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Studios Need Spring Cleaning

spring cleaning
(Image credit: ASG)

Spring is here. Temperatures have warmed and flowers are blooming. Still, something was missing for so many of us in the industry—our annual outing to the NAB Show. Sure, the show has been rescheduled for October, but how are you supposed to fill the time that should have been devoted to winding through the aisles across the Las Vegas Convention Center? I suggest spring cleaning, video professional style.

Start with the Studio

It’s probably fair to categorize studio managers as pack rats—and studio shelving and storage areas are great accumulators. For example, you acquire some piece of gear for a specific job. Once that job is done, the item is put on a shelf. After a while, your shelves are full of set pieces, apple boxes, sand bags, specialty lights, you name it. 

Before you start cleaning, take inventory of what you have. I recommend you have extra storage bins or racks at the ready. As you sort cables and gear, you’ll need a place to store them as you organize. Once you have your gear sorted, you can clean the actual facility more efficiently.

When emptying your shelves, check your inventory of consumables. From gaffer’s tape to gel stock, spring cleaning is a great time to restock for the next year. Conversely, if your studio has invested in RGB lights, it may be time to discard that stack of gels you no longer need. 

Besides renewed organization and efficiency, spring cleaning can also let you go “shopping in your closet.” You never know what you’ll find behind the clutter. Behind that bin of dead batteries might be a hidden gem—some prop or piece of equipment that can find new life in your next project. 

Cameras are usually kept clean; it’s the rest of the studio that tends to get a bit neglected. Your cyc could probably use a new coat or two of paint. If you have curtains on a curtain track, they need to be cleaned periodically by professionals. You may have swept the studio recently, but when was the last time you had the floor professionally steam cleaned? 

Spring cleaning also lets you address the little things that have been bothering you. Maybe there’s a clamp rattling on your lighting grid with the AC fan starts blowing. Perhaps you’ve been working around a piece of equipment that sticks or doesn’t function as well as it should. This is your opportunity to address those issues, too, whether it means getting out the ladder or lubricating a problematic pedestal.

Speaking of lighting grids, they accumulate cables from fixtures that are no longer in place, with the idea that another fixture will eventually be installed. While you’re up there collecting unused items, maybe it’s time to consider a move to DMX directly dimming fixtures, which will save power costs, make your grid physically lighter, and offer you more lighting flexibility. It’s also a good time to think about replacing your old fixtures with LED, which will save electricity and deliver better results. 

Keep It or Toss It?

Next, it’s time to tackle the equipment cage, which forces you to consider when it’s time to permanently retire equipment. Unfortunately, there is no easy or universal answer here. Every piece of gear has a life cycle, which is based on technology, durability, compatibility, and other factors. 

Generally, higher tech equipment needs to be replaced more often. Cameras are a good example. If you are a busy production facility and your cameras last five years, that’s considered good ROI in the industry. In contrast, lens technology doesn’t change very often. As long as you perform proper maintenance, they should last a long, long time. 

Lighting is another long-lasting technology. You only tend to make sweeping changes to your lighting grid when there is an advantageous technology shift. Many studios replaced their conventional fixtures with fluorescents, and have now moved to LED technology—but those changes likely took place over the better part of 20 years. 

Spring cleaning is a great time to look around and evaluate the equipment you haven’t touched in years. It could be an old CRT monitor, or maybe it’s that computer with the Windows 2000 operating system. Before you make a trip to the dumpster, consider the condition of the equipment you’re about to toss. If it’s still in good working order, can it be donated to a local school’s video production program? Not everything that still works is worth donating, but it’s at least worth a quick conversation. 

Shared Storage Struggles

Perhaps the most difficult area for spring cleaning, however, is shared storage. It was different when we used videotape. You had a certain amount of physical space that could be used to store a certain number of videotapes or reels of film. In today’s digital world, with our seemingly endless ability to store content, we’ve almost made it impossible to throw away content—because you don’t have to. It’s a challenge to find a producer who will willingly delete anything. 

Should you try to clear out some of your ever-expanding digital assets? Yes. Should you expect success? No. Why? Let’s call it “what if” syndrome. 

For example, you have extensive footage from a particular project from three years ago. The project has long been completed and delivered, and you’ve never touched it again. Time to delete all that raw footage, right? Well, what if that same client comes back and wants to revisit the topic with never-before-seen-footage? It’s highly unlikely, sure, but in a world of digital storage, it’s hard to insist on even a limited purge of aging assets. 

Beyond “what if” syndrome, digital assets are intellectual property. Who in your organization is authorized to make the decision to discard those assets? More importantly, will you still have a job if you discard it? 

Rather than trash outdated or unused intellectual property, you can archive it. And if you can transcode assets without sacrificing image quality, you can reduce the storage size required, which gives you more room to keep more assets. With today’s improved codecs, you can calculate how much space is required to store content at an appropriate quality for the technology that was used to capture it. 

For example, perhaps you have some Apple ProRes footage originally recorded at 200 Mbps. A new and improved codec may allow you to transcode the footage at 50 Mbps without a loss of quality, which would save 75% in storage space. Also, there’s no reason to upconvert 3/4-inch footage to 4K and then store it. If you need it for a project, you can get the archived footage at its original resolution and upconvert it when you need it.

When it comes to your shared storage assets, perhaps “spring cleaning” should be called “spring compression.” Once you’ve determined what assets can be archived (and transcoded, when appropriate), you can offload them to a cheaper storage medium, such as LTO or a cloud archive. You may not be discarding assets, but you are certainly making room for new ones.

Whether it’s digital assets or physical equipment, spring cleaning can free up much needed space—and that can lead to better productivity and significant cost savings. Spring may come around every year, but spring cleaning isn’t doesn’t always get a slot in the schedule. Make the most of it.

Dave Van Hoy is the president of Advanced Systems Group, a systems integrator based in Emeryville, Calif., with offices in Los Angeles, the New York Metro Area, and the Rocky Mountain Region. Contact him at 510-654-8300 or visit www.asgllc.com