On-Set Dailies
Issue: December 1, 2012

On-Set Dailies

Whether it’s the securing of camera files or the creation of media for editorial, the dailies process is considered by many where ‘post’ begins.
While the terms “on-set” and “digital dailies” are often mentioned during the production and post processes, what they mean will depend on whom you ask. 

Some pros consider on-set dailies as the securing or backing up of files from digital cameras, such as Arri’s Alexa or one of Red’s releases. Others say it’s the transcoding process, which takes these files and makes them more lightweight for forwarding to editorial. This often includes implementing a “look” that will stay with the footage through editorial, up until the online, where it will be further tweaked. Much of the time, this process takes place “near-set,” in a less chaotic environment than the set itself. And yet others see dailies as a chemical process, which by its nature, takes place in a lab, with no connection to the set where the footage was acquired.

Below is a glimpse at some different perspectives of the on-set business and the trends professionals are witnessing.

Bryan Raber
Banyan Tree Productions
Los Angeles

Bryan Raber is a co-producer on TNT’s Dallas and A&E’s Longmire. Both shows are in their second season and undergo post at MTI Film, though their workflows differ. Dallas is shot in Texas on Arri Alexa while Longmire is shot in New Mexico on Red Scarlets and Epics. Both are edited in Final Cut Pro 7.

STRENGTHS: “The ultimate strength is, we can film on-location, states away from editorial. It’s the speed at which I can get the footage back from set. I can have my footage ready to cut early the next morning, as if they we shooting right next to the post facility. There is no slow down at all.”

WEAKNESSES: “There’s a few of them and we’ve hit every one. What happens when power goes out? Cameras can keep shooting, they have battery back-ups, but they only last for so long because they are power intensive. If you don’t have power, you are dead in the water. The other pitfall is the Internet, depending on how you get it, it can sometimes slow you down. What happens when a system doesn’t boot up? And time — there is a 3x realtime process for transcoding to ProRes uncolored.
“I’ve found that everybody wants to shoot, then give editorial their files at the end of day, and circumvent the post house a bit. They want to be self sufficient. The one pitfall is the machines still take time to make a file that we can work with for editorial. If the DIT is doing that, the DIT is working an extreme amount of hours. You get into a double DIT scenario, and that’s not going to work for on-set.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “At this moment, we have maxed ourselves out, but that doesn’t mean in six months we won’t be trying something new. For television, the most important thing is to be editing footage because the air dates are coming at you. The more time you have in editorial, the better. That means I need to get it from the stages to here faster. We’ve maxed out the speed. Now, let’s find a way to minimize the cost. MTI created a software called Cortex, which allows for automatic syncing of our offline files, so we can edit with them. This will save a human from finding timecode and the clap, and locking it in. It speeds up that process, and because it’s automated, there are no costs involved. The software automates it so well that you can do it on-set. There is no time wasted at all. That will get our footage to LA a little faster. It takes out a cost, which is what the studios are always looking to save.
“Automation, and any way you can eliminate a step is a way to save money and speed the process up. My primary goal is to see [where there is] a slow down and find another way to attack it. That’s the fun part for me. How do we use new technology to make [things] better, faster and more cost effective, and stronger without sacrificing anything to save time and money?”

THREATS: “As you get reduced and further automated, you need to have a post house or very tech savvy group of individuals that you are working with. If one day you bring it all in-house, you need to have people who understand the process and what if something goes wrong, and something does every time. There are plenty of times that our DIT or dailies assistant has to call the post house at 4am to say something is not working. These files are coming out black. What am I doing wrong? If I don’t have someone knowledgable on the back-end to troubleshoot and fix that problem, I am a day behind again.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2013: “The world is changing every day. We are going to test a new system on Dallas, and perhaps the suitcase system for Longmire. It’s going to give us fully-automated syncing and the ability — if we choose — to provide on-set to editorial dailies without the need to go through the post house. The suitcase system will allow you to be on-set… We could have colored synced dailies right off the stages without the need to go through a colorist or a post house —  right to editorial. I’ll probably never do that because I like to have someone properly coloring our footage every night. Never the less, the capability will be there.”

Ryan Sheridan
VP of Digital Cinema 
Otto Nemenz International
Los Angeles 

Otto Nemenz International specializes in the rental and maintenance of film and digital cinema cameras, lenses and accessories. They offer the Sony F65 and F35, Arri Alexa and Red Epic, as well as high-speed cameras and film cameras. They also rent Zeiss Master Primes, the Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses, and Cooke S4 prime lenses, as well as Leica and Fujinon lenses. The company also offers digital media management systems from Codex

STRENGTHS: “A few different things are at play: cost versus time, talent versus equipment, and physical logistics. For shows in metro areas like New York and Los Angeles, on-set dailies is strong but trending more toward data management. There is a slow gravitation to true on-set dailies. We’re seeing that slowly build. One component that has trumped all of that is security — archiving and back-up. There’s been a trend for last two years to use commodity, off-the-shelf hardware, including Mac towers and RAIDS.”

WEAKNESSES: “The only big weakness you see with on-set is generally the talent pool. There are some amazing, smart people that are freelancers, and there’s the standard post house. But there are weaknesses with on-set talent. There are people that are so good at it, but there are people that make you cringe. That’s the real pitfall — data management and talent.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “I think the biggest opportunity is security. There’s been a rapid change from tape and film right to digital workflows. Questions about security have made people think. Are dailies secure? Are the archives secure? What about backing up on-set? Is the transportation secure? Do I have to QC every clip? The more you talk about it, the more people question each option. I would say more than one piece of equipment, the person who educates correctly — the DP, the data manager — that is the person who will be valuable.”

THREATS: “The biggest threat is unfounded personal greed. The person who is trying to get a rental for something as opposed to doing the job as best they can. Proprietary things become more of a detriment. Cultivation of talent is a threat. We’re watching it happen. Solutions that don’t require human talent. We’re watching people look for pure automation. The biggest opportunity is also a liability — education.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2013: “I think 4K is still a growth segment — the F65 and Raw in an economical sense. Red, Arri and Canon — there are 4K offerings that will push limits of what post can handle.”

Richard Winnie
VP of Post Production 
Universal Television, Universal 
Television Cable
Universal City, CA

Universal Television has produced content for broadcast networks, including The Mindy Project, House, 30 Rock and The Office. Universal Cable productions include work for USA and SyFy. These shows include Royal Pains, Psych, Fairly Legal, Warehouse 13, Alphas, Suits and Covert Affairs.

STRENGTHS: “It gives the DP a certain level of comfort that he’s getting what he thinks he is getting. Overall, file-based is less expensive, which is one of the reasons we are moving toward it. It saves a lot of money to process this way as opposed to labs, telecines and transfers.”

WEAKNESSES: “I think a weakness is trying to do too much in the hectic environment of the set; it’s not necessarily always the best thing for the material itself. It’s too rushed and too frenetic, and there are a lot opportunities for things to not get backed up or QC’d. If we were to be on-set, once the crew shuts down, you are still going to have people there trying to wrap up the dailies for another four, five, six hours. And you are still paying for set time. It’s not necessarily ideal. It has ripple effects, which is another good reason why we don’t do that. When you are on-location, the environment for electronic equipment isn’t necessarily the greatest. It’s really not the perfect environment to try to do that type of thing.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “I don’t think [the challenge of working on-set] is going to change. When you are shooting, you want to be focused on capturing the best images that you can, and not worrying so much about what happens later. I don’t think that is going to change. Some of the opportunities that we’ve seen are with some shows that choose to bring it into the cutting room, like in the old days when we used to cut film — where the assistants would sync the material. Sync is part of it. That is an opportunity. Whether the cutting room is the best place for that is debatable. On some shows it might be. On others, not so much. Are your assistants best trained for that? Maybe. So that is an opportunity to keep things more localized with less travel.”

THREATS: “There is some threat to the facilities that didn’t make the transition fast enough. The brick and mortar-type places that might have been stuck in the way they are doing things. I think some weren’t making the changes as quick as the transition was happening. Now they are catching up a bit. The major players are all pretty much caught up now. It’s easier for a start-up company that is starting from scratch to create a workflow and is not dependent on maximizing the profit from existing infrastructure.” 

OUTLOOK FOR 2013: “I think there are some interesting new cameras coming out, and every time that happens there are more possibilities for workflows. It also gives us more creative choices. I know there is a new Sony camera that came out beyond F65, there’s the new Blackmagic camera, which is a game changer. They are getting smaller and more mobile, which is something that everyone likes. There’s more flexibility and no one wants to be tethered to cables and things like that. 

“It might be more of a gradual evolution. Canon’s got a new C500, that will be a contender for B and C cameras, if not A cameras. Wait five minutes and the technology will change, and we have to keep rolling with that. It’s exciting. We can make better product. Prices are going down. Democratization presents different opportunities and challenges.”

Michael Cioni
Light Iron

Light Iron is a post house that specializes in on-site dailies, digital intermediate, archival and data services for projects originated on file-based cameras. The company offers both hardware and software solutions that have been custom configured to enhance the creative process. Credits include Hitchcock, Flight, Lincoln and Halo 4.

STRENGTHS: “The market of on-set is not an alternative to brick-and-mortar infrastructures, rather it is the replacement to brick-and-mortar. Thanks to the advent of GPU-accelerated software tools and a number of image processing hardware and software combinations, the ability to perform typical post laboratory activities has shrunk into a smaller set of tools.” 

WEAKNESSES: “The weakness with any new business model or service is an education. And education affects both ends of the market. First, we have to educate the customer to inquire about the options that on-set services bring them. They need to learn the process, the benefits, how to budget it, where it goes and who operates it. 
“The second part of that education is the on-set operators themselves. At this point in time, there is a fog over the DIT’s role on the set. Some DITs come from a video engineering background. Others are camera technicians or data managers. The problem is that because it’s not clear to the producers who does what and exactly what services they offer, some producers shy away from hiring DITs or kit rentals on the set. The way to deal with this is to educate the on-set operators to offer more value to the producers they work for.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “Training people in this new post production technology is one of the most promising and profitable areas of post and production, but it does require an investment in education or the entire system can fail to deliver as efficiently as promised. 
“Currently, our work has been mostly in feature films (2D and 3D), but recently the television market has been opening up to on-set. Television is almost all off of tape. Their adoption of file-based capture and post in 1080 and 2K-plus is similar enough to the processes of features that we can deploy successful feature workflows and tools on television shows. Because TV is on a tighter schedule and often with less financial resources, these on-set tools can have a much larger impact compared to a feature that shoots and edits a two-hour project over an eight-month period. On-set delivers a better solution, but TV has to be open to letting go of their traditional reliance on laboratory support.”

THREATS: “The biggest threat to the on-set business is fear. In baseball, if a conservative base runner never takes a lead for fear of being picked off, he’ll never make it to home plate. In business, you also have to take risks, despite fear of leaving the comfortable space of legacy techniques. 
“It’s hard to understand now, but in four years, on-set will seem as common as using the Internet to read articles like this one. But 10 years ago, the Internet being the best resource for information wasn’t a slam-dunk concept. People are addicted to legacy tools and techniques, and the talent behind them because familiarity breeds comfort. Admittedly, those legacy systems have and will get the work done, but the goals of better, faster and cheaper are not achievable with legacy tools. When something shrinks, it is usually less expensive, and when something is less expensive and small, it is likely to be treated as portable. This combination: size, cost and portability is the triple threat that makes on-set tools superior to brick and mortar.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2013: “Failure to recognize the burgeoning market of on-set post production will result in massive downsizing and even closings. You’ve seen this before: Blockbuster vs. Netflix, Best Buy vs. Amazon, Walkman vs. iPod. Like many good ideas that eventually become obsolete, post dailies laboratories are an endangered species. By 2016, if companies don’t make the necessary changes, the graveyard of post houses will be a sad place to visit.”
The outlook for the on-set business in 2013 is extremely promising. When Light Iron started our on-set program, Outpost, in 2009, we did two jobs. In 2012, we are closing in on 100. We recently opened a second facility to meet the growing demand for on-set services.”