Rolling with the punches and doing your home work

A large part of workflow development is adapting to new problems as they come up.  Even the best made plans can quickly spiral towards catastrophe if just a single link in the chain breaks.  This happened to me not too long ago.

Skip back to about 18 months ago and the company I was with started transitioning to shooting entirely tapeless using Sony EX-1’s.  Along the way there were some bumps in the road but after refining our best practices and a couple of training sessions even our least tech savvy producers could reliably dump the contents of an SxS card, verify the transfer and wipe the card.  It’s pretty simple and it’s actually harder to screw up than it is to get it right.  Basically, keep the folder structure intact and all will be well.

Fast forward to a remote shoot three states away where a local crew was hired to cover a stand-up comedy show.  This was a bit larger budget than normal so they were actually able to hire a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) to handle the media from the EX-1’s on location (as opposed to having a camera op, producer or PA do it).  This is normally a good thing because data management is a routine part of a DIT’s role.  I say “normally” because in this case the DIT screwed us.  Now, I don’t think the DIT set out to screw us but he screwed us none the less.  He had never worked EX-1’s before, which isn’t a sin, but he never educated himself on how to properly work with EX-1’s, which is a sin.

The first thing he did was he renamed the BPAV folder.  On Sony’s cameras that use the SxS cards there is a root folder named “BPAV” and all the camera files (both data and metadata) are stored within that folder.  When you transfer the contents off the card you can’t rename the BPAV folder and you have to keep the underlying folder structure in tact so that your software (in our case FCP 7 and Sony’s XDCAM Transfer Software) can properly read the contents of the folder.  Renaming the BPAV folder is more irritating than damaging because once you name it back everything is good to go.  The next problem though is more of a show stopper.

On a couple of the cards he just grabbed the folder that contained the MP4’s (the video files themselves) and that’s all.  Why?  I have no idea.  But that mistakes hurts a lot because without all the files that contain the metadata you are really up a creek.  Thankfully the DIT had a back-up.  Unfortunately the back-up was a mirror of the mistake-filled drive he gave us and the cards had all been wiped by this time.  Ugh.

After some research, and trial & error, I discovered that Premiere Pro in CS 5 could be used to read the MP4 files and convert them to ProRes (or whatever codec you use).  There is also software called MP4-EX Import made by Calibrated Software that will allow FCP to read the MP4 files natively.  I wouldn’t suggest editing with them natively, but this will give you the ability to transcode them into whatever codec you usually use.

So kids, the moral of the story is stay resilient, because the unexpected will happen, and to do your homework.  There’s nothing wrong with taking on something you haven’t tried before, but there is something wrong with being willfully ignorant in a day and age where access to information click away 24/7.


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