There is nothing worse than returning from a shoot, logging all of the footage, wiping cards and then realising that something hasn’t transferred properly. Backups are important but how can you make sure that everything makes it to your first backup?
The importance of backups
I remember all too well the afternoon when I learnt the lesson over backups. Everyone that works regularly with computers has that moment. For me it was about two years in to my video career. I had been animating an educational music video when my computer died… completely. All my work on the project was gone. No backups and with a delivery deadline looming no time to do much data recovery.
Thankfully I had been sent all the assets online and after a few all nighters and very long days I was able to re-create the project on a friends computer.
Once the job was done I sorted out myself a new machine and multiple backup solutions. I had learnt my lesson. A backup is without value – when you don’t need it it is sometimes difficult to see the point but when you do it is priceless.
Getting the workflow right
Showing that backups are useful is easy but there is a problem for video production. It is not about storage (although this is an issue), it is not about collaboration (although this is an issue, nor is about the sheer number of files and extraneous items (although this too is an issue).
The workflow, when it comes to backing up, has a very obvious bottleneck. Once you have shot you have no backup until you have copied the camera’s media to a computer. There is a moment when a shoot is complete when there is no backup and holding on to your SD cards, or compact flash etc. is suddenly the most important thing.
There are solutions though but before explaining them let me cover the Smarter Video approach.
The Smarter Video approach
Our rule when producing content is that there should be two copies of any footage or asset at any time. That’s it! We don’t leave a shoot without two copies of the footage (unless there is only one person on the shoot the backups travel separately). Then original media is never erased until there are two copies stored elsewhere: usually a working file and a backup (we usually have a third kept offsite as well).
Everything else is simply a way to help make achieving this easier. They all have their advantages and disadvantages but take the time and select the right mix of solutions for your workflow.
Some cameras like the Canon C series and many more besides offer multiple slots for media and allow you to record the same footage to two cards simultaneously. This is great as you immediately have two copies of everything the moment you hit record. You do need a lot of independent media (which can get expensive) and it can be tricky to keep track and store lots of small cards etc. on large shoots.
External recorders, like those supplied by Atomos, allow you to take a feed from your camera to an external device. This records everything the camera sees on media (often a large hard drive) immediately. This means you can record on your cameras media and the external recorder at the same time (even using different formats). The end result is two copies of all media immediately and, although recorders can be expensive, having all of your footage immediately on a hard drive, without messing around with lots of small media is priceless.
There are two options for on-site backups. The disadvantage is that you have a brief window where there is only one copy of the footage but creating immediate backups at regular intervals during a shoot minimises the risk of anything happening.
I used to always have a laptop on a shoot with me and after every interview, key speech, coffee break or scene whip out the media and copy it to the camera. A spare media would immediately go into the camera until the next break and then everything would be swapped. This meant I only had two cards to worry about (depending on the shoot) and a backup of everything before leaving the location.
Recently though I discovered hard-drives with USB or SD card slots and these have taken the place of my laptop. They are quick and efficient to use and are much lighter and more portable.
For more information about Smarter Video take a look here.
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