Digital Dailies Trim The Bottom Line In Hollywood
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Debra Kaufman : Digital Dailies Trim The Bottom Line In Hollywood
Digital dailies have come of age. Although not long ago, they were still in the experimental stage, digital dailies have quickly caught on. With the Alexa ARRI, the RED Epic and the Canon 5D and C300, more productions than ever are relying on digital, often tapeless workflows. Even more important, producers discovered that digital dailies routinely to create tremendous savings in time and budget, always a good idea when dealing with studios and networks.
But it's not good news for everyone. While producers are saving money by keeping dailies on the set, post production houses are losing a portion of their business: the overnight transfer and grading of dailies. Nimble post facilities now offered value-added digital dailies. As with any change in technology, the process is in flux.
Opening the discussion, Winnie commented on how changes in production technology impact the post workflows he creates at Universal Television/Universal Television Cable Post Production. "The explosion of choices is exponential," replied Winnie. "Twenty years ago, the workflow was to shoot in film, transfer to tape and post. Now we have to evaluate post workflows by balancing the creative, technological and financial requirements."
"We start with the camera, what the director of photography thinks is best, and we work backwards," he continued. "We have to consider questions such as if the DP is used to working with a DIT or a one-man back-up crew? There are different union rules in Toronto than in Los Angeles."
According to Winnie, live coloring on the set has faded away. "We set up 10 to 12 looks, create a CDL and carry that through the process," he said. "We have to see if the schedule allows us to pipe dailies to editors or ship them back. If you have to re-shoot, you want to find out right away, which is a good reason to pipe dailies. Then we have to ask if we have sufficient bandwidth, what codec to use, and if we do it in house...It's an evolution of technology and I don't see that stopping."
Other issues he deals with include managing back-up LTOs and deciding what material stays on online and what becomes near-line storage. "With all that goes into consideration, there is more communication now," he said. "Before, the production would work all day and the colorist would work all night. With this communication, we're not having as many issues of someone saying 'I didn't think it would look this way'."
The hit TV show Criminal Minds shot film for its first four seasons. Then the show had a mandate to cut the budget, said Supervising Producer Coello-Bannon. "In post, the clear path was to cut out film," she said. "Going to tape was a flawless transition. We saved $40,000 in lab and film alone, which boiled down to about 10 to 15 percent savings per episode."
Curtis Clark, ASC has been involved since Sony's debut of the F35.
After two successful seasons shooting with the Sony F35 and having a tape-based post, Criminal Minds made another shift. "Our DP was enthusiastic over the RED Epic, but our editors were on the Avid and there was no reason to change," Coello-Bannon said. "Before embracing on-set dailies, I looked at the issues: the set is chaotic and I wouldn't even have full dailies at the end of the shoot day. It didn't make sense."
She then found post production facility Light Iron Digital and talked to CEO Michael Cioni about "getting the best of both worlds." Now, the Criminal Minds' files jump onto Light Iron's LILY PAD on-set creative suite, equipped with ColorFront's Express Dailies, and then transferred to OUTPOST Cart for processing and duplication and to the Unity for editorial.
"We really vetted this workflow," she said. "At the end of season six, we shot a scene with extras and then put the footage through the process. We determined it worked." In fact, this first tapeless season was a win-win. " It was a super successful season, without a hiccup," said Coello-Bannon. "It's better, faster, cheaper. This season, by bringing dailies in house, we saved $300,000 for the season. We're shooting 4K images, which we retained on LTO. And there's no driving to the lab or scheduling sessions."
Now a prolific post production consultant (The Details, Rush Hour, Dancing at the Blue Iguana, The United States of Leland, and many other films), Fineman was also a studio executive in charge of post production (Boogie Nights, The Wedding Singer, The Long Kiss Goodnight are just some of his credits). He noted that he's not always free to pick and choose a workflow, since each feature comes with restrictions. "I step back and see what the DP, editor, producer wants," he said. Things have changed dramatically in recent years. "Two years ago, no one knew the workflow for the ARRI Alexa," he notes. "It seemed that for every new camera, there was a new workflow." Nearly every post production facility has a mobile lab to provide on-set digital dailies, he noted. But not all feature films can take advantage of that. In the indie world, it still boils down to budget. "If a mobile lab costs $6,000, they won't get it," he said.
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- "Father Dearest" Episode 1321 -- Pictured: (l-r) Danny Pino as Detective Nick Amaro, Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson -- (Photo by: Eric Liebowitz/NBC). ©2012 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
Law & Order's Co-Executive Producer Forney noted that his world is similar to that of Coello-Bannon's with Criminal Minds. "We're always shooting in New York and Chicago," he said. "We're about two years on the ARRI Alexa. We make a copy of the files and send them via plane to Los Angeles. FotoKem's nextLab Mobile service has made us more efficient and simplified our schedule. Historically, we'd do a telecine for the first two episodes and use that for color correction for the rest of them."
Going to the Alexa has helped cut the budget down for color correction. "I asked [FotoKem Senior Vice President] Rand Gladden how to get out of traditional telecine," Forney reported on the use of that post facility's nextLab Mobile service. "With LUTs, it's been cheaper and more efficient. We're spending less than 17 days of post on each episode. Before, it had been 20 to 25 days."
Curtis Clark, ASC addressed the changes the evolution from film dailies to digital dailies from the point of view of the cinematographer. "I think back on the days when we shot and printed film and saw dailies on calibrated monitors," he said. "Not to say that digital hasn't moved us forward. Part of the disruption of digital is when we shot on film, the cinematographer had a benchmark and a damn good idea of how it would end up looking. There were lines of responsibility and a standard procedure."
"With the advent of digital cameras, it's been a challenge and a major period of adjustment," he continued. "It was a shock to my system that waveforms would become my exposure meter to maintain control of my look. Nirvana will be when we arrive at the point where I can pick the camera system with the best results; when I pick digital over film, we will have arrived."
"This all begs of the question that if you can't do test shoots and generate looks, where does the look come from?" he added. "Shooting raw is a potential minefield. Establishing a way of setting a look that can be communicated and give the cinematographer security that the look will be communicated down the line is what is needed. We need color management on the set. I strongly recommend reliable color management like ACES offers."
Although several of the speakers utilize post production houses - FotoKem and Light Iron Digital - for digital dailies, Silverman noted that there is still a trend of "the disintermediation of post houses." Those not nimble or flexible enough to provide new digital services such as on-set digital dailies may be left behind. "I didn't have a clue we'd be doing in-house dailies," Coello Bannon said, addressing her remarks to post house executives. "You have to be open to change. A meteor is on its way to hit post production".
Will digital dailies spell the devastation of a meteor to Hollywood post houses? Unlikely, but the warning is clear: post production houses can no longer think of themselves as the logical end of a workflow, but make themselves essential throughout the pipeline. Change is nothing new in the post environment. Post facilities have already weathered numerous dramatic and expensive changes inherent in evolving technology. As always, the winners have been those who are able to adapt to change. And change in the production and post workflow doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime in the near future.