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The Hidden Costs of Post-Production

Synopsis

There are a multitude of aspects to consider when formulating a cost analysis strategy for operating a post-production operation. Is there a more cost-effective approach that can meet the demands of the modern post-production facility based on emerging technologies?

Introduction – The Real Costs of Post-Production

The accomplishments of the modern post-production facility can blow your mind in terms of creativity. The artistic tools that have evolved over the last ten years include 3D modeling, compelling visual effects, CGI, and the emergence of ultra-high-resolution video formats coupled with HDR imaging, not to mention audio techniques. These tools have resulted in the most compelling multi-media productions ever created for a range of different audience types.

But despite the outputs of these visual masterpieces, it is surprising how many modern-day post-production departments are still employing many traditional methods, which result in high costs and inefficient working practices. Even with the advent of cloud or IP infrastructure specifically for the broadcast market, many facilities are reluctant to adopt new approaches with the feeling that the old and tested workflows in use over many years are still fit for purpose. The “if it’s not broken, then why fix it?”  The adage is paramount in many people’s thinking and the perception of additional cost and the fear that change will introduce more costs on tightly controlled budgets.

When revisiting traditional working practices within the post-production environment, especially with an emphasis on ingest and collaboration, are there alternatives such as cloud-based workflows that may now be more beneficial for cost-saving and working efficiency?

What is the traditional approach to post-production?

Post-production is a highly collaborative process that takes raw footage and creates the finished masterpiece. It includes different skilled operations from editing to coloring, special effects, and audio enhancements. The whole post-production process typically takes longer than the actual time to shoot the raw footage necessary for the finished product, whether it be a film, TV production, advert, or other multi-media production. 

It is a process that has evolved over decades but begins with the production, which in current times involves a diverse range of digital cameras catching raw footage, or rushes, captured on physical SSD storage devices in many different video file formats and codecs. Once the scene is finished, the raw footage from the cameras needs to be transferred to the post-production facilities. 

Camera cards are expensive. Often the digital files are copied from the cards onto removable hard drives. Then the camera cards are immediately redeployed while the hard drives are shipped. 

Adding up the costs

Many productions have at least two mobile RAID storage devices as an on-set repository. The cost of these devices is typically around $10K each. Adding to the complexity, some companies, like Netflix, will recommend using different hard drive manufacturers and batch numbers for resilience between each device. 

Copying to hard drives is not without risk – they can fail, copies can be corrupted and logistically all the hard drives need to be collected, labeled, and often couriered to a location.  Drives are shipped not only to editors but also to directors and other stakeholders in the production process. Typically Data Wranglers are responsible for the management, collection, and shipping of raw footage. In order to get the footage to everyone in the workflow, Wranglers can often work overtime late into the night, which adds to the cost of production.  Adding everything up, this process generally takes an excessive amount of time and resources.

The beginning of the post-production process and version control

It is typical during a production that many scenes receive multiple takes. When rushes are distributed and rough cuts are initially created, it is important that everyone is on the same version. This is especially challenging when working in a distributed environment, as stakeholders tend to be globally dispersed and in different time zones. These create challenges; true collaboration must ensure that multiple and orphaned copies are not produced, as that can cause havoc. File management is important to ensure that everyone is working on the latest file version, especially as multiple copies of files need to be made that can also include VFX plates.

What are the pain points of ingest?

Looking at the ingest process and how rushes are collected, copied, and shipped to various locations, all aspects need to be carefully managed, including the timing, reliability, and level of security. 

 It’s typical for a post-production facility to have editors that are left waiting for the rushes to arrive. And once the rushes arrive, they need to be ingested into a storage platform for editing and review. Media files are notoriously very large files. The whole ingest process can take hours just to get the data. If you take those hours spent waiting and multiply it by the number of editors you have as part of a large team, you are paying for hours of expensive overhead. Much like the purchasing and shipping of hard drives, it is an expense that is not often accounted for and routinely overlooked.

Inhouse vs Cloud Cost Graph - The Hidden Costs of Post-Production - LucidLink
Blue: shows in-house storage, and the fluctuations indicate when more drives are needed
Green: shows cloud solution storage costs if the same amount of storage is being used over the 12 week period

What are the wasted costs when it comes to ingest?

To calculate the costs for a typical post-production house, some assumptions need to be made and questions posed: 

Initially, you may think the codec would impact the number of drives, but hard drives are rarely filled to capacity. The number of drives used by a specific film set is usually determined on a particular day where rushes from a location are copied and shipped daily.

Relevant questions:  

Typical Production Storage Costs

Logistics and delivery – Over 5 days from 2 locations, if hard drives are couriered daily and a total of 10 deliveries are made, assuming that the rushes need only ingesting at one point. If a typical courier service is $150 then the total cost will be $1500. However, it is not unusual for rushes to be shipped to various locations. 

The approximate cost of logistics and delivery is $1500

Time of Downtime for editors – If a typical post-production house has 10 editors, they must wait while rushes are ingested. If the rushes have been delayed by the courier, then waiting times are increased. 

Month cost for ingestion

1 hour per day/video editor

Monthly cost for ingestion - The Hidden Costs of Post-Production - LucidLink

If an editor is earning $60 per hour, one hour per day across 10 editors can mean a downtime loss of $600 per day, potentially over a 10-day production could be $6,000 just during the ingest process.

10 days of production can cost up to 6K waiting for ingest.

Cost of Storage – These costs do not include IT personnel to ingest the rushes, costs of runners and other support media personnel, as well as the costs of the storage hardware itself. There are often hidden costs, especially when operations do not go to plan. Delays can occur which results in taxis home, overtime payments, and late-night food deliveries that can add to the cost. The cost of stress and mental well-being of people is difficult to quantify but this is a factor in the post-production world that should be considered from a productivity perspective. 

A typical post-production environment will have a NAS or SAN storage device that typically can cost $25k plus an incremental management cost for daily back-ups, archiving, and other processes required to curate and manage video files for the duration of a production and beyond.

The Approximate cost of NAS or SAN is $25,000

What are the alternatives? 

The broadcast industry was one of the last major vertical industries to adopt cloud as part of its production process, whether it was a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), or a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering. With the uplift in adoption of IP workflows to replace SDI, which has been accelerated by the Covid pandemic caused by the restrictions of working practices, the emergence of cloud has really revolutionized how the broadcast industry approaches both live and post-production processes. 

One major business transformation is that of ingest. Cloud services need reliable internet connectivity. With the advancements of bonded 4G, 5G, fiber, and LEO satellite services, communication, even in remote locations, is becoming more dependable and available. The rollout of fiber is accelerating, especially in remote and rural locations. Cameras are also increasingly able to deliver direct to cloud. Connectivity for media transfer is only going to increase as 5G proliferates. 

What are the cost benefits of using cloud workflows?

The tangible cost savings are immediate. 

Intangible costs

With business transformation, there are intangible savings that are harder to measure. For example, users can experience an increase in efficiency with improved stakeholder collaboration, which can be unapparent at first glance.  

Major IT savings

The cloud enables IT savings within the post-production facility themselves. Looking at a hybrid model, there is: 

Eliminating an in-house storage requirement will remove expenditures associated with hardware, property leases, and electricity to operate the equipment. 

All the IT infrastructure can be hosted in cloud, which also removes the need for editors to be forced to co-locate in one building, thus, opening a global job market with other skilled personnel from anywhere in the world. A global workforce opens up new opportunities for both specialized talent and lower-cost employees.

The use of cloud changes the finance and risk model. Utilizing SaaS allows companies to scale up and down according to need and removes the need to make capital investments before taking on work. SaaS gives post-production facilities the chance to quote for work on a project basis rather than having to amortize in-house hardware costs over its lifetime, hoping for profitability.

Summary

As a post-production house, it has always been necessary to consider evolving technology to ensure the business remains cost-effective and relevant. As the broadcast industry migrates to new working practices, it is imperative they start to consider the benefits of cloud. It does not need to be total migration and cloud business transformation in one leap, but an incremental approach, beginning with a cloud ingest process for rushes, which will reap immediate payback. 

But as a final note, not all cost savings can be measured in dollars. Post-production can be a highly stressful industry and any working practices that can improve mental health will only be a positive contribution. Consider how adding flexibility and time-saving processes will ensure a happier and more productive workforce:

In which ways have you maximized productivity and employee happiness? If you need some guidance, reach out to us, we’ll be happy to help:

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