Been doing Television for over 30 years now, and I’ve been mentored by some great cameramen and women.  At the encouragement of others I think it’s time I paid it forward. Planning on uploading some blogs about the gear I use, why I pick certain items for my kit, and general work flow.  Stay tuned, I’m not sure where this is going.

Do you have a Workflow?

Workflow, one of the buzzwords of today’s media production landscape.  I hate buzzwords.  But this one I’m willing to use.  Some readers may have no experience with a tape based system.  But back in the day, you shot to tape, ingested tape, and even edited on tape!  Now it’s cards to drives to files to client, for the most part.  Below is how I have been working since 2014 when I went freelance full time.

The shoot- 

My main camera is a Sony FS7 which shoots XQD cards. The B camera is a Sony A6500 recording to SD cards. Additional footage maybe from GoPro’s, drones, hand-held gimbals, and even iPhones. These are for the most part, micro SD cards.   I also use a PixE5 which has both an SD card recording H264 and it’s own Speeddrive which captures ProRes files.  That is a shit load of codecs, cards and file types.   

Backing it up-

At the end of every shooting day, be it a single day or like some of the outdoor programs I’ve shot, multi day, I always download the footage, back it up and clear the cards.   I like to have two copies on two different hard drives.  Remember, “two is one, one is none”.  I don’t know who coined it or if I got the quote right, but I believe in it.  

For the most part, I travel with double the media space I think I’ll need.  Here is where I will cheapen out and use Western Digital Passport drives.  Good old Costco seems to have them pretty cheap.   Do yourself a favour, and label one A and the other B.  Or come up with you own way to tell them apart.  

Now the fun part, cracking a beer and watching the computer.   I use Shotput Pro.  You can just copy your cards, but I’m a firm believer in a “Verified Copy” of every card.  Why? Cause shit happens.  By checking every bit against the original, its pretty hard to wind up with it cocked up.   Yes it takes time, but didn’t you just do best job you could shooting that media? Do you really want to get part way through a project and have a corrupt file or a whole card suddenly say F@#K YOU? I didn’t think so.  How do I do the file structure and naming convention?  Make a folder, call it what ever you want.  Project X, Location, Client Name then Location.  Just something distinctive.   For example, one from the summer, TNFF18_WhiteCliff.  Short form I use to identifying the client TNFF. Year it was shot in, 2018. Location of the shoot, WhiteCliff Lodge.   Now I subfolder it by WC_Day 1, WC_Day 2, WC_Day 3, etc. Next I would go with a folder indicating what camera.  A_Cam, B_Cam, Drone, Gimble, GoPro A, GoPro B etc.  You could easily skip the organizing by Day, but to each their own.  

Once all the cards are copied, I tend to do a spot check.  First and last file from each card, and a couple in the middle.  It confirms for me that everything is working as it should.    Next up I would then copy the WD Passport A Drive to the B Drive.  Once I have my A&B Drives and I’ve done a spot check, only then do I wipe the cards.   I suggest you format the cards, but you can delete them and move on, but I find a format is more of a better purge of the card.  Just deleting clips can leave some orphaned files that could come back to haunt you.  That is just my opinion.  

Pre edit and edit-

   Once I’m back at home I hand off a copy either A or B.   The in-house editor then takes over and backs it up however he wants and does a master and two back ups of the original source media.    If it’s my edit, I will take two 10,000 rpm drives, usually WD Black drives and make two copies.  One will be the working drive, one will be the sit on the shelf back up.  Once the two passports are off loaded they will go back into rotation for the field.  

I edit with FCPX.  Why?  That’s a topic for another blog.  Let’s just say it works when and how I need.    I like to import my media and have FCPX generate optimized media.   Yes I could convert it all with Catalyst or one of many encoders, but for the most part FCPX handles it for me while I sleep.  I prefer to have the original media on one drive, and the FCPX project on another and copy the files to a fresh and clean WD Black drive.  Just make sure you are using drives that have enough room to handle all the media you will generate.  If there is a lot of 4K stuff, then I will also have FCPX generate proxy media as well.   Cutting 4K native takes a lot of horse power.  Proxies make my life easier.    I usually set up the import in the evening and let the computer and FCPX chew on the import and file conversion over night.   Next morning I close it all down and do a restart of the computer, open the project and start the cut.  

So that’s my workflow from acquisition to edit.  Might not be how you do it, but if you follow a protocol that works for you, I believe you will have fewer problems when you get to the edit suite.  

Budget-What do I charge, and how do I figure out a price?

Whenever I get approached for a new project, the delicate dance of what to charge begins. In the Network News, documentary, and production world, there isn’t much haggling. The typical day rate for a shooter is, or should be pretty firm across the given market. I work mostly in the Ottawa market. Day rates in that area for a guy with gear, lighting, 2 channel audio is in a range from $1100-$1600 per day. Specific rental gear, like a certain lens or a specific camera or light would be an additional charge. In todays world of corporate, YouTube, or training videos, it’s tough as those clients don’t have the same budget as CTV or CNN.

What I prefer to do is ask the question of “What’s your budget”? From there I can see what is possible based on budget. Given the tools needed to deliver a quality professional look for the client I need to understand and perhaps recommend they should get there niece or nephew to do it with an iPhone. Will it be as good as what I can do? Perhaps. I doubt it. But how long will it take to get them what they want? Will they have to reshoot it because the audio sucks? By getting an upfront idea of what the overall budget is, I can figure out if this is a project I want to do. Sometime helping a client out can leave you feeling used at the end of it all. You can always fire a client. But other times it starts long lasting relationship that is profitable for both the client and for you.

There is an old say that use to hang on the wall of my edit suite. “Good, Fast, Cheap, pick two.” You can’t have all three.

So by having the conversation and being realistic on both sides, I like to know the following:

What’s the end goal?

What’s it being used for?

What’s the time frame?

From those answers, I can reverse engineer things and see if it’s possible to make a profit from it. If I’m only going to shoot it, or cut it, I don’t have as much wiggle room. If I’m doing both it allows me to carve out some profitability. The other caveat I would say is this: Is this something I believe in? Sometimes a project comes along and I just want to do it. But at the end of the day, I have a mortgage and bills just like everyone else. So don’t undercut or sell yourself short. You will only harm yourself and your profession in the long run.