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Digital Dailies Help Drive Down Production Costs

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen

September 2002| Reports that Hollywood's A-list stars like Julia Roberts and Jim Carrey can pocket $20 million or more per film might suggest that the movie business has money to burn. They couldn't afford to pay the big names the big bucks if they didn't save money in production, though, and so studios are looking everywhere for places to slash expenditures. One place ripe for cutting is in the daily "rushes"—the raw, unedited footage that directors and executives look at each day as a film is being produced.

"Time and money are the two things everybody is trying to save in the movie business," says Heuris president Brian Quandt. "Nobody makes any money on rushes, so we're trying to help studios save money any way they can."

Video compression leader Heuris has teamed with screening consultants Cohen Communications and digital video production rental house Plus8Video to offer "Digital Dailies," a digital delivery system that allows film professionals to view the daily rushes without having them developed and printed, and without hiring a projectionist. "Previously, producers had to do a one-light print negative to print a single film to watch the daily rushes on," Quandt said. "Now they can just encode the film or HDV from an Avid editing suite to MPEG-2 on DVD-RAM media. With DVD-RAM, unlike standard film, an assistant editor rather than a projectionist can show the footage."

The system uses Mindstar Productions' Cinergy Motion Picture Production System On-Set Module to integrate metadata—timecode, director's comments, location, lens/filters, actors and circled takes—into the HD footage, making it immediately accessible to an editor in post-production. Playback is done on an enhanced PC version of Panasonic Broadcast's iDVR-100/200.

Quandt said DVD-RAM is the format of choice because of its random-access capabilities and relatively low cost when compared to digital VHS tape. "High-definition video playback devices are very expensive to rent, so that can be cost-prohibitive," he said. "And DVD-R isn't a true random-access format. Plus, the throughput on DVD-RAM is sufficient for digital high definition."

It's also the industry standard, according to Quandt, even though not everyone in the movie industry realizes it. "We were setting up with a company in New York that said their regular video supply house was having trouble tracking down some DVD-RAM media, and that it would cost about $50 a unit," Quandt laughed. "I said, 'Did you try CompUSA?' They're not used to media being both standard and widely available."

The Heuris/Cohen Digital Dailies post-production system might save money in labor, time and film—Heuris estimates it can help a moviemaker save up to $300,000 on a Hollywood feature—but it's still not cheap. The system rents out for $2200/week, and includes a Tandberg M5820 HD multiformat MPEG-2 encoder, an ASI capture station, DVD-RAM recorder, and flat-panel display. A studio playback system, which includes just a PC with a DVD-RAM drive and monitor, rents for $300/week, while a complete on-location playback system—including a 7'6"x10' Dalite front-projection screen, JVC video projector, and powered speakers—rents for $1,000/week. Plasma displays also are available for an additional $500/week.

The Digital Dailies solution was first used on the Richard Gere thriller The Mothman Prophecies (where digital playback also was used at early audience test screenings), and Mothman director Mark Pellington said "he'll never do it any other way," according to Quandt. More recently, it's been used on the set of the martial-arts movie Bulletproof Monk and The Human Stain, the film adaptation of a Philip Roth novel, starring Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins, due in 2003.

—Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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