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The FS-4 recorder

Anyone covering live events knows they typically entail long nights and tight schedules. Shooting the Los Angeles Film Festival was no different. Running from June 22 to July 2, the L.A. Film Fest attracts emerging filmmakers and film masters alike, screening more than 175 narrative features, documentaries and shorts.

The challenge

Our film crew was responsible for producing “FesTV,” a daily one-hour program highlighting the day's events, as well as providing footage to local media outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times and on-site festival venues, with film clips, footage from parties, and interviews with celebrities and filmmakers.

We captured all the action — often finishing at 10 p.m. The footage needed to be ready by the next morning, which meant our editors would face a long night. We looked at ways to cut down on production time and let our editors get some sleep.

The setup

We selected and equipped our team with FS-4 portable DTE recorders from Focus Enhancements. With the units on hand, our film crew could record to disk via FireWire and then transfer it into Final Cut Pro. This meant no more capturing, file transfer or conversion.

For most of us, this was the first time recording to disk. I condensed the recorder's operations into a single-page quick guide to help ease everyone's transition into the new technology and new workflow. We still continued to use tape as backup. In one case, this allowed us to give the DV tape to a local news team right there on location, while we brought back the FS-4 for our own production needs.

By eliminating the intermediate steps like capturing and conversion, footage was ready for editing almost as soon as it was brought in. This alone saved us at least one hour in editing time per tape. It was amazing to shoot an event at 9 p.m. and then be editing minutes later. We'd start filming a red-carpet event at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., and bring the tapes back at 10 p.m. With tapes, the footage wouldn't be in and ready for editing until midnight. With this recorder, we were ready to go by 10:20 p.m. Our editing team enjoyed a shorter night — leaving by 3 a.m. instead of watching the sun come up.

In addition, the quality of the finished product was far better because editors could focus on being creative instead of capturing tape. In my experience, it's essential to just get in there and start editing, especially with the evening shift. People tend to get lethargic when they need to wait around for several hours capturing tape. They can get out of the zone before they've even started to edit.

Direct-to-edit technology also let us make more effective use of our computer workstations. We were using powerful stations, but we still couldn't expect to edit and digitize at the same time. Using FS-4s freed up workstations, enabling more editors to work on different segments for “FesTV” at the same time, in addition to making footage available to the Los Angeles Times, producer Steven Spielberg and others. In the end, more people got the footage they wanted, and in the format they needed, because we had the FS-4s.

Ryun Hovind is a freelance producer.