The 'In' Thing Boils Down to Infrastructure

Today, it's no longer safe to assume that your young video staffers have ever seen the inside of a classically engineered production facility. Now that desktop editing apps have been taught in high schools-and below-for many years, it's perfectly likely that your rookie staff thinks that you need only a camera, a computer, and little else.
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Ask your staff about desktop editing, and they'll tell you it's the "in" thing: Inspiring; intuitive; invigorating; often instructional; other times, introspective or even indelicate.

Requires an infusion of investment, personal involvement and insight.

There's one essential in thing, though, that probably won't get mentioned... infrastructure.

Today, it's no longer safe to assume that your young video staffers have ever seen the inside of a classically engineered production facility. Now that desktop editing apps have been taught in high schools-and below-for many years, it's perfectly likely that your rookie staff thinks that you need only a camera, a computer, and little else.

Under some circumstances, they're right... it's entirely possible to tell stories that way, in the same way it's possible to build a house with just a hammer and a hand saw. But it's crude, unnecessarily painful, and leaves you unprepared for the unplanned.

Trying to live this simplistic lifestyle isn't easy. Without an investment in infrastructure, it's difficult to consistently meet clients' expectations. When your one DV recorder breaks, how do you make your deadlines? Still, this seems like one of the hardest lessons for beginners to learn... the notion that you'll need to buy equipment you can't directly bill anyone for.

BEST-LAID PLANS

Back in Neanderthal times, the notion of a television production "facility" carried with it certain implications, mostly concerning the nature of the effort required to support production technology-in short, infrastructure. We experienced folks have been in and out of edit suites and studios for years, and we've seen the effort that others put into nurturing both the fragile, 1 V video signals and the technical wizards who work with them. We understand about the nonincome producing overhead we need to carry to consistently tell the best story possible.

Small video businesses rarely develop according to plan.

Among the small-to-mid-sized production companies I know, few would claim that they laid out a master plan for acquiring equipment and building a facility.

In our own case, I distinctly recall that when we started our little venture, we had a stated goal of never investing in technology; the headaches of amortization, capitalization, obsolescence and brand appeal would be left to others. Owning hardware was clearly the road to ruin, and was to be avoided at all costs.

Today, exactly 25 years later, the verdict is in: we've failed miserably at achieving that goal.

It started innocently enough: Once we realized that our Betacam camera rental fees were easily exceeding the owners' monthly payments, we bought our own. When our editing volume warranted, we bought a small machine-to-machine setup; ditto that early 3D animation system.

Each acquisition shared a single purpose-furthering the creation of our clients' projects-but there wasn't much prior planning, no five-year vision for growing a business.

Of course, given the rapid rate of technological change, it would be difficult to predict where five years' time would take us. And the whims and fancies of our clients seem to act as far greater forces than technological development itself.

This is all the more reason why it's essential to step back every so often and take a good look at past, present and future, and if necessary, actively plan for change.

MAKING CHANGES

After a long period of relatively little change in our own little production business, we've realized that it's time once again to invest in infrastructure, both to keep our facility current and to remain competitive. We've pried open our pocketbook; the old stuff has gone off to eBay, and the new stuff is being unpacked even now.

Stepping back, for instance, we've noticed that virtually everything we own is capable of SDI and AES interconnection. For years, we've used conventional coaxial patchbays to link devices, dreaming of the day when we could afford to trash our nearly useless composite video router in favor of a digital solution.

I spoke with Ray Bryan at Nvision, a company whose early expertise in moving digital audio from place to place has readily translated into digital video routing wizardry as well. Ray noted that Nvision had spotted the beginnings of a trend, and became one of a select few big router companies to offer more modest configurations for shops like us, retaining the control features, redundancies and flexibility that the networks demanded.

The result: We installed an Nvision Compact Router series 16x16 SDI and AES system which costs less than half of what a similarly sized analog system cost us 10 years ago.

Most importantly, we're quickly and conveniently moving the best-looking signals possible, and the entire production process has benefited-editing, graphics, audio, dubbing and mastering.

Building infrastructure is a process, not a one-time event. The process needs to continue throughout the life cycle of a production business, tracking trends in production, hardware improvements, and upticks and downturns in business volume. That's why today, as a whole host of support systems for desktop editing, desktop audio, small cameras and the like become available, it's time to get in step with the in thing-infrastructure.