Friday, December 14, 2012

It's just data

A thing I have learned in the last couple of days is an important thing about our modern era of digital video: It's just data.

In the old days when I filmed something, it would be on a tape. I'd digitise that, and then the tape would go and sit in a box in a cupboard. If a hard drive melted, that's fine, cos there's always that tape in a cupboard.

It's all changed since we all moved over to the glossy, baffling world of HD Video (what is the difference between i and p? Can anyone ever explain that in a way that doesn't make you want to burn their star wars figures?). You'll film stuff. It'll sit on a card, which is like a tape but a hundred times more expensive - so you don't keep the card, you back it up onto a hard drive. Which... in theory is fine.

Until something goes wrong. A couple of nights ago, halfway through some work, a hard drive just wandered   away. As it went, I started frantically moving stuff off of it. I was glad of the warning, and so acted quickly.

In my completely calm and rational search for 500 gig of space, I noticed a project on a random hard drive. "Oh, that old thing" I thought, and deleted it.

A day later, looking for something, I realised. I hadn't deleted a random backup of an old project. I'd deleted the project itself. Months of editing work, gone. But, you know, I could always get it back from the rushes.... only, also gone were all the rushes. With the same click.

In the old days, if I'd had to, I could have reassembled the project - I keep copies of the project in dropbox, so it's just a matter of redigitising the rushes. Only the rushes no longer sit sleeping in a cupboard. There is no cupboard. They nestle snugly in the folder itself. Until I pressed "delete".

That's the difference between tapes and tapeless. In a crisis panic, I'd never open up a cupboard and throw out my rushes. Even if I'd bought an especially mimsy cardigan that needed hanging up really quickly, I'd never do that. But it's not the same with tapeless rushes. They're just space.

Clearly, I need to think differently about backing up projects - no longer is it enough to have a spare copy on a hard drive. I need to buy a hard drive that is effectively that box in a cupboard. And even so, a hard drive is not as reliable as a box in a cupboard. We all know that feeling where you plug in an old hard drive after a couple of years and it goes "hmmm" like a winky Sauron, its contents shifting into a Schrodinger state. Does that happen with a box in a cupboard? No.

A cameraman told me a relevant story about digital projection in cinemas. A hard drive of the "film" is delivered. Each time you play it, it needs a code fetching from a server to unlock it. A problem that cinemas (especially small, independent ones) are experiencing sometimes is getting onto the server to get the code to unlock the film. So they end up showing the film from the emergency backup DVD.

By the time I die, we'll all exist backed up on hard drives. Which will be fine. Until someone can't get onto the server, or find the right power cable. And then we'll sit there. In a box in a cupboard.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great Blog.