5 Steps to not letting your tech get the best of you.

Imagine all of your film work disappeared one day. Poof. Just gone. Doesnt’ exist. Almost finished with a project? doesn’t matter. Got someone else’s footage that they spent more than your personal net value on? Poof.  Technical problems will happen. Here are 5 steps to not losing it all, cause one day, you’re going to lose something.

1. Backup your Footage

OK, this sounds simple, but when suddenly everything is gone… you don’t want to realize all of your eggs were in separate baskets that were all in the same basket. My personal definition of a backup is your footage and files on two separate hardrives more than a mile outside of your home. In case your house burns down. Your kid spills milk. Earthquake. Ransomware. Hot car.  Car accident. The last thing you want to worry about when tragedy or accidents strike, is, “And they are going to sue me for losing all their footage, too.”

When I edit for a client, I have them sign a document that says they have a copy of all the footage they’re giving me. Before I leave set, I try to copy the footage to a harddrive, and let someone else drive it. My homie complains that I only come to see him when my harddrives are full, or I have computer problems. Harddrives are cheap, so if you can’t afford to back up your footage, you have to ask yourself if you can afford to lose it. “Being careful” is not realistic.

I don’t recommend RAID arrays. They’re complicated, slow and when they fail, you either spend days figuring out how to repair them, or you pay a technician to repair them. And it still encourages you to keep all your footage in one place as you make it bigger and bigger.

2. Backup your Backup

Here’s where I talk about technology. There are two kinds of harddrives, ‘regular’ harddrives that are kind of cheap, and solid state harddrives that are kind of more expensive. What’s the difference? If you drop a ‘regular’ harddrive, you might lose all the data on it. Simple enough, right? Then there’s the fact that harddrive manufacturers don’t guarantee their drives will hold data for more than 5 years. And many fail earlier than that, so harddrives arn’t really a long term solution.

Then there is tape backup (Look up LTO), Cloud Storage, flash drives and other stuff that seems to come up everyday. In short, this is all fine and dandy, the trick is not to plan it, but to actually do it.

LTO tape backup is offered a lot of places, but it’s going to take hours to backup to tape, and hours to days (depending on how many tapes) to restore from tape. But it’s there. Great thing about LTO tape cassets is it’s study (you can drop them) and they they don’t deteriorate. The downside? Keep an eye on the tech horizon, you don’t want 100 LTO tapes when it suddenly goes the way of the JAZZ drive.

Cloud Storage seems to be the most obvious choice, until you actually start to use it. Try backing up 20 gig’s of new footage via upload. Depending on your internet speed, that’ll take between 3 days and 3 weeks. And that’s new stuff. How do you back up the 5 – 10 terrabytes you shot years ago? Starting to see the problem?

Most Cloud Storage is made for people with pictures of their kids, excel files and cat videos. Not people working on 4k renders that are more than 10 gigs a file. One company that might work for you is CrashPlan.com. They’ll send you a harddrive free of charge and upload it themselves to get you started, but it’s still around $120 a year. Big downside is it’ll take you hours to days download and restore files if something bad happens. Scared the feds will see what you’re doing? You have to weigh that against a house fire.

A pocket full of USB sticks seems to be the way some people go. This means not putting your whole backup in one place, but instead spreading it across multiple  There is some logic to this – you might lose something, but you won’t lose everything. Big challenge with this method is your file management needs to be on point. All your little harddrives need to be very organized, labeled and tested regularly to make sure they all work. I found when I tried to do this, many harddrives would have extra space because I had a 150 GB project so I bought a 256 GB SSD, but I didn’t want “Project files + Miscellaneous” because that’s how you lose the miscellaneous files. This seems like the best of all worlds, but gets expensive and ultimately time consuming.

3 Buy New SD Cards.

I learned the hard way that it’s cheaper to just buy new SD cards than only have your days footage on a harddrive when you leave set. So even if you’re shooting 4k on the fancy Class 10 UH3 cards, or the more expensive Compact Flash cards… just get new cards. What it means is that worst case scenario, you can start with the raw footage, even if you lose all your edited stuff. You’re buying piece of mind. Get on Amazon and have a shelf of new cards. Oh? You only shoot on RED and Alexa which require V-mount harddrives? Well, it costs to be the boss: factor in the price of a DIT and other backup plans.

I’m not going to get into it in this post, but there’s another conversation about copying files with integrity, and having a DIT on all film sets. You can read about some of that here.

4. Image Your OS

Then when your footage is super backed up you will start having OS problems. Blue screens of death, Memory dumps, freezing up or worse. (It doesn’t stop, does it?) To resolve this issue, you need a fresh image of your Operating System.

Without getting into the weeds of PC infrastructure, I find that it’s better to have your OS and programs installed on smaller SSD, and your footage on a larger harddrive (SSD, Raid or otherwise.) From here, you can buy a second smaller SSD for pretty cheap and image it from time to time, once a week or once a month. That way, if your OS craps out on you, you plug in another. Obviously, if you back up weekly, and your OS goes bad… your backup might only last another week! But, use your time wisely and it won’t stop you from meeting your deadlines. Acronis True Image is a cheap and easy tool to image your OS drive.

5. Know Your Codes.

Worst Case Sceario: You’ll have to rebuild your PC. Reinstall the Operating system, the programs, and restore your files. even if you pay someone to do this, only you know how things used to work. One element instrumental to this process are your activation codes.  In my incarnation as a Tech guy, I got dozens of these calls, “I got a virus,” “Everything is corrupt” or, “I don’t know what happened, it just doesn’t’ turn on.” Everyone is different, special even. No one has access to everything you had installed on your computer. If you don’t keep up with the installations, and the installation keys… you may not have access to that program down the road.

But, “I have an image backed up” you say. Yeah, 90% of the programs will work, lickity split. Murphy’s law dictates that other 10% will be the cool stuff you use to make your life easier. And what happens if your last image has the same problems you face on the current installation? Do you keep an image of your image? Come on… all the precautions in the world won’t save you every time. Having your installers and your serial numbers offsite will allow you to get up and running if the worst happens.

Sooo…..

At the end of the day, if you are going play in this space, play safe. A lot of money, time and effort goes into filmmaking, take some time to make sure you don’t loose that bottled lightning.

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