How to Take Charge of Filming Big Events and Handle Video Data Like a Pro
Few would argue surf competitions present their own unique challenges to shoot, but spare a thought for those behind the scenes working frantically to ensure that every shot captured from every camera is stored and catalogued in the right way so that clips can be recalled at a moment’s notice.
“We’ve got seven cameras on the beach, we’ve got ENG [electronic news gathering] cameras, we’ve got RED cameras [large format cinema cameras], we’ve got drones, water, all sorts of media,” says Henry ‘Hendo’ Bayer, Data Wrangler at World Surf League.
So what exactly is a data wrangler?
“I’m almost like a gatekeeper. We are shooting terabytes upon terabytes of footage per event, close to maybe thirty to forty terabytes,” he says.
“Someone needs to be able to wrangle all that media, transcode it, put it in a sheet and let the editors and the rest of the staff know where it lives for eternity.”
“[For example] so that we know where Kelly Slater’s round 1, wave 1, heat 6, where that lives. Because if you can’t find that, I mean, what happens to the story? It’s gone forever.”
So while data wrangling might sound a bit wild west, there’s nothing cavalier about how Henry approaches his work. He’s the perfect person, then, to share some insights on how to manage large volumes of media files behind a big event.
Big events tend to involve long days of shooting, post production and planning. And for an event as big as the World Surf Tour, there’s little that can be left to chance, so starting by preparing yourself mentally is key.
Secondly, Henry has a routine to help him establish the right processes and get a handle on what needs to happen throughout the day.
“As soon as we get in the office, I start working in After Effects. I start making a Surfline graphic, telling everybody what the waves are doing that day and the following four days,” he says.
“After that, I start getting the media ready. I start planning my day saying, ‘okay, let’s do card runs every two heats so that we can start to get footage for the editors but also not bog them down so much.’
“During that time, I also start editing many news feed highlights for the day as well. So it’s just a bit of a juggling act really, there’s a lot going on.”
KEEPING THINGS ON TRACK
It goes without saying, with so much going on, establishing a good workflow and staying organised throughout the day is essential. So what’s helped Harry keep things on track?
“One of the main things in this workflow is a shot log,” he says. “Within that shot log, it tells me what day the competition was on or off, what rounds, what heats went down, what card went where and each and every single RED card.”
“The actual individual RED card has a label on it so I know who shot that card, where it came from and if we copied and backed it up, because god forbid, if we don’t copy and back up a card, that’s a big no-no.”
“So I’m at least able to track it down, make sure I back it up, and I can sleep easy at night.”
BALANCING THE NEEDS
There’s also a juggling act between the need to download all the media from the memory cards and not clogging the system, so editors can do their jobs of cutting stories together.
“I would notice the more footage I would load in, [the more it] would bog down the editor, so it’s a bit of a dance if trying to make the editors happy but also making sure that I transfer all of that media and make sure it’s as organised as possible,” he says.
“If you’re making a highlight edit for that day and we’ve got thirty minutes left until that highlight goes live, I cannot load cards at that moment because your edit is way more important than me transferring those cards.”
“Other times where I’m in the middle of a transfer and nobody can edit because the server is going slow and they kind of look at me like I’m the dog who farted in the room, and I feel pretty bad about it.”
DEALING WITH UNPREDICTABILITY
With any large-scale event, there’s always an element of unpredictability, even in mostly controlled environments, but surfing competitions are entirely at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“It’s so unpredictable… we don’t know when those swells are going to come, when the conditions are going to be great, so that we end up running heats,” says Henry.
“We could get done with a competition within three to four days, or it could take all the way up to two weeks. So, it’s challenging for the athletes, it’s challenging for the workers, also challenging for the investors and sponsors.”
And this is another area where good media management comes to the fore. While most watching the event might think of it simply as a live broadcast, what happens when surf conditions just aren’t cooperating and there isn’t much to show?
That’s when good data wrangling becomes critical to telling a great story, helping the entire post-production team find the right media to plug the gaps in live action to keep audiences entertained.
“A lot of what surfing involves is storytelling and there is so much history in surfing. Sometimes we need to go back 20 years to get a clip of Tom Curren at Jeffreys Bay in order to make a piece that will really shine.”
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