Digital Production Buzz
January 7, 2016
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
(Click here to listen to this show.)
BuZZ Flashback: James Mathers
Zack Allen, Production Sound Mixer, Soundgeek Productions
Wendy Woodhall, Co-Founder, Executive Director, Los Angeles Post Production Group LAPPG
Chris Bross, Chief Technology Officer, DriveSavers Data Recovery
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we’re talking production sound, a unique post festival and rescuing your data. We start with Zack Allen, the Sound Geek. Zack has made a career out of recording amazingly clear audio on set. Tonight, he shares his tips on how to record great sound during production.
Larry Jordan: Next, Wendy Woodhall is the co-founder of the first annual LA Post Festival. In this event, everyone gets the same footage and the challenge is to create the best possible film from it. This year’s theme is science fiction and tonight Wendy joins us to explain how the contest works.
Larry Jordan: Next, Chris Bross works for DriveSavers, a company that specializes in recovering data from crashed drives. However, the biggest part of their business is now recovering data from broken iPhones and other mobile devices. Tonight, Chris explains how they can salvage encrypted data from an iPhone without actually reading the data.
Larry Jordan: All this plus Tech Talk and a Buzz Flashback. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Tonight’s Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by Other World Computing at macsales.com.
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 creative content creators covering media production, post production and marketing around the world. Mike, welcome back. Happy New Year to you, by the way.
Mike Horton: Happy New Year to you.
Larry Jordan: It’s good to see you sitting in that chair.
Mike Horton: You just got back from Vegas, right?
Larry Jordan: We got back from…
Mike Horton: You just told me two minutes ago, you were at CES.
Larry Jordan: I did.
Mike Horton: I’m so jealous. I’ve never been to that show, ever.
Larry Jordan: 2.4 million square feet, twice the size of NAB, twice the number of attendees, 175,000 people.
Mike Horton: And you walked every foot of it.
Larry Jordan: I talked to every exhibitor, I took notes, I brought it all back. I’m going to share it with you.
Mike Horton: For the next six episodes of Digital Production Buzz, we will talk about CES.
Larry Jordan: I was there at press, so I had a chance to attend press day on Tuesday. I was there when Samsung rolled out their new…
Mike Horton: Refrigerator?
Larry Jordan: …refrigerator with a monitor attached, which is $5,000 of amazing.
Mike Horton: Seriously, it really is that much?
Larry Jordan: Mhmm.
Mike Horton: Wow.
Larry Jordan: I was there when Toyota announced the new Toyota Research Institute, a one billion dollar lab focused on self driving cars; and Kia talking about the fact that self driving cars are going to start to roll out some features this year, partially automated driving by 2020 and fully automated driving by 2030, which is just way cool stuff.
Mike Horton: 2030. When is it? 15 years from now. Will I be alive? Maybe. I’m looking forward to that, by the way,.
Larry Jordan: oh, you and me both, I think it’s going to be great.
Mike Horton: Oh, absolutely.
Larry Jordan: The other thing I saw is that 4K and HDR is a done deal.
Mike Horton: Yes, it looks like HDR is trumping 4K or something, because HDR is going to be the TV set of the future.
Larry Jordan: In fact, you won’t be able to buy a TV set that’s not 4K and HDR compatible, so whenever you’re upgrading your existing HD set, you’ll still be able to play HD on it, but then you’ll be able to go either 2K or 4K.
Mike Horton: And Warner Bros is rolling out, I believe, 200 titles, so it’s a start.
Larry Jordan: So is Sony. Sony’s doing 100 titles and we’re seeing Netflix also announce 4K support, so that’s huge.
Mike Horton: Did you have a favorite item at CES that you saw?
Larry Jordan: Well, I nearly got killed by drones. My goodness, you can’t walk around the show.
Mike Horton: Were they flying those things all over?
Larry Jordan: They’re in cages.
Mike Horton: Well, yes.
Larry Jordan: But some of them are like…
Mike Horton: Well at NAB, they only had one cage on the second floor. At CES, were there dozens of cages?
Larry Jordan: You were dodging cages as you walked around, it was just amazing.
Mike Horton: My favorite device, I’ve got to tell you – and I wasn’t there but I’m reading all about it – is the Bluetooth pregnancy test app. There is absolutely no reason that you should have a Bluetooth pregnancy test app. In fact, I think that’s probably the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life.
Larry Jordan: Oh no, there are far worse ideas. There are 3600 exhibitors scrambling to find something. By the way, when you do want to find something, check out our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com and be sure to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter. Mike and I are going to be right back with Zack Allen, right after this.
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Larry Jordan: Zack Allen is a freelance production sound mixer and the owner of Soundgeek Productions in Fresno, California. He’s been recording sound since he was 17 and, for the past seven years, he’s worked in many different productions, including features, commercials, news, sports and documentaries. Hello, Zack, welcome.
Zack Allen: How you doing?
Larry Jordan: I’m talking to you, this is going to be fun. I’ve been looking forward to chatting with you since I got word that you were going to be on the show. But before we start talking about improving our audio during production, I’m curious to know how you got started in this business, because I understand it’s quite a story.
Zack Allen: Yes. Well, I’ll try to skip through it pretty quickly, but basically I came out of Fresno State, I graduated there and moved down to LA on an internship that I had… which is responsible for Boogie Nights and the Matrix trilogy and all that, so I was pumped at the time to be in post sound and get my way in there and I ended up getting hired full time, worked the rest of the year, 2007, and I got laid off at the end because of the writers’ strike and the economy crash and all that.
Zack Allen: But during that time, I learned a lot about how sound needs to be, which I think is a really good approach to going about it because as a producer you need to think backwards. You need to know what your final product is and then work your way back so you know what you need exactly and proper budgets and everything, but that’s a separate topic. After I got laid off from there, I came back to Fresno and I was unemployed and trying to do my best, like many other people were, probably, trying to get work and I’d get calls every once in a while from Random Productions coming into the Fresno area, asking if I could do sound, because I had my name listed in a local film listing for the area, and I just couldn’t do anything because I had no gear. I would say, “Yes, sure, I can do that for you and I’d love to help you out,” but I didn’t have any gear at the time and then I wouldn’t hear back from them ever again.
Zack Allen: As it turned out, later on an ex-girlfriend of mine drove us into a walnut tree at 50 miles an hour and the payout that I got from insurance on that ended up being my first investment into a sound kit and after I did that, about a couple of weeks later is when it just took off. I met a really good producer who turned into a good relationship and I just launched Soundgeek Productions from that and grew into where I’m at today, so it’s an interesting way of making lemonade out of lemons, in a way.
Mike Horton: I love it. His ex-girlfriend runs him into a tree and he starts his company off of that.
Zack Allen: Pretty much.
Larry Jordan: I was just thinking, you’ve been recording audio since you were 17. What was it that attracted you to audio? Because most guys grab a camera and start taking pictures.
Zack Allen: Yes. I did take the camera path for a little bit but that came after. I started sound first and I was always interested in sound when I was really little. My mom would show me pictures of how I’d be tweaking with sound things when I was a little kid, but at 17 was when it really took off because my friends and I, like everybody else at that age, we wanted to start a rock band and be rock stars, so I picked up a guitar and we were playing and we got to the point where we needed to record some stuff.
Zack Allen: Well, we all looked at each other stupidly, like, “Well, who’s going to do this?” and I’m more of a progressive person to actually do something, so I went ahead and invested in an old Fostex four track on cassette at the time and I learned at that point. That’s when recording engineering really became a thing for me and the technology started fascinating me more so than the art side of music and obviously there’s more money in it that I saw as a way to make a living, so I went that route and I just became really fascinated with the physics of sound and tried to learn as much as I can. Even though I’m not very good with math, I understood how things worked and I always strive to learn more about the mechanics of making things work right of sound.
Larry Jordan: Well, getting things to work right is an understatement because one of the things that attracted us to you recently is we got a press release from the folks at Sound Devices, which is a company that makes audio gear and mixers, and you’ve been using their gear for while. One of the things that you were doing is you were working on a Billy the Kid documentary for National Geographic. I want you to tell me about the project first and then I want to concentrate on the gear that you’re using and why you picked the gear that you did. But what is this Billy the Kid documentary?
Zack Allen: Well, it was labeled as new evidence and what it was was in here where we live in… California, there was a man here named Randy who came across an old ten type from an antiques store auction kind of deal and after five years of his own researching, he realized that this might be a picture of Billy the Kid and his regulator friends and Sallie Chisum and all that and a local producer that I worked with often in Fresno got wind of it and they hooked up and started to realize that there’s a story here, there’s a documentary that needs to be done and then it got picked up by Leftfield Entertainment, which turned into National Geo and so what we ended up doing was we were on the road for about six months documenting the journey that Randy had, of him finding all the different research points that he needed to authenticate this picture because it didn’t have what’s called a provenance, which is like a hand-me-down through family generations to prove things. It needed to be authenticated in a different fashion, so we were doing a lot of on the fly, on the road type work with that.
Larry Jordan: Well, let’s talk about the gear that you were using. We’re going to show some pictures. You sent us a delightful collection of images and we’re going to be showing some of the gear that you worked with, but talk about what you use when you’re on location. What gear do you have?
Zack Allen: For this show, actually I used to use… equipment. I started with that, it was a Nomad 12 and it worked fine but what I found out was the pace that we were shooting and having to deliver footage was so fast that this particular mixer recorder just wasn’t keeping up. The producers would have to wait hours for me to bounce all the footage down correctly, so what I ended up doing was switching to my Sound Devices stuff, which I’ve never had a problem with, they work fantastic, I couldn’t be happier with them, and I finished out about three quarters of that six months’ shooting with the 633 and a 688, which were just fantastic machines, and they were working in a lot of different climates. We shot through the summer in the heat, New Mexico, out in the middle of nowhere, Old West. It was really good.
Larry Jordan: Now, when you’re working, are you always using the same mic or do you have a specific mic for a specific task?
Zack Allen: I’ve got a small handful of mics. I’ve been building the boom mic side of things kind of slowly. I have a CMIT Schoeps, a CMIT 5U which is a fantastic mic to have all around. I use that mic for almost all of the interview and on the fly dialog through the…
Larry Jordan: Who’s the manufacturer on that?
Zack Allen: That’s Schoeps.
Larry Jordan: Ok.
Zack Allen: And they’re out of Germany, they’re a highly renowned company who do excellent work with their equipment. And I also used Sanken’s CS3E for pulling out dialog in noisy situations. The CMIT does a pretty good job at that, but when you’re really, really trying to isolate something, that CS3E is like a sniper rifle of a boom mic. It’s really narrow and it really rejects a lot of outside stuff you don’t want to get.
Larry Jordan: Now, right now we’re looking at an image of a mixer inside a blue case. We’ve got a couple of wireless, probably three or four, wireless receivers on it. What all is in here and when would you use something like this?
Zack Allen: It sounds like you’re looking at my big rig. For a job like this, like a reality type thing, this Nat Geo thing that we did was more of a reality documentary type deal, so I had to have Randy, his wife and other subjects miked up all at the same time and we’re mixing them down on the fly. Basically, every person’s got a wireless channel and that’s a small rig to some others that do similar work.
Zack Allen: Any more than six to eight wireless mics going on in one bag for one guy is a bit much. It’s usually split up and get two mixers at that point, or at least they should, we would hope, but sometimes we’re stuck with having to keep track of six plus microphones at one time with people and making sure they’re all wired up correctly, that they’re clean and not causing noise and whatever other technical issues that could be going on with frequency cross… and whatnot.
Larry Jordan: One of the things that impressed me about the photographs that you sent is the variety of different locations you’ve found yourself in. Tell us about some of the places you go and we’ll show some pictures to illustrate just how strange and different they are.
Zack Allen: Well, going back to that story, I told you how I got started with production sound with my producer friend whose name is Mark, and he does a lot of oversees productions that he’s invited me to and we’ve been all over Tahiti, the Philippines, Romania, Hong Kong, Russia, Moscow, Ukraine.
Zack Allen: We’ve been all over the place and every single one of these places is a different climate and just about every place I go to, I’ve had my 633 with me and I’m really glad it’s so stable because I would literally come off of one shoot Haiti, which is a hot swamp kind of deal, over to the Philippines where it’s just wet and swampy, to working with some other people out in the snow in the… foothills here that I have nearby me, and the 633 would just kick right there, it wouldn’t even budge. It’s great.
Larry Jordan: Aside from having the right gear and the Schoeps mic that you use, what’s the biggest challenge in recording good sound on location?
Zack Allen: It is that exactly, it’s location. Usually sound mixers like to express that when there’s a noise on location it’s not a sound problem, it’s a location problem, and then it has a lot to do with scouting where a good area is to be shooting so that you do get good sound. However, it’s not always a luxury so we have to make do with what we have and a big thing for a mixer is to know your tools. Sometimes, even though you want to use your $2,000 boom mic to get the sound, sometimes the $200 Lav might have to be used just to get things down to a point where you’re not hearing all of the extraneous noise that you don’t want. But I’m more of a boom only kind of guy if it’s possible.
Zack Allen: A lot of communication with the producers and with the shooters who are organizing the shoot helps with you being able to get good locations to shoot. Be upfront with them and have good communication with everybody. Be a good person to talk and communicate with and that will get you those situations that work in your favor.
Larry Jordan: Zack, a couple of technical questions before we run completely out of time. When you’re recording, what sample rate do you record at? What bit depth do you record at? And what levels do you set?
Zack Allen: When I’m doing normal shoot dialog type stuff, I’m at 24 bit, 48K. Into the camera, you want to set a nominal reference level, usually somewhere between -20 and -18 DPU on a camera, as that’s what your talent is usually referencing to get levels set correctly. I usually have my peaks somewhere around -8, -6 and that way it’s not too hard and not too soft. There are a lot of people who will say, “Oh, it’s not loud enough,” but it’s safe and sounds good, just turn it up on your end a little bit.
Zack Allen: It’s always different with whoever you’re working with. Sometimes they want it over-modulated, not to the point where it sounds bad but they want it up there, and some people like it a little lower so it’s safe; and then there are ways where you can actually deliver both at the same time too, depending upon what kind of mixer you use.
Larry Jordan: We have a live chat running at the same time and Eric in our live chat wants you to define, when you say you’re a production sound person and you’re mixing, what do you mean to mix in a live sound environment?
Zack Allen: That’s a funny story. Depending on the shoot, you end up kind of becoming a tracker, like you’re just putting down tracks sometimes. Some of us like to be actually mixing, so we’re turning knobs. For example, the two mixers I use, they are both multi-track recorders, so let’s take the 633 for example. It can record up to ten tracks. Six of those are actually ISOs at each input, so what we have is, say we’ve got six people that are on wireless, we record each one of those people separately on a pre-fade notion so that they’re not affected by the fader post fade and what we do is we set all that to a…, left or right or both, and we’re actually listening to the buzz and mixing as this is happening in real time.
Zack Allen: So we’re laying down our version of a post fade mix on a track or two that we like to use as maybe direct to camera. I used to do this with a cooking show that I did for three years. I was on the road with a crew and Joey… was our host and that’s how I’d deliver the whole thing. I would still record the ISOs in case there was a problem in post, but I would deliver a finished or as best as I could product of a mix for the editor to take and just pop it in and save a lot of time and money.
Larry Jordan: Zack, I could talk about audio – as Mike will attest – for probably hours, but for people who want to learn more about you and your work, where can they go on the web?
Zack Allen: They can find me at soundgeekproductions.com. I’ve got to start doing my website up a little bit more and keep more informed. They can also find me on Facebook under Soundgeek Productions, or my personal page is zackallen.com. But the best way is soundgeekproductions.com.
Larry Jordan: And Zack Allen is the founder and owner of Soundgeek Productions. Zack, this has been fun. Thanks for sharing your time with us.
Zack Allen: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it, guys.
Larry Jordan: Our pleasure, take care.
Mike Horton: Bye Zack.
Larry Jordan: Thank you, bye bye.
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Larry Jordan: Wendy Woodhall co-founded the Los Angeles Post Production Group in 2008 with her husband Woody and serves as the organization’s executive director. She’s been in the entertainment industry for more than 20 years in various capacities, including television production, publicity, marketing and product placement, including – which is what we’re going to talk about tonight – co-founding the brand new LA Post Festival. Hello, Wendy, welcome.
Wendy Woodhall: Hi, Larry. Hi, Mike. Thanks both so much for having me.
Mike Horton: Hi, Wendy.
Larry Jordan: Oh, it’s always fun. Mike has been talking about this interview since he got into the studio today. He said, “Finally, someone that understands how to run a user group.”
Mike Horton: Yes, exactly. Wendy’s one of the best.
Wendy Woodhall: Oh, you’re too kind.
Mike Horton: But I can’t believe that you guys have been in existence now for eight years. That’s incredible.
Wendy Woodhall: Yes, we’re creeping up there. Isn’t that amazing?
Mike Horton: That is amazing.
Larry Jordan: Wendy, I know we’ve talked with you in the past about LAPPG, the LA Post Production Group, but what I want to focus on today is why you decided to create the LA Post Festival.
Wendy Woodhall: Excellent question, Larry. As you know, we’ve been running the group for a while now and over the time we’ve found that so many of the tools have become accessible to the general public. We also realize not everyone has access to professionally shot footage, especially outside of LA, so we wanted to create a festival to allow anyone from anywhere who has the skills to tell a story. We wanted to create something that was like an apple to apple comparison. That was the genesis of this.
Wendy Woodhall: We also based it off of something similar Woody did, my partner. He had done something in theater where he gave ten different pairs the same script and asked them to create a scene and it was amazing just the different things people were able to do and how creative people were, and that’s really what we wanted to get from this. We also really wanted to spotlight post production. As I’m sure you guys will agree, we’re often the unsung heroes and we thought this would be a great way to put us in the spotlight, as well as to discover some talent that we don’t necessarily know about yet.
Larry Jordan: One of the things that struck me is that, with the festival, you’re providing footage for the entrants to use. Why did you decide to provide the footage? I know you said professionally shot, but who shot it and what are you giving them? And what genre did you decide to pick?
Wendy Woodhall: We chose the sci-fi genre. We thought that would lend itself to people being creative. Woody directed it and he directed it in a specific way so that he did three different emotional readings of everything so that people would really have different things to choose from as they’re editing this. He shot that last frame and the festival actually launched in November, so that’s how we went about it. We shot the film and then we’re letting everybody else use it.
Larry Jordan: It’s so cool. We’re looking at pictures now of Woody standing in front of the green screen with the actor and then we’re also looking at one of the cameras; and then we have a second shot here where we see the actor standing on the green screen with a background superimposed over them and some of the sample backgrounds. Where did you get the artwork you used here?
Wendy Woodhall: We reached out to some people that we thought would be excited about this – Blackmagic Design came on right away. They supported us, we shot on the Ursa, which was just fantastic to use. Andrew… was our DP and he loved shooting on that. Then we reached out to the European Southern Observatory and they gave us these amazing images that people can use in the green screen when they’re doing compositing. Sony Creative Software came on board to deliver us music and so we were really lucky that so many people were supportive this first time around.
Larry Jordan: Well, a contest implies that you’ve got judges. Who’s judging the results and how did you find them?
Wendy Woodhall: All of the judges are friends of ours through LAPPG and we have Digital Production Buzz’s own Cirina Catania, of course, the fabulous woman that she is. We have Tony Orcena, the editor of Modern Family. We have Stephen… who was the music editor most recently on…
Mike Horton: Wow.
Wendy Woodhall: We have Juan Cabrera, who did the stereoscopics on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and we have Jay Miracle, who’s a very talented Emmy award winning editor; and then a friend of yours, Larry, Norman Hollyn, a USC Film School professor, is lending us his time as well.
Mike Horton: Wow, that’s a really good group of people.
Wendy Woodhall: Exciting, right? We’re very excited for that.
Mike Horton: Oh yes.
Larry Jordan: A good group of people and Norman.
Mike Horton: And Norman, yes. A good group of people and Norman, yes.
Larry Jordan: Norman’s amazing. I enjoy working with him. What criteria are you giving the judges as they look at these and how many entries do you have so far?
Wendy Woodhall: The judges are looking at these in different ways. We’re giving five awards. We’re doing Best Editing, Best Use of Sound and Music, Best Visual Effects, Best Use of Assets and Best Film, so they’re really looking overall to see who’s telling the best story. That’s what we really want to get through here. If the… isn’t perfect, that’s something that can be fixed. The five winners, in their prize package they’re going to have their films mixed in surround at 48 Windows, mastered at Cinetic Studios and then it will be screened here in Los Angeles at the festival.
Mike Horton: Wow.
Wendy Woodhall: We’re going to have the judges look overall but also at who’s telling that story, because so much of storytelling is done in post production and that’s what we want to spotlight in this.
Mike Horton: Yes, it’s going to be really tough, especially for new filmmakers. They have to know everything. They have to know story, they have to know editing, they have to know visual effects, they have to know sound, they have to know music and they have to put that all together into this contest that you are doing. It’s going to be tough for these people.
Wendy Woodhall: It is. It is challenging, it is a challenge, but that’s a really good point, I’m glad you brought that up, Mike. What you can do if you don’t have all of those skills is you can form a team, so if you’re the person who entered, you can have somebody work on your sound, you can have somebody work on the visual effects, and that way you can pick people for their strong suits and make it work that way.
Larry Jordan: What’s involved in entering? Is there an entrance fee and what do people have to do?
Wendy Woodhall: There’s an entrance fee and it’s simple to enter – you go to our website. I think we still have three weeks left on the standard rate, then it bumps up just a little bit that last week. You have to be able to work really fast if you’re going to enter in the last week, but you still have a month. That’s plenty of time to enter this challenge. What happens is you go to the website, you pay the fee and then we send you the log-in information, you go to Kollaborate, which our cloud asset management system from Digital Rebellion, and you can download everything there. You’ll be able to download the live script and the music and the footage and anything else that you need.
Mike Horton: I’m curious. Since Woody actually shot all of this, has he put it together into his own little movie yet?
Wendy Woodhall: He’s done his version, his post director’s cut.
Mike Horton: All right!
Wendy Woodhall: One thing I think that’s going to happen, though, one thing that we’re planning on is once the five winning films are chosen, he will go back and work with these filmmakers to make them as strong as they can be and we’re really excited for that.
Mike Horton: What happens if they’re better than Woody’s?
Wendy Woodhall: That is definitely a possibility. We’ll have to wait and see.
Larry Jordan: Wendy, for people who want to enter or who want to keep track of what the LAPPG is up to, where can they go on the web to learn more about the contest and the group?
Wendy Woodhall: The group is lappg.com. It’s free membership and you don’t have to live in LA. If you do live in LA, we hold meetings once a month, but we have job boards, we have discount offers and lots of other opportunities online.
Larry Jordan: And the contest?
Wendy Woodhall: The contest, lapostfest.org and all the information is there.
Larry Jordan: Lapostfest.org and Wendy Woodhall is one of the co-founders of the LA Post Festival, as well as LAPPG. Wendy, thanks for joining us today.
Mike Horton: Thanks, Wendy.
Larry Jordan: And have great fun with this.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to Tech Talk.
Larry Jordan: One of the big features that we’ve had in Premiere which a lot of people don’t know about is that we’ve had loudness metering built into Premiere for the last, oh, year or so, maybe longer. Loudness is becoming increasingly important because the US and Europe have set standards measuring the loudness so that commercials are not glaringly loud compared to programs, so we want to have program and commercials to have the same loudness value. The way we measure the loudness is a tool called the Loudness Radar, which exists in Premiere but it began in Audition.
Larry Jordan: What Adobe has done now is they have moved the Loudness Radar and, even more importantly, broadcast safe, which Adobe calls the Video Filter. Both of those are now export options so, rather than having to worry about having your mix meet all the specs of the EU or US broadcast, we can do this as a post process. We can do our mix, we can do our edit, we can make it all perfect, then we run it through on export, run it through a broadcast safe called the Video Limiter, and run it through Loudness normalization and we solve a ton of problems during our mix. We can create the program that we want and then make sure that it’s protected against being too loud, too soft or chroma oversaturated or luma, because the Video Limiter does both.
Larry Jordan: This exists inside Adobe Media Encoder, it exists inside Premiere, it exists inside Audition. I’m going to show a piece of this inside Audition; I’m going to show another piece inside Media Encoder, but I need to stress that all three of these applications have both loudness normalization and video limiting built in as a post production process, which is the best possible place to put it.
Larry Jordan: Thinking of Audition, let’s take a look at this clip. Let’s find a… surf clip here and we’ll just edit this into the timeline and I realize that his audio is a little low. For those of you who are looking at the program monitor, you’re going to say not only is his audio a little low, but you’ve got a 4×3 video into a 16×9 aspect ratio. Let us not quibble.
Larry Jordan: I want to talk about audio for a minute. Let’s select this clip, go up to the edit menu, go down to ‘Edit in Adobe Audition’. We can bring the entire sequence across to do a mix or just bring the clip across. Instantly, the clip is brought into Audition and I can now process the clip. I can remove noise, I can remove hum, I can do a mix, I can increase the balance, I can even do loudness stuff. Oh, I almost forget, there are two new settings inside exporting in Premiere that are significant. Let’s say that I want to output this project.
Larry Jordan: Go up to ‘File’, go down to ‘Export’. I’m going to export the media, but here’s the setting that’s so cool. Notice down here under ‘Effects’, as I scroll down not only do we have an SDR conform, which we’ll talk more about when we get to Media Encoder, but way at the bottom, during the export I can turn on the video limiter right there. Turn on video limiter so I don’t have to add it during editing, I can add it during export, which makes my editing faster because I don’t have to worry about whether my whites are too hot or whether I’m crushing my blacks.
Larry Jordan: At the same time, right below it, I can turn on during export the loudness normalization and have it meet the US or the EU or the worldwide settings, depending upon what my deliverable needs to be. For the US, ATSC is the right choice. By having these built into Premiere during export, it means that I don’t have to worry about it during my editing because I can clean it up at the output.
Larry Jordan: Chris Bross is the Chief Technology Officer at DriveSavers, which specializes in data recovery and digital media forensics. Chris guides the development of new tools, technology and techniques to recover critical user data. Since joining the company in 1995, Chris has found ways to recover data from hard drives, SSDs and RAIDs that have suffered from abuse, neglect, floods, fire and failure; and now they’re expanding into dead Smartphones. Hello, Chris, welcome.
Chris Bross: Hello, Larry. Great to talk with you again.
Mike Horton: Hi, Chris.
Larry Jordan: Well, it’s good to have you back, you’re always fun and Mike is…
Mike Horton: Here.
Larry Jordan: …checking in because data is his life.
Mike Horton: Yes it is.
Larry Jordan: Chris, I described you as a data recovery firm. How would you describe DriveSavers?
Chris Bross: We’re both a data recovery firm and a forensic and e-discovery laboratory, which means we’re not only producing data because you want your photos and videos back, but we’re producing data and recovery data for law enforcement, legal liability lawsuits and all the other L words that we talk about.
Larry Jordan: Ok, we’re going to talk about that in a couple of minutes, but let’s focus on the recovery business first. Is the bulk of your recovery business coming from traditional hard disks or mobile devices?
Chris Bross: What an excellent question. It is still coming from, as we call it, spinning rust, that would be magnetic disk drive storage, but that percentage of our business is decreasing slightly while the verticals that are increasing significantly are mobile devices and solid state storage devices.
Larry Jordan: What type of phone damage is most common? What kind of repairs do you have to make?
Chris Bross: Well, the two biggest variables driving the need for data recovery from phones and other mobile devices are impact – the device is crushed, smashed, run over etcetera – or liquid or environmental exposure to all kinds of different things. Those drive the majority of cases that we need to recover data from, but that’s followed by deletion of data, corruption of the operating system and just the unknown problems that turn phones into bricks occasionally.
Larry Jordan: Chris, you and I had a chance to talk last Monday, when both of us were attending the Storage Visions conference in Las Vegas, and you told me something then that I did not know, which is that data which is stored on an iPhone or a mobile device is encrypted. But how can you recover data from an encrypted device when you can’t read the data once you’ve got it recovered because it’s encrypted? Walk me through this process.
Chris Bross: Sure. We talk about encryption a lot because encryption, well, is becoming the default on a lot of devices, which is a good thing. Encryption comes in a couple of layers or flavors. It comes at the file level, where just a file, for example, is encrypted; it comes at the file system level, where the entire operating system and file system are encrypted, or you have what’s called full disk or FDE encryption, where everything is encrypted at a physical layer from the actual storage media itself, whether it’s platters in a hard drive or NAND flash in a phone or in a solid state drive.
Chris Bross: So encryption’s very strong; 128 bit or 256 bit encryption is quite strong. It’s arguable from an academic perspective how breakable some encryption is, but we don’t break encryption, we recover broken encrypted devices. What I mean by that is that we need to work through the logic or the controller of a particular device and repair it or fix it or modify it so that we can still extract the data via that controller itself because the controller allows us to get access to the data in a decrypted state where we can actually recovery user data files. Does that make sense?
Larry Jordan: I’m still taking notes.
Mike Horton: I’m trying.
Larry Jordan: I’m puzzled, because in the past when we were talking about encryption, especially for high performance applications like video editing, encryption was always something we were told not to do because it slowed everything down, anywhere from five to 20 percent, and we couldn’t afford that performance hit. Now you’re saying it’s almost like the encryption is built in and we don’t have any control over it and I’m confused. Should I worry about the performance hit of the fact that my data is encrypted? And how do you verify that you’ve recovered it accurately when you don’t know what’s there?
Chris Bross: You shouldn’t really be concerned about the performance related to encryption any more because we’ve moved encryption to silicon. When encryption was in software, it was dog slow, and still is, and performance suffers greatly. When we moved it into logic on a chip and we did that on hard drives and on solid state drives – in fact, most solid state drives entering the market today actually have encryption built into them – the user does not perceive it because the processing that’s happening at a physical layer is fast enough that it doesn’t really throttle your bandwidth in any way. So to the user, you don’t even know it’s there and running, but it’s actually protecting your data down at the physical layer.
Mike Horton: I don’t think anybody knows that your Smartphone is encrypted. Nobody knows. NSA knows and they want it not to happen, but no, nobody knows.
Chris Bross: Well, in the phone market there are two major players right now, you look at Apple and IOS and the Android devices from the 6,000 handset makers on the planet who are using that operating system, and Apple, starting with the 3GS model some years ago, actually, started including encryption – the iPhone 3GS was some time ago – and prior to that they were not encrypting, they were doing some scrambling but they weren’t encrypting. Apple has, by default, had this option enabled since that time and I assume your average user has no clue about that, because it’s always on and it’s always running.
Chris Bross: Now, with Android devices, last year Google made a big claim that, hey, we’re going to make sure encryption’s running on all our devices too, after Tim Cook from Apple talked about how locked down Apple IOS was. Well, unfortunately Google couldn’t force all of the users of Android to put hardware encryption chips in their phones, so unless you’re running a Nexus device that’s brand new or you’re actually turning on encryption in software on your vendor of choice Android phone, you are not encrypting those devices. So in general, those are not as encrypted as Apple devices.
Mike Horton: Which makes the NSA really happy.
Chris Bross: Well, the good guys want to have access for the right reasons, but the manufacturers want to protect data privacy for the users, so this is going to be an ongoing battle.
Mike Horton: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Well, thinking of ongoing battles, which takes us to the courts, and gets us into your e-discovery and digital forensics side of the company. Define what e-discovery is and what you guys are doing.
Chris Bross: Well, I’ll define digital forensics for you first. Digital forensics is the concept of producing data as evidence, that is data that could be reproduced time after time in a court of law and stand up as evidence. It used to be blood, hair and fingerprints were the evidence that we were looking for in a criminal case. Today, it’s your Smartphone, your Twitter feed, your LinkedIn account, your public Facebook page and every other thing valuable about you that’s sitting on the phone. So when we’re talking about digital forensics, any type of storage device – it could be a heart defibrillator, a GoPro camera, a server, a phone, a watch, anything that’s digital and storing data – producing it for a court of law.
Chris Bross: Now, that parlays into e-discovery, which is the umbrella industry of law firms, consultancy agencies and other entities like that that then ingest this digital evidence, sort through it, cull through it, look for keywords, date stamps, things related to the event, and pull the needle from the haystack, the smoking gun evidence that they need to find, and then they produce it in the traditional discovery type of environment, a court of law. You show the other side, they show you what they’ve got and that is now the electronic discovery process for legal purposes.
Mike Horton: Wow.
Larry Jordan: Well, what makes this different from ordinary data recovery that you guys have been doing for years?
Chris Bross: In data recovery, the device where the data lives isn’t functioning, so that’s why they’re requiring data recovery. In digital forensics, oftentimes the device is operating properly but law enforcement or who whoever acquires the device from the suspect doesn’t have the ability or the technology to process it. Now, there are cases in the forensics space where the bad guy intentionally does all kinds of bad things to a device to try to make it unrecoverable – shooting it with a gun, smashing it with a hammer, throwing it into a pond, whatever the case may be – and in those cases you have to first do your traditional laboratory data recovery work and then, with the paper trail, the auditing and the process, produce it forensically as evidence.
Mike Horton: This would make a good TV, wouldn’t it?
Larry Jordan: Oh yes.
Mike Horton: It would. I’d watch it.
Chris Bross: Well, there is a TV show, it’s called CSI: Cyber.
Mike Horton: That’s what I was going to say.
Chris Bross: The only difference between what they do and what we do is it’s real in our lab.
Larry Jordan: Are your typical clients law firms? Are your typical clients individuals or corporations? Who’s asking for these services?
Chris Bross: Our typical client is absolutely anyone and everyone storing data digitally on a device who’s not backing it up. In house, we say from grandma to government.
Larry Jordan: Well, that certainly covers the waterfront, but I was more specifically asking about the digital forensics. Who are your typical clients here?
Chris Bross: Yes, understood, of course. Well, law enforcement is coming to us quite often, both domestically and internationally, with requests for devices that they can’t deal with, so we see it from that side. We also see it from the attorneys and the law firms. We also see it from District Attorneys who are already involved in a case; and in some cases, we see it from HR attorneys in corporate America because the legal departments in corporate America are trying to do a good job of watching their employees and corporate espionage is a very, very real thing and when Employee A moves from one company to its competitor, Company A wants to know what that person took with them, and so that’s a big part of what we do.
Larry Jordan: Your website uses two terms I want to have you define. One is legally defensible and the other is repeatable. It sounds to me like those have specific meanings and I was wondering if you could go into that for just a minute.
Chris Bross: Yes. I’ll try not to go down the rabbit hole on this because it becomes quite a discussion related to solid state drive and phone recovery versus traditional hard drive recovery. What I mean is that with traditional spinning hard drives, it was relatively easy to produce what we call a physical layer image of the drive in a hashed format, which is kind of a CRC check on the drive, that we could do over and over and over and reproduce the exact same results and show a judge that the evidence is solid, the digital trail is clean and we can reproduce those results five times in a row.
Chris Bross: Now, with the move to solid state technology, and without getting into all the physics of NAND flash with you right now, NAND flash as a media does not manage data in the same and, in fact, through its own maintenance routines, gets rid of old data. Not for security reasons, but for performance reasons. So courts are now starting to have to adopt new standards of understanding of how we can produce or reproduce evidence from a solid state drive which is changing its state after data has been removed from it and still prove to the judge and the jury that the evidence is clean, even though we can’t do the same reproducible hashed image that we used to with a hard drive, but now we have other variables that we can wrap in to show that it’s clean evidence from both solid state drives and from phones.
Mike Horton: And this story will be on CSI: Cyber next week.
Chris Bross: I’m not sure if truth is stranger than fiction but, yes, it may be.
Mike Horton: I watch it.
Larry Jordan: Chris, this is fascinating stuff. Where can people go on the web to learn more about the kind of projects you do and the work that you do that’s available to them?
Chris Bross: You can find us at drivesavers.com. You can also find us for our e-discovery services at drivesaversediscovery.com. We’re open 24 hours a day – 800 440 1904. We’re all over social media and if you go look today on the web and search Star Track and DriveSavers, you’ll see a great story about how we just helped Gene Roddenberry, who passed away in 1991, to recover lots of original stuff for him.
Larry Jordan: Thanks, Chris. Take care, bye bye.
Mike Horton: Thanks, Chris.
Larry Jordan: It’s time for a Buzz Flashback. Five years ago today…
Unknown man (archive): I’m a cinematographer and the Digital Cinema Society is a hobby of mine that just sort of got out of hand. It started a number of years ago, when I was shooting a lot of HD and I got frustrated by the misinformation about digital. I made a nice little documentary but the problem is, before we could finish it, it was starting to become obsolete and that’s why we decided to do this ongoing effort called the Digital Cinema Society.
Larry Jordan: This was a Buzz Flashback.
Larry Jordan: You know, Mike, it was a pretty eclectic show. We started off talking about production audio and then suddenly we’re into taking all the production assets and turning it into an entry for the Post Festival and now, in case you decided to throw your Smartphone in the lake, you can recover it and submit it to court. That covered a pretty wide waterfront.
Mike Horton: Talk about 2016. I have a quick story for you. I was going to ask him, but we ran out of time. A couple of years ago, the hard drive died on my laptop. Couldn’t get the thing booted up. I hadn’t backed up in about 30 days, panicked. I was going to either send it to DriveSavers or put a gun to my head, they were about my only two options. Somebody told me – and this might be an urban myth and you might have the answer – take the hard drive out, put it in a plastic bag, throw it in the freezer for a certain amount of minutes, I think it was ten or something like that, take it back out, put it back into your laptop, start it up and see what happens, and it worked.
Larry Jordan: Wow.
Mike Horton: It worked, so I immediately backed it up because I knew it was going to die again. Is that an urban myth or was that a coincidence? Or is that something that is possible to recover your dead hard drive? Because it worked, and I’ve heard others do the same thing and it worked.
Larry Jordan: I have a hard time believing that it’s the best thing because all the lubrication inside a drive is going to get a lot thicker. But on the other hand, it did work for you, so hard to say no. But I would not necessarily advise in favor of it.
Mike Horton: It might have been a coincidence but it did work, and other people have said it’s worked for them.
Larry Jordan: Could have been just the fact that you were throwing it around so forcefully.
Mike Horton: And thank goodness I didn’t have to send it to DriveSavers.
Larry Jordan: No, no, they do good work.
Mike Horton: I know they do good work but it takes a while.
Larry Jordan: It does indeed.
Mike Horton: And he didn’t back up.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests for today, Zack Allen with Soundgeek Productions, Wendy Woodhall, the co-founder of the LA Post Festival, and Chris Bross from DriveSavers.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all on our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Also, visit with us on Twitter, @dpbuzz, and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Doogie 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.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Cirina Catania; with production by Meagan Paulos, Ed Golya, James Miller and Brianna Murphy. On behalf Mike Horton, my name’s Larry Jordan and thanks for joining us for The Buzz.
Mike Horton: Bye, everybody.
Announcer: The Digital Production Buzz was brought to you by Other World Computing, providing quality hardware solutions and extensive technical support to the worldwide computer industry since 1988.