Post Positions: Archive now for later
Chris Lacinak
Issue: April 1, 2012

Post Positions: Archive now for later

Preservation Solutions
New York

Preservation and archiving have a checkered reputation in the post production world. There is a perception that archiving kills efficiency and productivity. As a result, production workflows tend not to make archiving a key element. Archiving is saved for the end, handled by interns, and afforded cemetery status — it is where content goes at the end of its useful life.

Thinking of archiving as an obstacle is itself a dead-end road. Moreover, the determination that something is “archived” is inevitably made prematurely akin to declaring a lawn cut or a tide risen. Archiving is not one thing, but rather a process that begins at the point of creation and is enabled by practices performed throughout the content’s life.
Whether you are an independent post house, the post arm of a content owner, or related to these businesses, thinking about archiving offers significant incentives.

Establishing reliable preservation and archival practice makes sound business sense, promoting efficient and cost-effective workflows, providing find-ability and the wherewithal to support premium repurposing projects. A surprising amount of additional new business and cost savings can be developed between stock footage, b-roll, licensing content and general operational efficiencies. In today’s litigious and rights-focused market, a little effort in preserving and making things findable can eliminate costly search efforts or losses due to lack of evidence to support your position. The same practices that enable archiving also facilitate interoperability, efficient search and retrieval of content, workflow management and automation, credit and royalty tracking, version management, rights management and more.

The pains from lack of archival practice in tape- and film-based workflows of yesteryear continue to be sorely felt. It has resulted in barriers to repurposing due to missing rights information, inefficient or impossible search and retrieval of content, and the inability to identify the appropriate elements for use. On a larger scale it has disabled the effective prioritization, budgeting and allocation of resources necessary for making sound business decisions.

Lightstorm Entertainment’s Jon Landau has talked about the difficulties faced in creating reissues of Titanic. The only thing that was archived is the final release version on color separation masters. As a result, the original editable material can no longer be accessed and worked with, potentially adding to the time and cost of issuing a new version.

Similarly, no file-based preservation plan was communicated for Avatar simply because there was no clear answer as to how to go about it. Despite a highly sophisticated digital asset management system that was invaluable to making the movie, once the movie was released, no infrastructure exists to maintain, monitor and sustain that DAM — the production entity is gone.  
Such anecdotes point to key systemic concerns that plague even those with extensive resources. Further complicating matters is the lack of clarity around ownership and responsibility for archiving. Studios are still racing to transition to file-based workflows and to identify what deliverables from the production process will enable archiving and preservation. This uncertainty trickles down throughout the production chain as well. All stakeholders stand to benefit from coordination on this front, but it is critical to navigate these tricky waters from the start of production, not after.

Everyone involved in the creation and production process has a role to play in the preservation of content. Rather than thinking about archiving as some magical process that takes place in a special room called The Archive, it is more productive to think about archival practice in broader terms.
Every day, small choices impact the preservation of creative output: maintaining contracts associated with the work, wrapper and codec specifications, logging and metadata collection, edit decisions, file organization and naming. Production and post workflows, which consider the implications of these decisions to the long-term accessibility of the content, can be called preservation-oriented productions. This may entail simple things like exporting and delivering a Final Cut Pro XML document or systematically outputting files to avoid dependencies on systems that are likely to become quickly obsolete. The essential point is to make preservation integral to the production process.

Some may groan about extra work, but the inefficiencies that were true in the days of physical media workflows simply do not apply today. The convergence of technologies and the move to file-based workflows have made the change to preservation-oriented production not only possible, but easy to the extent that to not consider it is negligent.

Some argue that no reliable long-term digital media solution exists. While film could be locked in a vault and retrieved at will, no one knows what digital format will offer comparable longevity. This misses the point. Preservation is not a format. It is a strategy.

AVPS senior consultant Josh Ranger defined it well when he wrote, “Preservation is not a single act, but a series of decisions and implications that follow the embodiment of content from object to object.” [http://––/blog/is-there-a-right-time-to-let-go-of-original-materials]. A decision to implement preservation-oriented production creates the option for future preservation.

In the digital age, there will be no “happy accidents,” no chance discoveries of your work. The decisions made today have major consequences, and post houses have a critical role to play. The future of content is in your hand, so play your cards wisely.