Filmmaking is stressful. Filmmaking is not “usually,” not “often,” and not “sometimes” stressful, it is stressful. The stress comes from coordinating anywhere from a handful of people to hundreds, the complexity of locations and communication, the opinions of everyone who wants to be involved, and the nuances of everything that is in and out of control. Producing a film shoot can be like throwing a wedding (at the very least, they’ll likely cost just about the same). But unlike a wedding, when the day is done, it’s not the everlasting memories that count- the whole shoot can be nullified simply because someone dropped a hard drive.
After the camera has finished rolling, the most basic shoots will move the footage files at least twice- from the camera to a location drive, and from the location drive to the Edit Bay. Larger shoots may have other steps in the process: livetap views for clients or executives who want to oversee the shoot from another location, or visual effect teams that want to analyze the A-Camera footage to reference files, or even Script Supervisors, Makeup specialists, and Art Directors who want to make sure the scene is dressed in continuity. But for your most basic shoot, footage will move at least twice, which is at least two opportunities for something to go wrong. A proper production pipeline workflow will ensure that losing production days will be next to impossible.
The best backup solution for all digital files is what’s called the 3-2-1 Backup Solution:
3 copies of every individual file, across
2 different devices or mediums, and
1 in a completely separate location.
3 copies of a file, ensure that you have two redundant versions that can be interchanged if your master file has any problems- file or drive corruption, accidental renaming, or loss. 2 different devices ensures that if one device sustains physical damage- being dropped, the plug getting bent or broken, getting wet, or a magnet getting too close- your other device, hard drive or PC, will have a copy as needed. And finally, 1 separate location ensures that if there’s a natural disaster or theft, than the file is retrievable at any time.
Post-production houses usually have a few solutions for backing up their files. Buckshot Creative, for example, has a RAID server for all master video files that is used for all editing and post-production. All projects and footage files are backed up to separate external hard drives that are encrypted (our Mac system also uses Time Machine to backup the local computer, and weekly boot system backups if there are any problems with the local machine). And finally, the whole system is backed up to a cloud service, end-to-end encrypted.
Fortunately, current video production hardware and editing systems are quick to adopt file standards, so conforming and encoding files are not usually necessary (ie. gone are the days of 24-hour ProRes encoding sessions that slowed down workflows by days or weeks for Final Cut Pro). We typically work with raw camera files for the whole project, and only encode to other video formats if the project requires it, or the timeline is a little more flexible and we want to encode to a lossless format for peace of mind (MXF files don’t play well with Final Cut Pro, for example, and ProRes can play back on nearly every platform).
There are also some tools to help you with the 3-2-1 Backup Solution in film production. Some high-end cameras can directly record footage onto two separate cards, like the Blackmagic URSA, or Sony F5 (and in different formats). Atomos Shogun and Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q+ can record video externally via HDMI or HD-SDI, and sometimes at even higher bitrates than the camera itself- meaning the footage is cleaner and sharper than what the native camera will provide.
Duplicating your media can be done easily on location with card duplicators like the Hyperdrive UDMA3 or Dyconn Double Dock. Ensuring that your files have been exactly duplicated bit-by-bit requires a checksum app, like Shotput Pro or Adobe Prelude. And finally, if you want to store your video files with a cloud service, you can use Backblaze or Crashplan; and for the long-term cloud storage (cloud storage that is cheap in price on a per-gigabyte scale, though very slow to upload and download locally), Amazon Glacier, or Google Nearline.
If you follow this system, no matter how large your small your budget or crew are, you can be assured that your production is safe. This responsibility usually falls under the Digital Imaging Technician (DIT), or sometimes “Data Wrangler,” and though the position may sound excessive and can be tacked onto any PA, the task is essential, and can’t be overlooked. Cutting corners on your workflow will eventually cut corners into your project and budget. And those are not everlasting memories you’ll want to keep.