Digital Dailies Help Drive Down Production Costs
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
"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
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.
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