Workflow :: Don’t Leave Home Without It

The preparation for our departure on this production trip was long and exciting, jam packed with logistics and funding and gearhead juggling, sponsor letters and equipment purchases–just the kind of puzzles I relish.
There is a perpetual question on the minds of filmmakers: What’s the right gear to use? We’ve been shooting this film since anything video was captured on tape, and our mostly beloved (and well tired) Canon XH-A1 HDV prosumer camcorder did a pretty respectable job of getting the story for the first couple trips.
On our third trip, we still had the XH-A1, but we had added in a Canon 5D DSLR, our first flash-media recording camera. Suddenly, no more tapes to deal with! The painful and time consuming “log and capture” process is now the very model of “drag-and-drop” simplicity!
Sweet cellphone panorama of the data tent in the village. Workflow on display here, left to right.
–or so the hype would have us believe. In truth, when you get a new recording format (in this case, H.264), you also get new hurdles to jump in order to get the material onto a timeline in your editing software. Sometimes you need to upgrade your software. Sometimes your hardware (in our case, both) and because you don’t have those pesky tapes lying around, you no longer have a physical back-up!

You better be darn sure your hard disk drives are in good fettle, with plenty of space.
The time we saved on log and capture into Final Cut was more than eaten up by the time consuming transcoding, to get the H.264 5D files into a robust and edit friendly ProRes422(HQ) format. And the amount of HD space that format consumes is astonishing. We bought some hard disk drives in Kathmandu, just to hold the stuff.
That was last trip. For this trip, there are again some new cameras, and new considerations. Canon graciously lent us a C100 to try out, which we did, and their stragy worked–we bought one. This is an amazing camera. It does what the DSLRs do, only better in every way. Not that there aren’t a couple niggles, but I LOVE this camera.
We also have the loan of Canon’s XF300, compact pro camcorder. This is the compact-flash recording, AVCHD file format big brother to our XH-A1. This, too, is a great camera.
Super Power in the hardware department–we’re just thrilled to have such capable cameras to do our work on.
I’m the first to admit I probably spend too much time thinking about gear. And this trip is no exception. Between being so busy getting ready, and being a little overconfident in my own datawrangling skillz, I made a couple bad assumptions, and didn’t adequately test-fly our workflow.
We don’t usually roll volumes of footage like we’re rolling on this trip. When you shoot a lot, workflow becomes a huge matter. I tested each camera enough to see I could get footage off of it to view on the computer, and figured “nuff said.”
But I’m not used to AVCHD, which both of these new cameras use (though in slightly different wrappers). AVCHD demands a very particular file structure in order to work. So we shot and downloaded, and backed up in the field, onto our all powerful LaCie drives, giving due diligence to file naming conventions and making sure everyting is bit-pefectly backed up, thinking we’re doing it all right.
However, when it came to review footage, we were stuck. We (and by “we” I mean “I”) had neglected to load Canon’s schlocky-but-necessary file utility software for each of the cameras. And upon further examingation, It seems, not only is the schlocky software needed in order to view the files, but even if you have the software, you can’t VIEW the files unless you used the utility to DOWNLOAD the software.
CRIPES, Canon, WHAT? All I wanted to do was to download the cards in the field, keep one live copy and archive one copy of everything, and then get a look at bits of it here and there, to see how we’re doing, check on sound, picture, see what we’re doing right and wrong, etc.
With the C100 footage, I saw I could open the AVCHD files using a quirky functionality of Quicktime in the Macbook Pro’s finder. I could view one file at a time, evidently at reduced resolution and color depth, then closing it would close the whole card’s worth of pictures. Whatever. I could see them.
With the XF300 footage, I initially panicked a little bit: CAN’T. VIEW. FILES! If I can’t view them, how can I be sure I’m even downloading them properly? What If by not using the Canon XF Utility, I’m leaving behind some crucial data, or causing ‘spanned files’ (long clips spread across two or more files) to unlink, or dissociating key metadata (like file name, date, time, etc.)?
I satisfied myself that I could load the data BACK onto a CF card from the HDD, and view it in the camera evidently intact. This gave some peace of mind–maybe I’d be duplicating work, but at least I was archiving data in a way I felt somewhat confident in.
Still had no way to view the files onthe computer.
We are also shooting the 5D Mark III on this trip, but that’s easy enough to deal with, by now we’re old hands at the 5D workflow.
Since we got back from the village, I’ve been essentially consumed with trying to find solutions to the twin problems of the C100 files and the XF300 files. I loaded up both utilities, but have found them very limited and buggy. For example, the C100 files are getting randomly renamed, as far as I can tell, as we use the utility to log and transfer them into FCP. Sheesh?
Our eventual goal is to transcode everything to ProRes422HQ format, but we’re prefer to save ourselves the time and hard disk space of that stip until we’re home.
So. My job is to address the questions and concerns that follow (in no particular order):
What’s the best way to make files from each camera visible, reviewable, and portable (we’d like to get some stuff translated, and doing so requires being able to hand off files that are readable/watchable by someone on a Windows computer.)?
If I do a “rewrap”–where I run the clips through a program that strips the AVCHD ‘skin’ off it, and sticks it in a regular old Quicktime .mov wrapper, will I lose anything? Quality? Metadata? Sequence? Frames?–in other words, is there any downside?
Would I be happier in the workflow if I had a newer version of Final Cut (currently using FCP6… I know, right?)?
Would it be easier on a Windows platform?
Hooo-that’s one for another post.
Workflow is like nettles for dinner: great if you get it right, but it will EFF you up if you do it wrong.


  1. Karim Amara
    March 19, 2013

    You’ve got to upgrade your editing software to at least to FCP 7, but if you really want to future proof it might be time to move to Premiere or FCP X.

    Either one them works quickly with AVCHD.

    • squire
      March 20, 2013

      Yeah, that is one of those things that were on our list forever and we just didn’t get around to before we got here. SHould happen pretty quick upon our return though. We’re inclined to go toward Adobe, but our editor mainly uses FCP7, so we’ll probably stick with that. For now, anyhow.

  2. katie
    March 20, 2013

    don’t even think about going to the darkside of windows.


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