How to Defeat Pesky Post-Production Bottlenecks

By in Media Management, Video Editing

The demand for content has exploded over the last decade. Meanwhile, shooting ratios are ballooning, and that footage is at ever-higher resolutions. These factors leave post-production teams managing fiercely tight deadlines, massive files, and complex workflows—a perfect editing storm.

As industry pressure bears down on post-production teams, many may have grown used to simply making it work. But tech solutions may ease these pain points. Here are some common bottlenecks in video post production, along with some ways to open up the flow.

Cross-Team Collaboration (From Anywhere)

The current pandemic may have accelerated remote collaboration, but post-production teams have always required some degree of collaboration between post facilities and on-set crews. These teams must stay agile to match the pace of most productions’ condensed timelines. Delays due to slow uploads/downloads of dailies or waiting for a shipped drive aren’t going to cut it. There are a variety of ways to facilitate content sharing, even while it is being shot, such as streaming proxies or file-based transfers.

Efficient collaboration, whether within a single facility or amongst a distributed workforce, remains important farther down the post pipeline too, driving home the need for a common environment where users are able to work collaboratively on the same projects and bins. A hybrid cloud/on-prem model offers a convenient solution for users to access content from anywhere and edit and publish at low res, while synching with high res content that lives in on-premises storage.

Time-Consuming Transcoding

Transcoding is still mercilessly time-consuming, even when it’s possible to check that little “transcode in background” box. Although camera codecs are increasingly friendly to the post process, and NLEs now intrinsically understand camera card structure, the technology is still a ways out from promising a proxy-less future.

Establishing a “project codec” is one way to cut back on bottlenecks that stem from back-and-forth transcoding, including the potential loss of metadata. Using a common format and codec for the production wherever possible will significantly cut down on the time spent waiting around and fretting over missing metadata.

The codec you choose should depend on the team’s needs. For heavy visual effects, for example, consider something that can cross operating systems, like Avid DNxHD® HQ.

Logging, Tagging, and Transcribing

When an editor can’t find a specific take for a director, either because it hasn’t been tagged properly or it ended up in the wrong bin, it’s a dispiriting moment at best.

Ingesting massive amounts of footage (and subsequently logging and tagging it all) is essential, but with the increase in shooting ratios, it’s become a borderline Herculean task. However, there are ways to automate this process.

Seek out tech solutions that enable productions to log and tag footage as it’s being created. For instance, phonetic indexing can automatically sync each source clip to its associated line in the script. Similarly, dialogue search, which enables users to browse footage by words or phrases, can save hours of time—not just for junior team members who would normally have to complete that task, but for everyone working on the project who no longer has to wait or sift through footage.

Or take transcribing: automated transcription won’t perfectly replicate human transcription, but the time tradeoff is often worth a slight decrease in quality. Alternatively, for productions that need word-perfect transcription, beginning with an automated transcription is a massive head start.

Security Leaks

Leaks of high-profile projects can wreck years of work and cost a hefty sum. For Larson Studios, the smaller post-production house that handled post for Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, leaks were financially devastating and led them to implement an entirely new (and less efficient) workflow.

After their servers were hacked, Larson paid a $50,000 ransom to avoid the release of the fifth season of OITNB, according to Variety. The season leaked anyway. The weak link in the chain was an old computer that was running Windows 7. Even so, Larson Studios spent six figures on a new security system and began separating audio and video files, even though it caused a major workflow slowdown.

It was an extreme solution to an admittedly extreme situation. But most security measures recommended by the Content Delivery and Security Association will lead to some amount of bottleneck, so it’s necessary to budget for the extra time these steps require. Easy precautions, though, like running up-to-date software and operating systems on all machines, can save the whole team from some of the biggest potential headaches.

Don’t Panic

It’s worth accounting for post bottlenecks, because some will come at you no matter how well you plan. (There’s always a chance a sequence just won’t work and will need to be reshot.) Scan your video post-production workflow with a critical eye and make note of where inefficiencies are most likely to occur. If better teamwork alone can’t smooth out those bottlenecks, take another look at how you can expedite the processes themselves.

Ultimately, an end-to-end tech solution that enables efficient collaboration, automates time-consuming tasks, and remains secure all the while can take strained post-production workflows and open them back up.

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Oriana Schwindt is a freelance writer based in New York. She primarily covers the TV industry, dabbling also in travel and culture.