14 Terabytes of Burnin' Love
COW Library : Broadcast Video : Bevin Baddorf : 14 Terabytes of Burnin' Love
When I heard through a friend that Elvis Presley Enterprises was creating a new archivist position, I knew I had to hear more.
I found that they'd invested heavily to take production in-house, including a full FCP suite with over 14TB of mirrored storage. Their first goal was to keep all their archived video and film at their fingertips, rather than call it up from the archive one piece at a time.
The goal from there was to take advantage of the expanding creative options we have for ways and places to tell the story of Elvis's life and work.
My degree had focused on "current history," the film, TV, music and literature that impacts our culture. And by the time I visited EPE, I'd also been working full time in production for over a decade, putting theories about the creative process into action.
This new position was a chance to combine my liberal arts education and my work experience, in my home town. It was a perfect fit.
A WEB OF RIGHTS
At this point, I think we have just about everything Elvis that exists. You never know, though. Every now and then we get a phone call or letter along the lines of "my uncle died, and here's some stuff in a box." Fans have donated a lot, either in their wills or just as a contribution, knowing that their mementos will be preserved by Elvis's estate.
We also have a lot of unique home movies that Elvis's friends or family shot, usually old 8mm that we've converted to video.
It's all part of a web of media and rights that emerged when Elvis passed away. You might not think so, but rights management is a big part of every job.
For example, our control is frequently limited to Elvis's image, but not the music. Those rights were mostly sold off during Elvis's lifetime. They're now largely held by Sony BMG, so we work hand in hand with Sony on most of our projects.
But rights to the majority of his films are held by Warner Home Video. They always try very hard to give us access to what we need. They realize that it benefits them as much as it does us -people see the clips and want to see the movies.
The point is that rights management is a very real issue for us, and whether the footage is for Elvis.com or playback for visitors to Graceland, we follow our agreements to the letter.
The "'68 Comeback Special" exhibit
The "'68 Comeback Special" is one project we own all the rights for. ("Aloha from Hawaii" is another.) It originally aired on December 3, 1968, and we started preparing for Comeback's 40th anniversary celebration last year. We've built a '68-specific combination store and exhibit: the black leather suit, set lists, the director's shot list, as well as new video monitors showing footage we've selected from the archives.
We also have a lot of extra footage that wasn't originally broadcast. Many diehard fans have already seen some of it in the 3-DVD special edition of the Comeback special. We're showing some of it on Elvis. com, with even more of it on ElvisInsiders.com.
As a result of all this, my "average day" varies widely. It might find me: capturing Elvis footage or editing a special project for the archives, marketing, or PR; shooting interviews and b-roll with visiting celebrities or dignitaries; preparing footage for national networks to use in Elvis-related stories; working on Elvis content for our digital signage network; or duplicating existing projects for any and all of the above.
ELVIS PRESLEY TELEVISION
Creating presentations for Graceland itself is a special task. The 13.8 acre estate that was Elvis's home was opened to the public in 1982. Over 600,000 people visited there in 2007, over half of whom were under age 35. Both new and returning guests have very, very high expectations for what they'll see.
One of our major video platforms is EPTV, a digital signage network for Graceland visitors. The media lives on servers with software developed by Park Media for large venues and amusement parks. On top of that, EPE has a custom internal database, tracking all of the Elvis archival materials, in every medium.
Shooting formats and sources vary widely. They might include DV/DVCAM, Beta SP, Digibeta, DVCPRO HD, HDCAM, and archival film sources.
Output format also varies. Some projects are exclusively for the web, rendered in QuickTime, Windows Media, and Flash. Others run on the 41-inch digital signage monitors as high-bitrate MPEG-2 or WMV files.
(We're actually handling almost all of our HD footage as WMV. That's not necessarily the way that I would choose to go, but combining a variety of formats works best with these projects, and our server is a little more PC-friendly for now.)
I've become a big fan of Apple Compressor, running it straight out of Final Cut Pro. That's how I create the MPEG-2 program stream for EPTV, with the bitrate set as high as I can. The lowest I use is 6-8 Mbps, but I'll go up to 15-20 coming out of 2-pass VBR, which works out to around 8 minutes per gig.
It's overkill, but the server does such a nice job playing it, and it looks great. It doesn't look at all like what you think MPEG-2 would.
That video runs on part of the screen, with realtime tickers and special promos on the rest of the screen, in a 2.5 hour loop. After every 2 music videos in rotation, we have a 15-second spot, which helps pay for the monitors and system upkeep. For example, we've had a product tie-in with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups this past year – a special edition with banana cream, to celebrate Elvis's love of peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
I upload my finished, compressed output to secure FTP. Then it goes over a fibre network to our main hub of monitors. I manage it off of my dedicated PC running the Park Media server.
The platform runs something like a layered AE file, or a Photoshop file – one layer is background, one is the video file, one is banner ads. When I'm working off the Windows machine in the other room, I set the parameters for how each element works along with positioning and timing.
I have all the videos and other elements in a loop that starts at 7 AM. As we get to 8 PM, I rotate in "Thank you for visiting."
Even with all this compression, 14TB isn't close to adequate for our needs. We're looking at the most efficient way to store what we have, as well as managing the new HD footage coming in. Pro Res looks interesting, but without a lot of extra effort, it's not going to help us with the decades of work we've already put into archiving.
We're still trying to figure it all out.
THE BEST PART OF THE JOB?
Elvis, pure and simple.
I've worked in production long enough to know the benefits and pitfalls of working anyplace full time. I also understand that in most full-time jobs, you normally find yourself excited about 20% of your work, while the other 80% just pays the bills.
There's also the real danger in dealing with the same topic everyday that you'll lose any kind of excitement towards your subject matter.
That's just one more area where Elvis blows everyone else away. It's impossible to ever get tired of any of it, starting with an office at Graceland. It's like working for a superhero, famous historical figure, and rock star, all rolled into one. There are so many facets to work with that it's truly amazing.
All of us at the COW would like to thank Elvis Presley Enterprises for allowing Bevin Baddorf to give our readers this rare look inside the inner workings of Graceland.
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