The client contacted me last Sunday in a rush. They needed someone to shoot an interview with Olympic gold-medal swimmer and TV personality Summer Sanders in Park City the coming Friday for a major corporate marketing campaign tied to the London Olympics. I said no problem even though I have tons of stuff backed up from my recent shoots (May was my biggest month ever: 13 videos for 6 clients). We had a deal.
As is common in jobs where I shoot but someone else edits, I was to dub the interview immediately after to an external hard drive and FedEx it to the editor for Saturday delivery (Monday would be too late for them). Sometimes I provide the hard drive (I use a 1 TB Western Digital) and they send it back when they’re done. But in this case, the customer bought and overnighted a 750 GB G-Tech to use. I got it Thursday, the day before the shoot. And that’s when it gets interesting.
I’m PC-based. The editor (always ask ahead of time) is on Mac. Because of the 24-hour turnaround, there wasn’t time to capture and convert my files to Quicktimes (Mac) for her using Final Cut Pro. They’d have to remain raw .MXFs and dubbed to the HDD which takes a lot less time. She could just hook up the drive, click and drag the files onto her computer.
The G-Tech came formatted for Mac: a proprietary system called +HFS. A PC can’t communicate with a drive formatted in +HFS. PCs use several different drive formats but only two communicate with both Mac and PC: FAT32 and exFAT. I can’t format in exFAT because my entire system (four computers) is on Windows XP. ExFAT only works on PCs with Vista, Windows 7 and later. I had to format the drive in FAT32. But FAT32 only handles file sizes of 4 GB or less. HD video files, like the ones I was going to be shooting, are much larger (4 GB of 1080 HD video is about five minutes and this interview was going to be 45 minutes long).
I contacted the customer about the situation. We determined that I would shoot the interview in bites that kept the files below 4 GB. Essentially, stopping recording occasionally and restarting between questions. Friday morning, I, the producer asking the questions, Summer and her makeup person descended upon Glenwild Golf Club in Park City for the interview. It was sunny and warm so we set up by the pool. The sun was a little high (mid-morning) but still provided great light. I only had to set up an Omni with a blue gel for fill light. The makeup person was fantastic, using my stops and starts as opportunities to brush the sweat off Summer and mute the hot spots on her forehead and cheek bones.
After the interview, I zipped back to my studio, took the P2 card with the video data out of my Panasonic HPX500 camera, plugged it into the PCI slot of my laptop, connected the FAT32-formatted hard drive to the laptop, and copied the files to it. In a half-hour, everything was copied, I packed it into a FedEx box made specifically for hard drives, ran it down to their nearest store and sent it off with about three hours to spare. The editor in New York emailed me the next morning saying she got it, that she was able to ingest the .MXFs into her Mac using Final Cut Pro with no problem.
The lesson here is that what appears to be a simple job can be difficult and even fatal in the digital world. This job worked because the customer, I (the shooter), and the editor communicated, asked the right questions, did not waste time or assume everything would work “out of the box”. Never assume anything, be aware of the worst case scenario, but prepare to do everything right. It can be nerve-wracking but it will make the difference.