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Upgrading Edit Systems

Upgrading Edit Systems

As a company, we have always had the philosophy that having the right story and the right people to tell that story is most important. But having the tools for those people to tell that story is also important. And this week we are taking a huge step forward with the technology in our Studio. I remember the day when computer-based editing systems were “off-line” low res editing tools. Remember the AVR77 compression, or how expensive it was to get 36GB of drive space. Editing technology has come a long way in just 15 years. Long before I was in a decision-making role with the company, actually long before we were an independent company, people smarter than me knew technology was going to change a lot faster than capital purchase budgets would allow. Every time we look at large technical acquisitions, which is not that often, we examine whether to rent, lease, buy with cash or buy with financing. In the case of editing systems, we typically look at leasing with the intention of NOT keeping the systems when the lease expires. Leasing does not require a large cash outlay and gives us flexibility. After a 3-4 year lease, technology has changed so much that we don’t want the old editing systems anymore. It doesn’t make sense to us to slap down a huge amount of cash for a large purchase (or smaller payments through financing) to own something you don’t really want in a couple years because it’s outdated. Additionally, our business (what clients want) changes every 3-4 years so we need to be able to adapt to those changes in our business. So our typical process is to look at our business and the technology every 3-4 years and determine what we need.

Back in 2002 (the first time I was directly involved in the process) we went with an 4TB Avid Unity (storage), which was huge at the time, along with an Avid Media Composer, an Avid Symphony and an Avid DS. Three years later we went with an 8TB Avid Unity (again huge at the time) along with two Avid Media Composers and an Avid DS. Then three years after that we went with a 16TB Avid Unity, an Avid Media Composer, and an Avid Symphony. We went with one less system because we had just taken the leap in to the Final Cut Pro world. And we also cut the Avid DS loose. It was a great system but there weren’t enough freelance editors around so outside of our staff, scheduling the DS was too much of a challenge. In the last 3+ years, we have been comfortable with our 2 Avid systems and Final Cut Pro system. Actually while most people were going at each other with the Avid/Final Cut Pro war, we liked having both, we actually wrote a blog about it.

That brings me to where we were a couple months ago. We needed to decide, first, how many systems we needed and, second, what are they? For the first question, we needed to examine how busy our edit suites are on a regular basis and what that work load will be for the next few years. Increasingly, our edit systems are not just edit systems, they are multipurpose post production systems. We use them for editing, closed captioning, file compression, layoffs for clients that just need a file put to tape, etc. An “edit system” is used for a lot more than what a system was used for just a few years ago. So in addition to the current Final Cut Pro system (which we own) we decided that we did, in fact, still need 2 additional systems for a total of 3 full-time systems.

The next part was much more difficult, what systems to get. Avid, Final Cut, Final Cut, Avid, Premiere Pro, you get the picture. In the end, our answer to that question was “yes!” We have traditionally been an Avid facility. We purchased a Final Cut Pro system 4 years ago and have taken great pride in our ability to offer both Avid and Final Cut Pro to our clients. The comparison was between Avid and Final Cut Pro while slightly considering Adobe Premiere Pro. Considering we have never used Premiere Pro, we look forward to learning more about it but we quickly decided that would not be our primary editing tool. That brought us to Avid or Final Cut Pro. As I mentioned, we have traditionally been an Avid facility but we all agreed that we needed to be open-minded about what tool we used going forward. About the time we started our serious research last year, Apple came out with Final Cut Pro X. We did a lot of research and went to some user group meetings to make sure we were educated about FCPX, and we even wrote a blog about it last November. Final Cut Pro X pretty much made our decision for us, that Avid was the way to go with our new systems as the primary editing tool. But we all agreed that there is a time and place for FCPX so we needed to keep it in the mix if (and it was a big if) we decided to go with MAC computers as opposed to PC.

Speaking of MAC versus PC, we have been on PC-based Avids for almost 15 years. A long time ago Avid was only on MAC. Then as Apple introduced Final Cut Pro there was a period where Avid on a MAC wasn’t really an option. In recent years though, Avid on MAC has been much more stable and in a lot of cases, even preferred to PC. Now, Avid is, so we’re told, slightly more efficient on PCs than MACs, but the key point is that the small portion of Avid that works better on a PC than a MAC, really isn’t part of our workflow, ever. So that left both PC and MAC on the table for us. We looked seriously at both type of computers and considered cost, stability, and flexibility. In the end, we went with MAC computers because of the flexibility it would give us.

At this point we had decided on MAC-based Avid systems. Now it was time to look at options. One of the reasons we landed on MAC computers was because of the flexibility it gave us. Specifically, going with MAC will give us the option of having both Avid and Final Cut Pro on the same unit, which we are doing. On the recommendation of our reseller, we will have one system with dual-boot drives so one side will be Avid and the other will be FCPX. We will have our existing Final Cut Pro 7 system, a system with Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro X, and a system that is only Media Composer. In the future we will also be adding Adobe Premiere Pro to one of the new systems so we will have that option as well. The final consideration, and truly icing on the cake, was to include DaVinci Resolve from Blackmagic, the world’s most advanced color grading system. This is what will take our new systems to the next level. While it isn’t the bulk of our work, we do a fair amount of editing for episodic television, movies of the week, direct to DVD movies, independent films, and spots. For that level of work, a powerful color correction tool is required. This software puts our offerings to clients over the top.

What makes us such a well-rounded facility is that we will have those tools to offer our high-end clients, but we will be able to offer our budget-challenged clients those tools as well. The trick we have learned through the years is to be flexible about pricing with our bread and butter clients, the ones we depend on daily. We have the flexibility, and have proven it, to be willing to look at every situation depending on time of year, type of project, volume of work, etc. to determine pricing. We can provide the best tools, with the best talent, at a price the same as those that have neither.

The last piece of the puzzle is the media storage unit. Through the years, we’ve gone from 2TB, to 4TB, to 8TB, to 16TB. Our new 32TB media RAID 5 storage unit, the Avid ISIS 5000 sets the benchmark for real-time, media-optimized shared storage with real-time editorial workflow support and stable operation while working with our new Avids, Final Cut Pro 7, and Final Cut Pro X, giving us the ultimate flexibility and thus the ultimate ability to serve our clients.

After all of this, it all came down to money. All of the above is great but if the cost was too steep there was no way to make it happen. After 9 versions (no joking, 9 versions of quotes), the pitch went like this to my bosses: We can upgrade everything and lower our monthly cost. It was one of the shortest meetings of the year. If you want the boring details I’ll share but through a lot of working and creativity on all sides involved, we actually figured out how to do all of this and reduce our monthly payment compared to what we have had for the last 3+ years. And nobody argues with lower monthly payments.

After this week, the technical side of our editing department will be upgraded, almost across the board. This is in addition to the completion of our post production audio studio last year, the room was featured in Post Magazine earlier this year. We’ll have one of the best post production studios on the east coast, but it means nothing without the proper talent to work in the edit and audio suites. We could have the best equipment but if our talent didn’t know what to do with it we wouldn’t be able to produce the work we do. Similarly, we could have the most talented people but if they are working on inferior equipment, we, and our clients, can’t take full advantage of their skills. Now, our talented team has equipment that will allow them to do their best work. Don’t be afraid to call or come by to see the new edit systems, I’m sure our team will enjoy every minute of showing it off.

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As COO of IDEAS, John manages the day-to-day operations of the company. He is a category expert in studio production and is responsible for bringing advanced digital media technology to IDEAS.