Cirina Catania, Founder and Lead Creative, The Catania Group
Per Larsson, Director of Photography, Perlarssondp.com
Justin Thomson, Founder, Ashridge Films
Philip Hodgetts, President, Lumberjack System
Chris Bross, Chief Technology Officer, DriveSavers Data Recovery
James DeRuvo, Film and Technology Reporter, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we are looking at shooting under extreme conditions, from above the Arctic Circle to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to the uncharted jungles of the Amazon. We start with Cirina Catania, a filmmaker who’s traveled to the remote corners of the world shooting for National Geographic and other network channels. Tonight, Cirina shares her thoughts on picking the right gear for an extreme shoot.
Larry Jordan: Next is Philip Hodgetts who designed a media and network system for a sailing ship creating a series of shows on the Pacific Ocean. Tonight, he explains his media management and communication systems.
Larry Jordan: Justin Thomson is another filmmaker who just returned from a shoot inside the Arctic Circle. Tonight he shares what gear worked, and what didn’t and what he learned during his shoot.
Larry Jordan: Chris Bross is the chief technology officer for DriveSavers Data Recovery. Tonight Chris shares his thoughts on what to do when you suddenly discover all your data is gone.
Larry Jordan: Per Larsson was nominated for six Emmy’s and won two for his cinematography on The Amazing Race for CBS. For ten years he was in some of the most remote places on earth. Tonight he tells us how he brought back all those stunning images of The Amazing Race.
Larry Jordan: All this, plus James DeRuvo with our weekly DoddleNEWS update The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts: production, filmmakers, post production and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: And welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry covering media production, post production and marketing around the world. We’re celebrating our 17th year of podcasting.
Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan and tonight we’re looking at shooting outside on the road in extreme conditions. We’ll look at how to pick the gear, how to manage your media and two examples of extreme shooting, one from above the Arctic Circle, and the other covering ‘The Amazing Race.’ For those of you that haven’t seen it, ‘The Amazing Race’ is a reality television show where teams of people race around the world competing with other teams. They use airplanes, hot air balloons, helicopters, trucks, bicycles, taxis, cars, trains, buses, boats, and even foot. In other words, shooting these episodes is a major challenge, and by the way, ‘The Amazing Race’ has won 13 prime time Emmys for outstanding reality competition program. We’ll learn more about that talking with our last guest today.
Larry Jordan: By the way, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week gives you an inside look at The Buzz, quick links to the different segments on the show and curated articles of special interest to filmmakers. And best of all, every issue is free, and comes out on Friday.
Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for our DoddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hello Larry.
Larry Jordan: So what’s shaking? What’s the news?
James DeRuvo: Earlier this month Adobe had their annual Adobe MAX Conference and one of the most popular sessions that they hold is called the ‘Adobe Previews,’ which is basically where they show all the things that they’re working on that are over the horizon that aren’t ready to be released yet but they want to show them off. At this one, they came out with a new thing called ‘Project Clover VR’ which is a virtual reality editing interface. It works with the Oculus Rift headset and the touch controls, and what they found is that editors who are editing virtual reality will edit what they do, then they’ll render it, put the headset on, take a look at it, realize that there’s one frame too many or “I don’t like that cut” and then they take off the headset, and go and lather, rinse, repeat. They’ve created this new interface which puts the editing timeline right inside of virtual space. You literally wear the Oculus Rift headset all the time, with the controllers, and you edit inside the virtual space. So you’re in this spherical editing timeline which is pretty crazy.
James DeRuvo: They have this thing called the rotational alignment tool which enables you to align all the cameras so that you can determine where the story is taking it from the shots that are available from the virtual reality camera. That enables you to keep the audience’s interest where you want it to be in the timeline rather than just looking around. Imagine if you watching ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and right where Darth Vader said, “I am your father,” the audience is looking at Luke. So that’s what the rotational alignment tool is going to enable editors to do. It’s just a really cool, bleeding edge editing interface that enables you to edit in virtual reality. It’s not going to be in ‘Creative Cloud’ any time soon, but I’m betting that the way things are going with virtual reality, we’re going to see it a lot sooner than later.
Larry Jordan: What else have we got?
James DeRuvo: I was perusing Indiegogo this week and I came across this really cool product called the ‘GearEye Gear Management System.’
Larry Jordan: I’ve heard about that. Go ahead.
James DeRuvo: The idea behind it is to be able to determine, when you’re on location, it will allow you at a glance to take inventory of all of your gear to make sure you have it all. Then if you don’t, it helps you to go find it. It uses these little small RFID tags that you stick to all of your gear, cameras, lenses, flashes, lights, whatever it is and it can keep track of up to 80 items at a time. It’s got customizable inventory lists, so if you have a special gear list for weddings, and a special gear list for interviews, and a special gear list for documentary, you can actually use those to put together all the gear that you’re going to carry, and then when you’re there you’re not carrying gear that you’re never going to use. You’re always going to just have the gear that you use for those particular shoots. Then this little dongle which you keep in your camera bag or attaches to your phone, will basically query all the RFID tags and then the app on your phone will do a head count to make sure you have everything. Then if you don’t, it helps you go find it. There’s these little arrows, they’ll tell you, “Oh it’s over there” and then you go find your gear. So it’s going to help you keep track of gear so you don’t lose it, you’ll be able to put these tags on the gear and keep track of up to 80 items at a time and it’s really cool, they’ve really thought this out. It’s going to be a really great way for small film crews, or even large film crews, to keep track of all their gear. I really like it. ‘GearEye Gear Management System.’
Larry Jordan: The thing I like about it is RFID tags don’t require batteries, they pull power out of the air. So, as we’re talking about extreme shooting today, you can take these things in the wild, and not have to worry about running out of batteries.
James DeRuvo: Yes, they don’t die which is a really crazy thing. The thing I like about it is that you can customize all the inventory lists.
Larry Jordan: Very true.
James DeRuvo: So that way you’re not carrying gear you don’t need. How many times do we carry gear that we never use? You don’t need it. Gear you don’t need, you can leave at home.
Larry Jordan: James, for people that want to keep track of the latest news, where can they go on the web?
James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at Doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the senior writer for DoddleNEWS, and James, we’ll chat with you next week. Thanks so very much.
James DeRuvo: Have a great weekend.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: I want to introduce you to a new website, Thalo.com. Thalo.com is an artist community and networking site for creative people to connect, be inspired and showcase their creativity. Thalo.com features content from around the world with a global perspective on all things creative. Thalo is the place for creative folks to learn, collaborate, market and sell their works. Thalo is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers, and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Visit Thalo.com and discover how their community can help you connect, learn and succeed. That’s Thalo.com.
Larry Jordan: Cirina Catania is a successful writer, director, journalist and tech evangelist. She’s a former senior marketing executive at MGM UA and United Artists, and one of the original co-founders of the ‘Sundance Film Festival’ and best of all, she’s a good friend of The Buzz. Hello Cirina, welcome back.
Cirina Catania: Well hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: It is wonderful to hear your voice, I have missed you all these many weeks.
Cirina Catania: I’ve missed you too.
Larry Jordan: I was thinking as I was getting ready for this segment, I still remember the stories you told of shooting in the heart of the Amazon River and all the crazy trips you took for all the documentaries you were putting together. If you were going on an extreme shoot today, what gear would you take?
Cirina Catania: You know, first of all, check the weather. I know that sounds silly but check the weather, and prepare for heat, prepare for cold, prepare for extreme cold, or prepare for a lot of moisture, like in the Amazon it was 97 percent humidity when it wasn’t actually raining. So we had to prep all the equipment and make sure that everything stayed dry. That was the hardest part. So lots of dry bags.
Larry Jordan: Would you change your gear if you were going cold versus hot? I mean, does the gear change based on the weather?
Cirina Catania: The gear doesn’t necessarily change. Some cameras are more susceptible to cold and heat than others are, so you do have to watch out for the gear. I actually had a Sony recording device melt on the set of ‘Stargate’, it was so hot, 120 degrees in the shade, and there was no shade, and it literally started to melt. So you have to be careful. You have to bring protection for your gear. If things are cold you have to have maybe a ski warmer for your batteries, or you have to have a place in your jacket that you know you’re going to keep your batteries so they stay warm because a battery that would normally last for 45 minutes or an hour or longer on some cameras, will probably only last ten minutes. In Prague, it’s below zero and snowing. You have to think about that.
Larry Jordan: Let’s tackle this in two chunks. Let’s say that we’re going to the Amazon and we’ve got a whole bunch of heat and humidity to work with. If the gear doesn’t change, what are you doing to protect it?
Cirina Catania: In that case, I had to bring cameras that were actually underwater cameras. Cameras that could sustain the high moisture for long periods of time. So I took some of the old Sony’s with me for that. I used the pocket camera with a special cover on certain occasions, but everything was in dry bags. All the peripherals were in dry bags and at night everything went into the dry bag.
Larry Jordan: What is a dry bag?
Cirina Catania: There’s different kinds of dry bags. I go on Sportsman’s Guide and I actually buy some of the dry bags that hunters use when they go out into extreme weather, because we were in kayaks in the middle of the Amazon River, so things were just getting wet. But they would be tied to the side of the kayak. You can go to stores like A16 in Los Angeles and you can buy hiking dry bags, dry bags that cater for fishermen, hikers that kind of thing.
Cirina Catania: For the audio equipment, what I did was I took underwater cases for your iPhone, and I put the H1N audio recorders in those and ran the wires out of the dry bags and up the people’s waterproof clothing and the lav was tucked underneath some of the clothes so we could still hear them. That was a little bit tough. I know there are sound engineers out there that are probably better at that than I am but it was wet. Oh my gosh, it was just hot and wet.
Larry Jordan: We’re going to talk with Philip Hodgetts in a few minutes about his approach to media management, but from your point of view, would you change the codecs that you shoot based upon being in the field and the media that you record on? Or what would you use for maximum security?
Cirina Catania: No. I think the underlying technology is the thing. But the way you manage it might be different. We didn’t have any power in the Amazon so I was running off solar power, and it’s very hard to manage media when you don’t have a lot of power to keep your laptop running. I brought a laptop, but I was very rarely able to use it. I relied mostly on Nexto DIs which are these wonderful SSD drives that can import your media and make digital copies of them for you running off batteries. So that’s what I did in the Amazon.
Larry Jordan: What was something you thought was essential that you needed to take on your trip that you never used?
Cirina Catania: I didn’t need as many changes of clothing as I took. I think what you have to do when you prepare for an extreme shoot is you have to think about every, what I call departments. You have to think about grip, about electrics, about how you’re going to light, about how you’re going to shoot. You have to think about DIT and then with each of those departments, pick the thing that you need the most, and figure out whether or not it’s going to work in the environment you’re going to be in, and start taking out anything you don’t need. Now I did take some extra things that I was going to use in Lima in the city that I left in the city when we went to sleep in our tree hammocks in the Amazon. That’s stuff I left behind, extra things that you love to have when you’re shooting that you don’t have when you’re carrying the backpack on your back. You need your camera, you need some lighting equipment and you need good audio. And that’s about it.
Larry Jordan: Has your remote kit gotten bigger or smaller over time?
Cirina Catania: Thank heavens the technology’s gotten smaller. I used to shoot these kinds of things using the Zoom, the 4N, and now I use Zoom H1N. I’m in New York right now at ‘The Equus Film Festival,’ and I know that’s not an extreme shoot, but I was limited on the amount of gear I could take because I have another shoot right after this and I can’t take all the gear with me. So I’m shooting this event with literally one small carry on and a backpack with my equipment in it.
Larry Jordan: I do remember the time when we took a bread truck around just to be able to get a single camera to work.
Cirina Catania: I know, can you believe it? It’s changed so much. It’s really changed so much. While I’m doing this interview, I’ve got the Nexto doing a check sum on a 64 gig card that got full.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like you would pick your gear, the camera, the microphones, the audio recorder, as though you’re doing a standard studio shoot, because you want to get the best quality you can. It’s the surrounding stuff, what you put the gear in and how you protect it that changes. Am I getting that correct?
Cirina Catania: Partly but for example I can’t go to the Amazon with my 4K Blackmagic cinema camera or the big URSA. I have to take the pocket camera with the Redrock micro retroflex rig on it that has an electronic shutter. So that is very small, it’s very lightweight but the thing is I need to bring extra batteries, but even those are small. So you do have to adjust the cameras as well.
Larry Jordan: What advice do you have for a filmmaker that’s about to start their first big outside project? What questions do they need to ask themselves?
Cirina Catania: They need to find out what the end use is for what they’re shooting. They need to not over pack. You don’t need a huge fancy rig just to look fancy. Keep it minimum. I call it naked shooting. I shoot with as little equipment as possible. I bring the camera, I bring a great lens and I bring whatever I need to protect the camera, but I don’t need to bring big shoots, matte boxes, rods and shoulder rigs when I can do without them.
Larry Jordan: How do you keep your gear safe when you’re traveling?
Cirina Catania: That’s a scary one. Unfortunately, when you travel things always go missing, for me at least, and that’s normally at the airport. I got to South Africa a few years ago and I had packed all my extra batteries, before you were unable to pack lithium batteries in your suitcase, and all my batteries were taken. So one of the things I do is take one of the big dry bags I have and put it in my suitcase with all the small stuff in it. I turn it upside down so it’s harder to unzip and then I put stuff on top of it. That has actually saved people from quickly reaching in and stealing some of the small really valuable stuff.
Larry Jordan: As you look at it, between shooting in Prague in the winter and the Amazon in the middle of whatever passes for dry season, what are some of the challenges you have of shooting remotely? Aside from trying to figure out what the story is and get your people on camera.
Cirina Catania: I was shooting with the crew this time for National Geographic, and we’re shooting ‘Chasing Lightning.’ We actually had quite a few cameras on that shoot but one of the Phantom cameras that was our key camera, had a technical problem and in order to fix that we had to send one of our crew members a good 12 hours away there, and another 12 hours back to get a replacement camera. So I think it’s accessibility to health, if you have a problem that’s why you really need to think ahead about what could possibly happen, and redundancy. I’ll tell you a story if I have time.
Larry Jordan: Go ahead.
Cirina Catania: I was shooting in Oregon up in the mountains. First day and I had a Rode Go Mic Pro on top of my camera and sometimes those things come loose. I was walking around with the camera, and it was kind of dangling from the chord, and unbeknownst to me, it went missing and I looked at the person that I was shooting, and I said, “What happened? My microphone’s gone.” We looked across the yard, and the dog had it. It must have thought it was some kind of animal and he was shaking it and growling with the microphone which of course wasn’t good for the mike. But luckily, I had two H1N’s so I made it through the shoot OK.
Larry Jordan: Plan on having extra gear just in case the dog decides to eat the microphone?
Cirina Catania: You’ve heard of the dog ate my homework, well this time the dog ate my microphone.
Larry Jordan: Cirina, for people that want to keep track of what you’re up to, what website can they go to?
Cirina Catania: Go to thecataniagroup.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, thecataniagroup.com and Cirina Catania is the founder and principal creative artists for The Catania Group. Cirina, thanks so very much, have a great shoot in New York and travel safely.
Cirina Catania: OK thank you Larry. Bye.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Philip Hodgetts is a technologist and the CEO of Intelligent Assistance and Lumberjack System. Even better, he’s the technology expert for The Buzz. Hello Philip, welcome back.
Philip Hodgetts: Thank you Larry.
Larry Jordan: Philip, tonight we’re talking about shooting in extreme conditions, and I was just thinking, here we are, carrying all our irreplaceable dailies on our back in some very difficult conditions. It makes sense to get these sent safely to Dropbox or a server on the web, but how do we do it? How do we access the web from the middle of nowhere?
Philip Hodgetts: Unfortunately, the accessing of the web from the middle of nowhere and using the web or the cloud for uploading media, are slightly incompatible goals. Dammit. Effectively, if we’re going to have the internet wherever we go, and the particular example I’m thinking about was a boat trip, the only really practical way to do that is to have some sort of cellular data service, or preferably more than one. That way you can have data when you’re moving, but as we all know, they are not high traffic connections. They’re not too slow, but you’ll have serious restrictions on the bandwidth. So I split that problem into two separate problems for when I tried to deal with it back in 2012.
Larry Jordan: How did you deal with it back in 2012?
Philip Hodgetts: The simplest part of it was to decide that we were probably going to shoot either eight or 16 gigabytes per day. In hindsight, I should have said 16 and 32, we more commonly shot 12 to 24, so I underestimated on that badly. But the idea was that we simply bought up a lot of USB memory sticks, and on location we duplicated everything onto two copies, posted them independently so they went two different paths through the postal system, back to a central base, so we would have a back up as well as onboard the boat, we kept a duplicate copy of the raid every day doing an rsync on it to make sure that everything that we’d captured and worked on during the day was backed up onto a RAID. Because we were in a marine environment, a high salt environment largely, so the likelihood of having a mechanical RAID fail is highly likely.
Larry Jordan: Philip, if we have to upload 16 gigabytes of data over our internet connection, it isn’t going to happen. Does that mean that we should just ignore the internet totally when we’re on the road?
Philip Hodgetts: I think the internet has become such an invaluable tool that we can’t ignore the internet. Really in our project we had two different networks on two different ipads, plus two mi-fi like base stations again on two different networks so that we had the best possibility of getting coverage wherever we were.
Larry Jordan: So we should probably not use the web for media, but use it for staying connected?
Philip Hodgetts: Absolutely. That’s where it still has the highest value for us right now. Uploading media? Maybe that’s something for the future, but it’s certainly not something we can do now.
Larry Jordan: If that’s true, and I believe that in the middle of the Pacific Ocean it would be difficult to get high bandwidth, then how do we protect our media? What do we have to do, especially in hostile environments like high salt or high humidity or all the other stuff we deal with when we’re not in a big city?
Philip Hodgetts: By providing as much redundancy as we possibly can. The only way we can hope to make sure our media is going to be protected is using multiple copies. As I said, we had a duplicate G-Tech RAID onboard. Didn’t spin all the time, it spun up only at the end of the day and we did a copy to make sure that everything that we had captured during the day was copied onto at least one duplication, and then each day’s shooting was also put onto two memory sticks, and every second day we sent those two memory sticks by mail from wherever we were, if we could actually get to a postal service every second day, and posted them. That was the only way. We had onboard and then we had dual backup off board. So the only way is this redundancy, redundancy, and for another step, redundancy. Probably if I was doing it now I’d probably built an LTO into the budget.
Larry Jordan: Before we talk LTO, would you copy stuff to an SSD RAID, or would you do it to spinning media? Which do you think is a better option, again when you’re outside civilization?
Philip Hodgetts: I would choose SSD if budget was not an overriding issue. It generally is unfortunately. But certainly an SSD is going to be a lot more immune to environmental factors than spinning disks. Even though they’re sealed, the environment is still going to take its wear and tear on connectors and other parts of the spinning disk environment. So I would definitely prefer SSD in challenging environments over spinning disks simply because they don’t have spinning components, they’re not so mechanical.
Larry Jordan: I was just thinking, temperature and humidity, does that make a big difference to an SSD system?
Philip Hodgetts: Nowhere near as much as it does to a spinning disk system. I’m not aware of any humidity limits, I’m sure there are temperature limits but I have the feeling that the temperature limits for the person operating the RAID are probably going to be more tolerable than the temperature limits of the SSD. So if you’re comfortable, it’s comfortable. If you’re not comfortable, the electronic device is probably not comfortable either. It’s always been my rule of thumb.
Larry Jordan: if you wanted to future proof yourself, what codec would you shoot?
Philip Hodgetts: Again, if budget’s not a consideration I would say let’s go with ProRes or DNxHD, and more gear shoots ProRes than DNxHD simply because it’s overall a more archive friendly codec, even though it’s larger.
Larry Jordan: Interesting thoughts. Philip for people who want to keep track of what your current thinking is, where can they go on the web?
Philip Hodgetts: Philiphodgetts.com and be prepared to get some artificial intelligence thoughts there.
Larry Jordan: The Philip Hodgetts himself is the technologist that we’re talking to, CEO of Intelligence Assistance and Lumberjack System. Philip, as always, thank you, this is fun.
Philip Hodgetts: My pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Justin Thomson is an actor, a filmmaker, and the founder of Ashridge Films. He just recently returned from a film shoot above the Arctic Circle. Now that has got to create some stories. Hello Justin, welcome back.
Justin Thomson: Greetings, it’s good to be back.
Larry Jordan: So, I have to ask, what were you doing inside the Arctic Circle?
Justin Thomson: We were shooting a feature film, a docudrama with a little bit of science fiction in it if you can have that possibility, about a deep sea diver who has an encounter with the ocean. And the ocean wants to explore the human world.
Larry Jordan: Why did you decide to shoot above the Arctic Circle? We’ve got oceans down here in LA or Florida which are a whole lot warmer.
Justin Thomson: Sure, we were definitely thinking about that while we were sitting on a small Zodiac in the middle of the freezing ocean. But there’s a certain authenticity that, when you’re in the location where we were. It also makes our job very easy because you literally just put down the tripod and focus your lenses and you’re going to get some pretty amazing footage.
Larry Jordan: You were shooting both on the ice, and in the water. How did you cope with the extreme environments?
Justin Thomson: A lot of tea. As far as equipment goes we were pretty fortunate. We had some pretty intense underwater housings for the equipment. The time of year that we were shooting which was just last month, it wasn’t quite that cold yet, so we could shoot underwater with the equipment for about 45 minutes before we needed to get out and actually start heating things up again, including the divers. It didn’t come without its problems in the cold. We did lose one drone, so it’s now a gift to Zeus.
Larry Jordan: Many items of equipment don’t work well in extreme cold, not to mention batteries which die almost immediately. How did you get around these problems?
Justin Thomson: Probably the old fashioned technique, which was just stick it under your armpit and try to keep it as warm as possible under all your thermals.
Larry Jordan: People walking round looking like chickens.
Justin Thomson: Exactly. And just hope you don’t sweat too much so you don’t electrocute yourself. But we also had some thermal bags in order to try and keep equipment as warm as possible, and then we’d make sure that anything that we were filming, we would assume that we would get 50 percent or less battery life. So with the drone, we usually kept it to very short flights, but despite our calculations, we still lost one, but that’s OK because the footage we got despite it was fantastic.
Larry Jordan: Did you have more problems with your gear or your data?
Justin Thomson: Actually we were pretty OK on everything. Data, obviously you have to be very diligent because you’re in such a remote location. It’s not easy to go back and get a pick up, so we had everything backed up in quadruplet on hard drives, and we’d go through and your DIT has to be really diligent to make sure everything is there. Equipment wise, everything worked really well. The only issue that we had was we were using RED DRAGON with Russian anamorphic lenses from the 70s so that just caused a lot of weight and strain and a little bit of bending because it’s such extreme wide angles with the anamorphic. But in the end we were able to get everything that we needed to and it looks really beautiful.
Larry Jordan: Shooting in extreme environments is nothing like shooting in the city. What advice would you give to someone to prepare for their first shoot where it’s that cold?
Justin Thomson: Well I would say it’s not just a matter of where it’s cold, but anytime you’re going to a remote location, make sure you don’t just have backups but you have two or three backups behind that, because like I said it’s not easy to just get something from a store down the road. And always try to have a lot of equipment which allows you flexibility because sometimes if you get too specific with things, you miss out on opportunities because you never know, once you get there, things change so you have to be adaptable.
Larry Jordan: And for people that want more information, where can they go on the web to learn about you and your film?
Justin Thomson: The film website is aquatilis.tv, and they can follow me on Instagram at bejustincredible.
Larry Jordan: Justin Thomson is the voice you were just listening to. Justin, thanks for chatting with us today.
Justin Thomson: Always a pleasure. Great to hear your voice.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Chris Bross is the chief technology officer at ‘DriveSavers Data Recovery.’ He’s responsible for strategic partnerships, academic collaborations, as well as facilitating discussions with leading storage designers, manufacturers and industry groups. He currently guides DriveSavers’ R&D team on solid state drive technologies and tools. Hello Chris, how are you?
Chris Bross: Hello Larry. I am doing just fine thank you.
Larry Jordan: Chris, we are out in the middle of nowhere and suddenly discover that some of our media has gone missing. We can’t go back and reshoot. Besides screaming and yelling which is the very first thing we’re going to do, what should we do after that?
Chris Bross: Well, I assume when you say gone missing, you mean that physically you still have it in your possession, but you can’t read the data that’s on it?
Larry Jordan: Let’s say yes, as opposed to somebody stealing the chips which would just be terrible. But we’ve got the chips and we can’t find our media.
Chris Bross: Understood. Well, it’s a common problem on all kinds of media. Today of course most of the stuff in the field that most of these listeners are using is going to be flash based. But these devices fail in the field, so if you haven’t already experienced it, you will experience the inability to read a card with very valuable data or a drive full of something you’ve just shot, and had not yet replicated. When you’re in the field, there’s not a lot you can do typically to resolve a failure on one of these devices, but the good news is that a laboratory service like ours can typically revive that device once we get it into the laboratory and pull your valuable data off of it.
Larry Jordan: What should we do in the field to keep our data safe? Should we write it to spinning media, old hard disks, or should we write it to flash media? And if we’re dealing with extremes of temperature as we’ve been talking about in this show, or humidity, is one recording mechanism better than another?
Chris Bross: Great questions. Today solid state storage is really the way to go in environmentally extreme conditions or where ruggedized solutions make sense. Yes there are ruggedized versions of spinning drives, but today in the field, you want speed, reliability, availability and solid state storage is more tolerant to environment conditions and to shock. But, in some cases, you need additional storage in the field and sometimes you need the capacity of disk. When you do, there are ruggedized small RAID solutions that are waterproof and fireproof that can go with you, and lastly, replicate as soon as possible. I know that’s an obvious given, but in extreme conditions, make sure you get a secondary copy of that raw footage as quickly as you can.
Larry Jordan: Well how safe is the data that’s stored on a camera card? How likely is it to fail? Yes it can fail, but exactly how paranoid do I need to be?
Chris Bross: It’s amazing the extremes that, for example, most SD card media can handle today. Some manufacturers, I think like SanDisk might even post on their website the extreme ranges of submersion, underwater or pressure or temperature that these cards can sustain. The reality is that when failure occurs, or when something happens to your media like it’s underwater or it’s frozen or something, once in a controlled environment, data can be pulled off that device, but don’t ever give up hope in the field. Secure it into a plastic bag, hold it, and if it’s something really valuable we can deal with back in the lab.
Larry Jordan: What advice do you have for filmmakers shooting in extreme environments? What are the things they must keep in mind?
Chris Bross: A couple of things we just addressed, like primary storage should be solid state if possible. Replicating stuff in remote environments is sometimes a challenge, but of course, you need to do that. We had a case where we worked on a recording rig at 120,000 feet on a weather balloon that crashed. They were not replicating in real time, but they were sending part of the data back to earth, while the rest of it was on the storage. Luckily, even that was ultimately recoverable.
Larry Jordan: Chris, for people that want to learn more about what ‘DriveSavers’ can do to save their data, where can they go on the web?
Chris Bross: You can find us at Drivesavers.com, we’re always open and always available to help.
Larry Jordan: Chris Bross is the chief technology officer for ‘DriveSavers Data Recovery.’ Chris, thanks for joining us today.
Chris Bross: Thank you Larry, it’s always a pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to. Doddlenews.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platforms specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. Doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Per Larsson is a cinematographer. Born in Sweden, he’s best known for his international work on CBS’ ‘The Amazing Race’ where he was the director of photography for ten years. He’s been nominated for six Emmys, he’s won two, and it is an honor to say welcome Per, good to chat with you.
Per Larsson: Thank you very much, I’m happy to be here.
Larry Jordan: What first got you interested in cinematography?
Per Larsson: My background is actually photojournalism. It started in Sweden and then I moved to Los Angeles in 1989 and ended up working for CNN here in Los Angeles for about five years. Then moved on from there.
Larry Jordan: How did you get involved with ‘The Amazing Race?’
Per Larsson: I did a TV show called ‘Cops,’ which is one of the longest running shows I think on television up to date. On that show was another person called Bertram van Munster who is the executive producer for ‘The Amazing Race.’ So we met and a few years later on he started ‘The Amazing Race’ and then I was one of his people on his list.
Larry Jordan: If I remember correctly, you worked for ‘The Amazing Race’ for ten years which was filming all over the world. How many people did you have on your team?
Per Larsson: There are 11 teams competing on ‘The Amazing Race,’ and therefore we had 11 cameras. There’s one camera dedicated to one team. There’s only a camera and a sound person. There are no producers with us, so the camera crew are basically producing themselves, and do all the interviews as we run and go and sit in the taxis, the train stations and airports. So that’s how that show has been made.
Larry Jordan: How did you get a consistent look if you’ve got 11 teams scattered all over creation and back? It’s impossible to get shots to match or even think of the same style. How did you pull it all together?
Per Larsson: It’s a very good question. I’ve been asked that before, and I said that’s one of the most difficult things to make it seamless, to make the show look as even and good looking as possible throughout every episode and with 11 different camera operators, being at 11 different locations, shooting different things. So, that’s why you teach them. You have to teach them to understand that this is a multi-camera TV show. It’s not a single camera TV show. So, when you shoot and tell a story, you have to somewhat frame similar all the time. Medium wide tight, medium wide tight. So you know when you go into it tight, everybody else is framing somewhat similar.
Larry Jordan: What sort of gear did you standardize on, and I know over the life of the show the gear changed, but as you were working on it more recently, did you standardize so all crews had the same gear?
Per Larsson: Yes. Well actually when ‘The Amazing Race’ started in 2001, we started with the Beta SP camera and we did that for about five seasons. Then I proposed to switch to another format which is called IMX. It’s also a DigiBeta format. The difference for us is that it is DigiBeta and it’s a 16 minute tape load versus a 30 minute tape load with the older version. We also have four XLR audio inputs so now for the first time, we could actually have camera mic working when the wireless microphones for example, if the battery shuts down, you have no audio whatsoever. So the camera mic is always a back up for a number of minutes, until the sound man is able to swap out the batteries.
Larry Jordan: Did I hear correctly that you shot the first five seasons in standard def and you were still shooting in standard def after that?
Per Larsson: Yes we did. We didn’t switch cameras until I think season 16 or 17. So they actually switched to the XDCAM, the Sony XDCAM which are disk, but up till that point we shot on the DigiBeta tape IMX camera for a very long time.
Larry Jordan: An editorial comment here, one can win Emmys while still shooting standard def. I just want to make that point.
Per Larsson: There you go. True. Exactly. It was I guess a little bit before all the hype with the 1080, you know, I think 1080 was just coming around at that time, and 16:9, while we were still shooting 4:3. So it’s kind of funny that way. But regarding the earlier question about keeping the look, I also paint the camera, meaning that I basically color the camera on the inside. I sit with an engineer and have him painting the camera for me. I have a specific image in my head to make it work for ‘The Amazing Race,’ because we have to shoot in so many natural situations where we have fluorescent lights and there’s a different color on all tubes around the world. So in order for us to ever have a white balance, we don’t have time to white balance, it’s all pre-setting colors, in the camera. So I have to paint the camera in such a way that it will be looking good whatever they do, whatever decision they make.
Larry Jordan: How much time did you and your crews have to prepare for a location?
Per Larsson: I sit prior to the show, just me being the DP, I sit with what we call the country producers at the office, and then go through every episode. But once we start shooting, the other camera crews really don’t know anything and that’s the excitement too. It also makes the person drive themself not knowing, so you’ll be hungry for telling a story. If you know too much ahead of time you may be relaxed too much, and that’s part of how we think, how we want to shoot the show as well. Because we want the camera crew to be excited.
Larry Jordan: How did you manage media? You’ve had 11 crews all over. Are they keeping the media and how are you keeping it safe and preventing losing critical shots?
Per Larsson: We all carry backpacks. That’s our livelihood. We have a backpack which fits one pair of zip off pants, two pair of socks, two pair of underwear, two shirts and then ten tapes, and the batteries, and the battery charger. They’re all self providing, everything by yourself. So back in the day, one episode can take one to two days. It’s a little different today in 2016, but this was their early years of the Race before they made it more simple, more formatted in an easier way. So we had ten tapes and at the end of every episode, what we call the pit stop, we drop off the shot tapes which is usually ten tapes. Then we reload. So then the production will take the tapes and ship the tapes back to Los Angeles. When we run, we also have to sleep overnight. We don’t stay at hotels very often, we sleep wherever the contestants sleep which can be on the sidewalk or in the forest or near the actual location where the competition’s going to take place the next morning.
Larry Jordan: It’s one thing to be a contestant for a single season, but you worked it for ten seasons. Did you end up hating the show or loving the show?
Per Larsson: Ten years. We do two seasons a year.
Larry Jordan: Oh, of course.
Per Larsson: I was there for 14, 15 seasons altogether.
Larry Jordan: So did you end up loving the show or hating it, because it’s got to be grueling?
Per Larsson: There’s a hate love relationship. You love it, but when you are tired and not having had food, haven’t slept for 24 hours, then you’re asking yourself what are you doing and why are you doing it? But having the photojournalistic instinct, it’s part of the passion too. You love to tell a story and it is exciting and working on ‘The Amazing Race,’ you will do things and go to places you probably will never ever go by yourself or not working. You go to these rural areas that you would never think about. So that is part of the excitement why everybody comes back. All camera crews, when I was there, they all came back. They all stayed with me. I also hired most of the camera crews, and they all stayed with me until I ended up leaving. Which was fantastic.
Larry Jordan: For filmmakers that are getting ready to plan their first outside shoot, an extreme shoot, what should they keep in mind?
Per Larsson: A lot of planning. Our show is different, but lots of planning and I think that you should always bring more than you need. You always say, “I only need this” but something always happens, so I think one of the key things is to bring more than you need because something will break or you may need something that you did not expect prior to leaving. But our show is very different. It’s all hand held, it’s just a camera, and the batteries and tapes. That’s all we have. We run and follow these people and tell a story.
Larry Jordan: Per, for people that want to keep track of what you’re doing and the kind of work you’re working on today, where can they go on the web?
Per Larsson: They can go on my website, perlarssondp.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, perlarssondp, perlarssondp.com. And Per Larsson is the cinematographer, and worked on ‘The Amazing Race’ for what seems like forever. Per thanks for joining us today.
Per Larsson: Thank you very much, I’m glad to be here. Thank you much.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Per Larsson: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: It’s an amazing environment working in extreme shooting from picking gear and making sure that you’ve got something to take its place when it breaks, to working with a very small team of people and being able to think on your feet. It’s been a fascinating conversation today looking at how to choose the gear, and how to manage our media, and how to deal with very extreme environments of humidity and water and cold and just never knowing where you’re going to go next.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this week starting with Cirina Catania, and Philip Hodgetts, Justin Thomson, Chris Bross, Per Larsson and James DeRuvo.
Larry Jordan: There is a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online, and all available to you today. And remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Friday. Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner with additional music provided by Smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription. Visit Take1.tv to learn how they can help you, and if you haven’t read one of our transcripts, it’s a fun way to search through and find the interesting stuff in the show.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Debbie Price. My name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to the Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2016 by Thalo LLC.