When it absolutely has to be there

A lot of the productions we post these days are delivered electronically – either on the web or as DVDs (or Blu-rays). Bouncing a finished product to an FTP site is a pretty good method for getting short projects around the world, but often masters or longer DVDs still require shipping. For many of us, FedEx is a mainstay; however, if it has to get halfway around the world by the next day, then even FedEx falls short. This reminds me of a bumper sticker slogan for an imaginary Tardis Express: “When it absolutely, positively has to get there yesterday!” So, with apologies to Dr. Who, how do you make this happen?

I recently had to get an eight minute presentation to a client in Australia. This was to be presented from DVD. Due to last minute changes, there was no time for physical shipping – even if we could have gotten it there overnight (quite unlikely). I could, of course, post an MPEG2 and AC3 file or a disc image file, but the client at the other end would not have been savvy enough to take this into a DVD authoring program (like DVD Studio Pro or even Toast) and actually burn a final disc. The second wrinkle was that my master was edited in the NTSC world of 29.97fps. Although many Australians own multi-standard DVD players, there was no guarantee that this would be the case in our situation. After a bit of trial-and-error with the director, we settled on this approach and I pass it along. Take this as more of a helpful anecdote rather than a professional workflow, but in a pinch it can really save you.

Apple iDVD will take a QuickTime movie and automatically generate the necessary encoded DVD files. That’s not much of a surprise, but, of course FTP’ing a ProRes master wouldn’t have been feasible, as the file size would have still been too large. It turns out, though, that iDVD will also do this from other QuickTime formats including high-quality H.264 files. Our Australian client’s daughter understood how to use iDVD, so the director decided it would be a simple matter to talk her through downloading the file and burning the presentation disc.

The first step for me was to generate a 25fps master file from my 29.97 end product. Compressor can do this and I’ve discussed the process before in my posts about dealing with HDSLRs. First, I converted the 29.97 file to a 25fps ProRes file. Then I took the 25fps ProRes high-def video and converted it in Compressor to a 16×9 SD PAL file, using a high-quality H.264 setting (around 8Mbps). Bounce it up to my MobileMe account, “share” the file and let the daughter generate the DVD in Australia using iDVD on her MacBook. Voila! Halfway around the world and no shipping truck in sight!

A related situation happened to me in 2004 – the year several hurricanes crisscrossed through central Florida. The first of these was headed our way out of the Gulf in the middle of my editing a large corporate job. Initially the storm looked like Tampa would get a direct hit and then pass to the north of Orlando. It was Friday and everyone was battening down for the weekend, so I called my announcer to see what his plans were for getting voice-over tracks to me. “No problem. I am putting up friends from Tampa and once they get settled in, I’ll record the tracks and send them your way.” That seemed fine, since I didn’t need these until Monday.

Unfortunately the storm track changed – blowing in south of the Tampa area and straight through central Florida. The main local damage was power outages, due to many fallen trees throughout the city. Power returned relatively quickly at my house, but much of the area ultimately was without power for several weeks. However, the weekend progressed and I still hadn’t heard back from my announcer. By Sunday I finally got through to him on the cell phone.

“Were you able to record the tracks?” I asked.  “Oh yes,” he replied. “They are up on my FTP site.” What followed is a classic. “We lost power and, in fact, it’s still out. I waited until the neighbor’s generator was off for the evening and was able to record the tracks to my laptop using battery power. Then I drove around and found a Panera Bread location.” Panera Bread is a national restaurant/coffee shop chain that offers free wi-fi connectivity in most of its locations. He continued, “The restaurant was closed, but they must have had power as the wi-fi was still running. So, I sat in the parking lot and uploaded the files to my FTP site.”

So thanks to modern technology and the world of consumer connectivity, both of these clients were able to receive their products on schedule. That’s in spite of logistical difficulties that would have made this sort of thing impossible only a few short years ago. Time machine – or phone booth – anyone?

©2010 Oliver Peters