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Business of Film: New Delivery Systems, New Business Models

You can be entertained in a theater; on your TV set, on your computer, tablet, smartphone and probably soon, on your wearable. Content for multiple screens needs care in movement and storage.

By Larry O’Connor Founder/ CEO, Other World Computing, Inc.

Australian Colin Brown of Blackmagic Design shoots handheld in a river bed for Cirina Catania’s documentary Preserving the Cowboy's Way of Life .

Australian Colin Brown of Blackmagic Design shoots handheld in a river bed for Cirina Catania’s documentary Preserving the Cowboy’s Way of Life .

Every major and minor OTT (over-the-top) streaming media service has set up shop in Hollywood to grab the attention (and content) of new, independent filmmakers. YouTube, AOL Video, Yahoo Video and others are uploading more than 150 hours of video a minute, and it’s not just kitty videos anymore. People have come to expect theater-quality 4K content that is being offered as “freemium” or premium video.

Think about it and you’ll understand why Clyde Smith, senior VP of New Technologies for FOX Network Engineering and Operations, is involved in both traditional Hollywood and the New Enterprise of Silicon Valley. Years ago, he said, “If you can’t identify it, you can’t operationalize or measure it; if you can’t measure it, you can’t monetize it.”

That’s all old Hollywood—and the new breed—wants: to make money!

Even though Smith is involved in the SMPTE/HPA (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers/Hollywood Post Alliance), he also was interested in Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit, the emerging entertainment event. On the other hand, many of his Hollywood contemporaries make no bones about being at war with tech folks. After all, they steal valuable content, parse it out, and have forced the industry to change dramatically the distribution/monetization landscape.

Colin Brown outfitted with a Ready Rig camera stabilizer.

Colin Brown outfitted with a Ready Rig camera stabilizer.

What the new kids don’t understand is that SMPTE/HPA has a 100-year track record of establishing the standards that let us enjoy our content on any device, anytime, anywhere we want.

“Maybe we didn’t know it at the time,” Smith said, “but our industry made it possible for the technology industry to make ‘our’ art form available to the masses.”

The biggest discussion continues to be about 4K becoming a reality and the open-ended question as to whether people really perceive enough of a difference with the pixel count between 2K, 4K, 8K and beyond, or the differences in content shot/shown at 24 fps, 48 fps, 60 fps and 120 fps.

New technology standards, such as H.26,5 make it easier to stream 4K content over the Internet to today’s UHD TV channels, such as UltraFlix, on the newest sets and people say they can see the difference.

The rush of New Hollywood content can be attributed in many ways to the availability of affordable 4K cameras like those offered by Blackmagic. In addition, robust economic production software like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premier, as well as very powerful Mac and other computer systems make it tempting for almost anyone with a fire in his/her gut to tell their story visually. Add to that low-cost, high-capacity SSD and hard disk solutions and entertainment is suddenly coming from everywhere.

Shooting good to great content is only the first step in movie production, as every director/producer knows. Once the scenes are shot, new Thunderbolt 2 solutions let filmmakers transfer their scenes to large, fast storage systems and solutions. In addition, every pixel of every scene is precious to new filmmakers and they want to do everything possible to ensure every bit/byte is available to them. Software RAID delivers that without the high cost and IT support that is needed for hardware RAID.

A cinematographer’s equipment choices are important; after post, other technologies come into play.

A cinematographer’s equipment choices are important; after post, other technologies come into play.

Filmmakers find that 480GB of SSD in the camera is more reliable and easier to use than film. Most of the independent filmmakers we’ve worked with lately almost immediately move the content from the in-camera SSD to external hard drives/systems and often make a couple of copies. These cinematographers don’t have the big studio luxury of specialists doing various stages of the editing, production, and post-production. In fact, many do their dailies and rough editing out in the field or on the set, so they can move quickly from camera to finished film and each stage adds another layer of content.

At the end of the day, all of that creative and post work has to be stored … somewhere. How much are we talking about? Consider one hour of material in our present/projected formats:

  • HD – 22.5GB
  • 2K – 716GB
  • 4K – 6,880GB (6.88TB)
  • 8K – 86,000GB (86TB)

So it’s easy to see how a 4.5TB movie shoot can turn into 72TB of storage. That’s because a film is so much more than the raw video shot or the finished work. It’s:

  • Original media as shot
  • Protected clone (never touched)
  • Worker copy (files renamed, organized)
  • Insurance copy of worker copy
  • Studio copy of worker copy
  • 3rd clone of worker … just in case
  • Project output
  • Clone, 2nd protection
  • Maybe, just maybe, something for archive.
Indie producer Cirina Catania stored her film The Kionte Storey Journey onsite. Here Kionte Storey and his companion Koja visit Pt. Loma Memorial Cemetery.

Indie producer Cirina Catania stored her film The Kionte Storey Journey onsite. Here Kionte Storey and his companion Koja visit Pt. Loma Memorial Cemetery.

Filmmakers like cloud storage, but they also use it lightly. They will pass copies back and forth between themselves, colorists, special effects experts, and others, but the idea of putting all of their work in the cloud is just too scary. Bad things happen every day with retailers having customer data stolen/sold, and this past December Sony had four feature films distributed from pirate sites. That isn’t good for anyone in the industry, but for an independent filmmaker that content is more than just a movie; it is the best creative effort he/she can do, and taking a chance of having someone steal it just isn’t in the cards.

The answer may be found in local storage. Three simple storage units will hold more than 72TB of video content safely, securely, and reliably. The filmmaker can get up at night and pat the storage systems, knowing his/her movie is right there. And yes, they have a backup copy (or two) somewhere else. But they know their local 72+TB of storage is a very small target and requires a lot of hunting and work to locate and steal. With large clouds available for the picking, it just is too much work for a hacker or cybercriminal. So filmmakers know their work is close at hand, always available and easily accessed by just the right people.

Why local storage? Any filmmaker knows that a lost scene, lost frames, and even lost pixels means they will have to invest countless hours to correct, rescript, reshoot, re-edit, and rework the content. Usually, it isn’t possible (and is cost prohibitive) to go back in the field/on the set to reshoot/reproduce portions of the movie.

Catania’s film shows Storey, an amputee, working out daily.

Catania’s film shows Storey, an amputee, working out daily.

There are more good filmmakers coming on the scene every month, and they are doing great, exciting work. Their storage requirements are different from those of IT or company departments. The data on the various storage devices isn’t just data—it’s a big part of them. Our job is to do the best job possible to make it fast, easy, and economical for them to store and protect their content.

The industry is exploring the impact of enriched image/sound technology even as time and money are at a premium for the budget-constrained post-production world. About five years ago, I heard a Hollywood executive say that film was still the basic form of entertainment. Changes in capture/distribution are adding longevity to the movies and they will probably continue to be our major form of entertainment throughout my lifetime and yours.


February 9, 2015