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Digital dailies speed filmmaking

But on-set techs may not be as savvy as post-house pros

Dailies have been part of the filmmaking process since the dawn of the industry. For the nearly 100 years that features were shot mostly on film, the raw, unedited footage captured during production was developed at night and printed onto film for viewing the next day by the director, producers, actors and crew as a way to gauge the performances, the cinematography and how the picture was progressing in general.

The advent of digital technology has impacted the way dailies are processed, just as it has influenced nearly all aspects of filmmaking. For movies shot digitally, as so many are today, the entire production pipeline is digital, and dailies, too, are created in a digital format.

But even pictures still shot on film are often requesting dailies created digitally and delivered on digital tape, DVD or hard drives — a process which, compared with film prints, can save time and money.

Digital dailies offer the added advantage of being downloadable, streamable , more easily manipulated and delivered to suit the needs of filmmakers who may be traveling or working in far-flung locations.

Labs and post houses have jumped into the fray, offering digital dailies services to their clients. Companies like FotoKem and Level 3 Post, which is part of Deluxe, have expanded their offerings as producers hunt for new solutions to help them work with smaller budgets and tighter timelines.

Significantly, these new services include the use of technology to create dailies not in some distant lab, but on or near the set, right under the noses of the director and production crew, further shortening turnaround times and increasing convenience.

The downside for the post houses that offer on-set dailies is that the new systems put profitability under pressure. Bill Romeo, senior veep of Deluxe Television (Level 3/Encore), acknowledges that the profit margins for dailies created through the use of equipment rented near the site of production are not the same as those done at a post house, although he’s also quick to paint a bigger picture of the various factors that impact the business.

“The sheer volume of footage coming in has completely changed,” Romeo says. “We used to be dealing with something like an hour a night for a show; now we’re looking at around four hours of material.”

To meet the demand for digital dailies delivered on-set, FotoKem has introduced nextLAB software, a system that supports the most advanced digital cameras, including the Arri Alexa, Sony F65 and Red Epic.

It’s the kind of innovation Mike Brodersen, a FotoKem VP, thinks post houses need in order to adjust to industry trends. He’s also quick to point out, however, that such changes are going to affect the way some post houses set their rates. “They’re not going to be able to bill on an hourly basis as they’ve done in the past,” he notes.

Post houses used to bill by the hour for the equipment and suites in which dailies were created. In that model, each fraction of an hour beyond the round number of hours used was billed as an additional hour. With on-set dailies, fractioning up is not an option, because the dailies process is tightly integrated into the production itself.

But even as digital dailies and on-set dailies proliferate, conventional overnight film dailies are hardly about to disappear, especially for those who need them to reflect the look and feel of the footage being shot. “I don’t think dailies done in a traditional way in a post house are going away anytime soon,” says Michael Mostin, senior veep of Moviola, which provides Avid system rentals as well as tech and workflow design support to shows like “Grey’s Anatomy.” “People don’t want to give up the relationships they have with the post houses and the technicians they trust.”

For those shooting film and relying on near-site digital dailies, there’s the added pressure of hiring technicians who may not have the experience and know-how of longtime post-production staff in handling the influx of content and managing a conversion process that’s not cheap.

“If you use a near-site solution instead of dailies done at a post house, you probably won’t get a guy working on your show who has been doing color correction for decades and who has a lot of experience,” Romeo says. “So that’s part of the tradeoff.”

Choices, most agree, come down to the specific needs of a particular production.

Joe DeOliveira, a post-production supervisor and co-producer of ABC Family’s “Jane by Design,” found that FotoKem’s nextLAB Mobile made sense because it gave him the control and savings he wanted for the show’s post-production, but he’s quick to point out that there’s no single blanket solution for the challenges in post.

“When you use a post house, they stand behind their work and they’ll guarantee that it gets done right,” says DeOliveira. “When you decide to take this part of the work on yourself, you have to guarantee that you’ll get it done and that you have the staff to do it, which might mean you’re not actually saving that much in the end.”

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