24 Apr The Money Room
Off and on for several years, I was involved with a post facility that had what they referred to as “The Money Room” Quite apropos, not only for the greenish hue to the walls, but what they *did* in that room. Unbeknownst to them (but now beknownst to me) the so-called castoff activities and backroom chores which took place in that space are now the new(er) ways to make money at your post facility…and even be a marketable service.
In this room, aside from the usual barrage of CD and DVD authoring, download and uploading of files, temp graphics and label creation, they did basic encoding, usually by a lesser paid assistant. Certainly not glamorous, but essential. Definitely not the first notions of what a post facility does: Offline and Online suites. Finishing. Audio rooms or dub stages. The flagship rooms.
Well, typically your talent – the editors who have named clients – command more in terms of pay than the backroom assistants, and the talents’ workspaces also have a lion’s share of the gear with which to make them shine.
Yes, I am of course referring to the almighty R.O.I.
With the current race to zero, rates for the client focused suites are continually dwindling, definitely at odds with the cost of gear and talent operating within them. Possessing a ‘Money Room’ already begins with less overhead – both financially and technologically.
So, what can you do in this money room to earn some of dat cabbage?
First and foremost: Encoding. Every website nowadays is content rich, from youtube to Facebook. Everyone has multimedia on their phones. All of these media riddled avenues necessitate a *special* and unique format. Those have to be created somewhere. Why not from you?
Utilizing your offline / online bays to chomp through 100 different formats for deliverables – when you could be billing for editorial or finishing in the room – is simply poor planning. A facility could conceivably upgrade to a new computer for the Online suite, and use the older machine as an encode station in the Money Room. This not only boosts the productivity (and marketability) of your Online suite, but also gives your Money Room a CPU to encode with.
So, I have a box with some processors. Now what?
Quicktime References. Have your offline / online bays and your encoding station see the same storage over a SAN. Whether it be via SMB re-share / Ethernet, Fibre, or simply cloned / portable firewire drives, these are a sure shot to not only increase productivity, but create a more efficient workflow. Have your editorial room export a QT Reference which links to the original media, then have the encode machine pick up that reference file, and let the number crunching commence. You’ve now significantly cut down the export time out of your edit bay (QT References are much faster to generate than a complete export) and also freed up the client bay for other activities. Hopefully more glamorous. Hopefully billable.
I recommend you create encodes for the following:
• H.264 or the like for web review and approval, or FTP uploads. Perhaps even iPod or iPhone versions.
• Flash versions for embedding in websites.
• MPEG formats for DVD or Blu-Ray dailies and/or screeners.
• Predefined proprietary formats for youtube, Facebook, myspace, Hulu, etc. Each site has its own requirements for submissions. Perhaps you can charge per location’s format?
Advanced encoding software packages allow for multiple simultaneous encodes on one machine, and some allow for distributed encoding over many machines. Others still utilize watch folders that are always looking for a QT Reference to begin encoding from, and even sets of parameters for multiple groups of encodes. What a value add it would be to tell a client that you could not only do the editorial, but give them deliverables for any destination they could desire – same day.
So, you’re not billing out your editorial room enough to justify something like this. I get it. As an example, this is where the promises of highly compressed formats (such as RED) being quicker can actually backfire and allow other revenue streams.
These abnormally large sized and compressed files are still a very, very intensive process for editorial machines. It takes a great deal to chomp through a 4K file – especially when 99%, if not more, of this material will never be viewed at 4k, or even on a playback system that would do it justice. More often than not, you will see it at less than 50% of its original quality – HD – or even less on broadcast TV or on the web. Given this truth, one can make an argument for simply downrezing the raw 4K footage to a manageable frame size and codec; like DNxHD for Avid or ProRes422 for Apple. This previously difficult to manage format in now in a much more edit machine friendly format for use in the editorial process. These formats can exceed broadcast quality standards – very appealing.
So you’re a purist – I get it. You want to have a 4Koutput. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a pre-encode (in this case, transcode) to an offline format for ease in editorial. Despite being suitable for broadcast, DNxHD and ProRes 422 – as well as DVCProHD – make create offline codecs, too. Provided the computerized tool (or the assistant!) does things right, your facility can matchback from the offline material to the 4K when onlining. Sound familiar? This is what telecine houses have been doing for years to DVCam –and charging you a ton for it.
I’m amazed at just how under-utilized this concept is: not only as a pure way to tighten ones belt, but to simply be more efficient. As an example, I happened to be at one of the studios here in Hollywood that gets the editorial output – rough cut and fine cuts – in one, and only one, format. A format that is antiquated and popular almost 10 years ago. Each department downwind of that facility spent hours encoding into a format they could use with their systems, meeting their visual and technological specifications. Imagine the amount of money spent in manhours working around this issue.
The film? Catch it this summer in theaters. Budget is $200 million.