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Old December 20th, 2010, 10:03 AM   #1
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NF Cards for Distribution: A Cautionary Reminder

Hello All,
Ran across something new the other day -- NanoFlash- recorded CF cards being used for distribution of interviews shot at a press junket - by the Junket crew.
Admittedly, this is an interesting distribution system, since the small (4GB) Transcend cards are now cheap enough on street price to just hand out to journalists.
As background (for any of you who don't know about Press junkets) - the basic concept is to allow tv reporters/journalists to interview the various cast and creative members from a movie - all in the same place. To do this, typically four or five rooms are each set up with 2 or 3 cameras, and the journalists parade through asking their questions - the stars stay in their respective rooms - for 10 or so minutes a session, and then get the video footage from the interviews to take back with them.

Cut to my side of the story -- last monday I was to be working as cameraman in NY for one of the large entertainment news magazine shows. They shoot exclusively in XDcamHD and own four disc cameras. One of their producers had gone to a movie junket over the weekend, and on Sunday night I got a call from the production manager saying that they had 'a flash memory card' to deal with. He had no idea about format, just what the producer told him. I said 'OK, I'll bring in a card reader and we'll figure it out.'

Monday morning I come in and see a pile of 16 CF memory cards on the PM's desk. My initial thought was 5D or 7D. They were labeled by subject, but with no tech info or specs whatsoever. I put one in the card reader and it shows the unmistakable (to someone who owns one) file structure of a NanoFlash recording -- recorded as MOV files.

Some more background info -- I'm PC (VAIO) based, and in fact of the 20 or so computers at the show's production office, every one is a PC. They need to get the footage off the cards and into an HD-SDI uplink (which they can do from their offices) to send to the edit room in LA. Unfortunately there was no easy way to easily do this.

Using the C-D mov-to-MXF converter I was able to do a test and verify one of the files, but that really didn't help get things to LA -- Plus I was there to work as a cameraman on a shoot, not spend the day troubleshooting.

Short solution - we transferred all the cards to a portable hard drive and sent the drive to an edit facility that had both Final Cut Pro and an uplink room. It took all day for them to get the material organized and then finally uplinked to LA. I don't want to guess their final bill for that day.

The morals from the story - along the way I had several procedural thoughts for the people who did the shoot, since even though the Nano recordings were a nice concept, the execution cost us a fortune!

1 - Put tech specs on the cards, so the uninformed know what they're dealing with. Had I known ahead of time it was on Nano, I could have brought in a unit and uplinked directly from its HD-SDI out.
2 - Don't record to MOV files unless you know that the users will have FCP! The MXF files are a far more universal record system, so when in doubt go MXF.
3 - Record at a standard bit rate. These files were recorded at 35Mbit 1920/1080 (EX format) - so I would have needed to re-render them to get them to a format that could go on disc. Recording 50Mbit XDcam422 format would have made disc transfer easy, in addition to having better color information.
4 - Set unit numbers on recorders. It really doesn't take that much time and helps greatly keeping things organized. In this case only one nanoflash (presumably out of 10 or more) had been set to indicate a different recorder number. Since file numbers were otherwise random, there was no rhyme or reason to them, and we could have been jeopardy of havinf a repeated file number.

So, though I applaud the use of numerous Nanos as an economical way to shoot and distribute HD junket content, PLEASE organize your systems well before shooting and avoid sending out uncertainly labeled material, and make it as universally acceptable as possible.


Dave S.
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Old December 20th, 2010, 05:53 PM   #2
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Dear Dave,

Running a Press Junket business is tough.

If the business asks the reporters if the footage will be edited on Final Cut Pro or another NLE, they do not always provide the correct answer.

The business could take the extra time to use our File Converter to create MXF in addition to the ".MOV", but this may delay the reporters.

The real solution is to determine in advance what format they will need.

Then if this is wrong, our File Converter will create MXF's from the MOV's.
Dan Keaton
Augusta Georgia
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Old December 21st, 2010, 08:04 AM   #3
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Hi Dan
Yes, I know that press junkets are tough - I shoot them as well.
My real point was not so much mov vs mxf, but that there was no tech info sent - and the Nano units hadn't been numbered (to help organize the files - and make sure there were no duplicate file numbers)
Back in the days of Beta or digibeta, you got a tape and you could be pretty sure what it would play on -- the only real problem was PAL vs NTSC, and if the junket was local you'd be 99% sure that they got that right.
Now with cards and hard drives, the label becomes VERY important, since any or many formats can be recorded.

Among some of the other things I discovered in last week's mini-adventure: not only could the entertainment show not figure out the format, but neither they nor the edit/uplink facility - which is large enough that it also has studios for daytime talk shows - had any kind of card reader available on premises! Obviously they're not yet used to accepting CF cards, which I had thought would be prevalent at this point.

But the real impetus of my original post -- If we're delivering on NanoFlash CF cards we have to make sure that we make it as easy as possible for the eventual user. It's not just 'hand over the cards and let them deal with it.' Most of the major Ent Magazine shows send their own crews to the Junkets, so they aren't using the junket crew data, but in the current economy the shows are starting to send crews less and rely on junket crews more. If even one major show ends up being unable to use the footage provided by a Junket crew, that's over a million viewers who may not see the interviews, and thus that much less 'free press' for the movie -- which becomes a major problem for the studio execs running the junkets, and heads (and formats) will roll. Or even if a show calls and says 'we can't deal with this -- give it to us in digibeta' - that becomes an issue for the execs to turn around fast, and they'll think twice about using the Nano again for recording!

So my conclusion is -- let's keep things organized and as easily usable as possible -- to make sure that the Nano and CF cards don't end up on the studios' 'do not use' lists. From my perspective that means shooting at 50Mbits, setting up individual numbering systems for each recorder, and giving each reporter a little printed 'tech sheet' to go with the cards.

Best, Dave S.

PS - I did convince my client show to get a NEXTO drive to more easily be able to transfer and organize CF cards in the future.
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Old December 21st, 2010, 09:47 AM   #4
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Help with nanoFlash Setup

Hello Dave,

I think you have provided some very good points for all of our customers to keep in mind pre and post recording,

We have two features that may help you out tremendously,

One is once the crew is done with all recordings make it a standard to write a "Settings.txt" on all nanoFlash units, (This is found under SYSTEM>Create setting.txt

This writes a simply text file that includes all the following information, bit rate, format, unit number, audio channels etc. The only downside to writing this file is you will not be allowed to playback or record till the settings file is removed from the Compact Flash Card, thus make it the very last thing done.

I have included an example of the setting.txt

Also with our new feature of Menu.stg (Which is found under SYSTEM>MENU.stg)

You are able to setup a multi-camera / NanoFlash shoot and ensure that all the units are setup correctly, and matching, this also allows you to setup and save 10 Profiles on a single CF Card, Which can be renamed of course, to try to help simplify the setup process. Also the only thing that does not get changed is the unit name.

Here is an Example of this as well.

I think these features should help with the overall workflow,

Best Regards
Attached Files
File Type: txt SETTINGS.TXT (1.2 KB, 196 views)
File Type: zip }CFG{.zip (1.7 KB, 33 views)
Andy Mangrum, Tech Support Convergent Design, Inc
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Old December 22nd, 2010, 08:31 AM   #5
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Hi Andy,
Both options seem like great ideas - but one reservation --
Writing a settings.txt file that keeps the cards from recording or playing back could create numerous problems:
1 - In the case where there is a 'data playback' station (consisting of a NanoFlash and a monitor), where interviews can be reviewed, it seems that this would be a problem (if I'm properly understanding that the file would eliminate the playback option)
2 - The reality in these kinds of junket setups is that there is time to write a file BEFORE te interview, but at the end of the interview the journalist needs to be given the cards IMMEDIATELY because they are being ushered out (and the next one is coming in) Writing the settings files FIRST would actualy be far more helpful (with tapes, we normally pre-label and bar-and-tone a pile of them first thing in the morning).
3 - Using a tape analogy, sometimes blank tapes are handed to a journalist at check-in, and they carry the tapes from interview to interview (room to room) usually getting 3 interviews to a tape, so being able to record using several Nano units with the same CF card would be advantageous for this kind of workflow.

Hence, it would be best if the Settings.txt file didn't restrict read/write functionality.
Dave S.
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Old December 24th, 2010, 04:26 PM   #6
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Considering that the junket companies are the last bastion of Beta SP production (at least that I know of) it's quite a leap for them to go so digital as to use Nano Flash recorders. It doesn't surprise me that their systems for digital recording are disastrously imprecise, as it would not surprise me if the cameras feeding the Nano Flash units were the very same Beta SP SD cameras.

It's not really the fault of the junket production company, but rather the very slow changeover to, not just digital media recordings, but from SD to HD that the local station outlets in the US have rolled out at glacial speed.

Anyway, I really hate everything about junkets, from the brain-dead staging, lighting, and camera work to the sycophantic "entertainment reporters" that prowl the hallways in anticipation of kissing the passing hem of the latest Hollywood starlet's skirt. In many ways, to me these astroturfing pimps who pander to 'celebritage' on the Hollywood studios tab pretty much sum up everything that is wrong with American culture at this sad point in time.
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Old December 24th, 2010, 07:38 PM   #7
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Don't hold back Bruce, tell us how you really feel. :)

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Old December 28th, 2010, 06:19 AM   #8
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What's being forgotten here is that many broadcasters and production companies no longer need, or want to have to convert a shoot, whatever it is, to base band video for transmission over an expensive and incredibly lossy satellite uplink. It is becoming very common now to simply send the original material as files over a fast ftp or internet connection.

Until we start thinking forwards instead of backwards we will end up stuck in these kinds of situations all the time. Sadly it appears that the bigger the organisation the less they are prepared to think forwards or even laterally. In the case of a press junket giving the journalists files that they can ftp back to base with no loss of quality is an excellent idea. Sadly though many production facilities are still being run by engineers that are reluctant to leave behind the analogue world that they were brought up in.
Alister Chapman, Film-Maker/Stormchaser My XDCAM site and blog.
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Old December 28th, 2010, 08:22 AM   #9
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Hello Alister,
In many ways I agree with you that being able to FTP data would be an optimal way to go, and it's something that I've been pushing for whenever I can, but the reality is that until my clients can transfer the data faster than they can uplink it (and invest in whatever they need for that workflow), I've been fighting a losing battle on the FTP front. Their normal workflow involves sending about four hours of footage starting at 9:30 in the morning, which needs to be not only received but completely edited into several versions of two different half hour shows for distribution by by 17:00 that afternoon. Since they already shoot everything on XDcam disc, I've been hoping that at some point in the future they get their high speed data act together to just stream data, but for now I'm stuck with uplink.

Of course this also gets back to my original request -- that if something comes in as data (either on generic cards or on hard drives) it at least should have a tech sheet with it indicating the format and other recording specs. And it's really up to us as camerapeople to make sure that the tech stuff is obvious for the data wranglers downstream...
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