“We do a lot of run’n’gun work.” That’s how senior editor and head of IT, Brian Davids describes life at Echo Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based production company specializing in sports, poker and reality television.
“We were just up in Beaver Creek, CO shooting the US ski team,” he explains. “We rented a condo and set up two edit bays on the kitchen table to do prep for a live show. Meanwhile down in Copper, we had four guys working on an overnight edit for an NBC broadcast the next day. A lot of really quick turnaround work is our niche.”
One of the biggest events that Echo Entertainment covers is the World Series of Poker, the annual poker tournament broadcast on ESPN. Thousands of players compete in 65 different events in an attempt to win a coveted WSOP bracelet and Echo typically produces 26 highlights shows over the course of the tournament.
Producing this many shows with tight turnaround times requires the kind of solid process Brian describes:
“The first step is filming. We usually collect around 140TB of media while on site then get it to our systems at the office. A format editor cuts together footage and lays out the show. We share this cut with a producer who makes notes for the next version and we’ll give it a graphics pass at this stage — graphics are a huge deal for poker shows. A few more passes by a producer and then it’s onto voice-over. I always say that it isn’t a TV show until you have music and voice-over. The show is mixed and passed by a producer one last time. Then we’re off to final exports and delivery.”
A key factor in keeping this process running smoothly is fast and efficient file transfer. Whether they’re getting footage from a Las Vegas poker room to Echo’s post-production studio in LA, or sharing cuts with various network producers based across the country, any delays could mean disaster for the production.
“A one hour TV show could be a 50GB file,” says Brian. “We’ll usually compress it when sharing a cut with a producer but even then the file could be 500MB. We used to use FTP but it required so much support, especially as average file sizes grew with the advent of HD. Plus, it was horrible to use. I was always having to explain to people how FTP worked.”
Brian found a more user friendly solution with Hightail and the shift in efficiency and reliability has parallels with another technical change he implemented.
“A few years ago I moved everyone to Gmail,” he recalls, “which relieved the burden from me, the IT guy. Now no one ever calls me saying their email doesn’t work. It’s the same for Hightail. We never have to think about the file not getting there.”
The entire editorial team at Echo uses Hightail. Most prefer Hightail Express because files can resume uploading from the same point if the internet connection ever cuts out. “I totally screwed myself using a web service when I accidentally closed my browser halfway through a huge upload and had to start all over,” laughs Brian.
“One of the main benefits of Hightail is simplicity,” he continues, “the ease of use. You can see it in how Hightail is becoming so commonplace now. It’s almost standard in our business to use it. We did a Sons of Anarchy Afterword recently and the other production company we were working with used Hightail as well.”
Though the latest technology can help ensure a full hour of television is produced in as little time as possible, final delivery often harks back to a pre-digital era. Brian notes that some networks still insist on receiving the broadcast version on tape, meaning he has to transfer the digital file and send a tape to the network by courier.
“It drives me crazy,” he says, “because all they do is transfer it back to digital at their end. Why can’t we just skip that step? Europe is far ahead of the US in this regard. When we work with European networks, everything is sent digitally.”
Echo Entertainment’s embrace of technology now extends to the shows they produce. The company has just finished The Social Life for HLN, a show that sees host Ali Nejad harness the power of his nearly one million Twitter followers. Using technology to get things done appeals to Brian.
“Technology should never stand in the way of what we’re trying to accomplish,” he states. “I’ve always been a fan of Apple computers because they do what they’re supposed to do. Hightail is like that. It’s one of those things that just works.”