pro 6, has a new and better user interface and faster offloading than the last version, improving on an already good thing.
Generating a New Mass of Data Every Night
Elton’s full-time video director, John Steer, has a huge daily workload. Not only is he part of the team that sets up all the video equipment daily, but he also cuts the show live every night. In addition to my original role with drums and percussion, I now work hand-in-hand with Steer on some aspects of on-tour production and post, including recording and archiving every single performance.
Chris Sobchack (l) and John Steer; Photo: Tony Smith
For Steer, getting all the shows backed up and transported to storage is a massive job unto itself. We record every show to Blackmagic Design hardware. All of that content needs to be offloaded and archived. We can put ShotPut Pro to work in production, on the bus, or in a hotel room with confidence in the data transfer. The pause-and-resume feature lets us move from place to place without worrying about the offload.
ShotPut Pro’s checksumming capability is especially crucial. On a world tour, we are constantly transferring data among all kinds of different drives, platforms, and computers. Having a checksum feature to verify a transfer — both in real time and after the fact — means we know we haven’t lost a single piece of data.
That feature was put to the test more than once on the Elton tour. In one instance, we had done a transfer using another method, but the data seemed to be corrupted or incomplete. Luckily in that case, we still had access to the original source materials and could do a proper transfer with ShotPut Pro, but it doesn’t typically work that way. Usually we must capture it the first time — with no chance for a do-over.
A System for Working on the Road
Even as I travel with the Elton John tour, my Wraptastic projects continue, and I find myself working on other projects on the bus or in a hotel room whenever there’s downtime. I have a system. I always leave a master at home. Meanwhile, I keep a series of portable work drives with me at all times while in transit, and a set of daily or every-few-days backup drives that travel separately from me. Circumstances on the tour are such that I can’t use the cloud as a viable form of data backup, so it’s essential to my peace of mind to have hard data transfers and redundant backups that I know are 100 percent verified.
At Wraptastic Productions, we can do it all, from writing, directing, and producing, to on-set digital imaging and post-production. On some projects, we have indeed done it all. Please Tell Me I’m Adopted! will premiere worldwide on Amazon Video/Amazon Video Direct on March 6. We have feature films in development, such as our paranormal thriller, Lore Harbour, and Downwind, the biopic of an amazing woman who called into question the effects of early above-ground nuclear testing. We try to find projects of all kinds that will entertain and inform.
While shooting our Amazon-exclusive shortform comedy series, Please Tell Me I’m Adopted!, a cord came unplugged during a data offload, disrupting the flow of data from a camera card to our three redundant media drives. Thankfully, ShotPut Pro’s interface made it obvious that something had gone wrong and we were able to re-offload the card before it was erased and a half-day’s worth of footage lost forever. Experiences like that that prompted me to recommend the application for the Elton John tour in the first place.
I’ve also recommended Imagine Products’ HD-VU application, which lets us view multisource, mixed-codec footage in its native format without having to transcode or use proprietary programs. It’s another thing from my Wraptastic life that has translated to the tour. But the bottom line is this: I've never bothered to search for any other offloading solution. I've had no reason to look any farther than ShotPut Pro.
Chris Sobchack is Elton John’s drum and percussion technician and co-head of Wraptastic Productions
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