Archival – Production Workflow
We need to get something clear first – Archives are not production libraries. Production libraries (e.g. NHNZ) have footage ready for use, set rates for differing usage and clearance available with purchase.
Archives hold materials on behalf of the nation, of organisations, of families; footage and clearance may not be readily available depending on the terms of deposit, how much preservation (archival quality digitisation) was/is needed, and whether funds were made available on deposit to do the necessary work, including digitising onto a master digital format.
When is the best time to start to involve an Archive in your project?
Producer – once you’ve got a good idea of the treatment and script, which may be in Development, or the earliest Pre-production stage possible. Archives need time to prep master materials for supply, both as screeners for use in the offline and as masters for the online, and this will impact budget and schedule.
This might be done by the Producer or an independent, and you prep for that by going through the script (drama) or treatment/proposal (documentary – the biggest users of archival materials) and doing a breakdown of what you think you’re going to need.
Things to bear in mind:
- Catalogues were not necessarily written with your purpose in mind and an Archive cataloguer is not a filmmaker and won’t search in the same way you will
- Be prepared to do your own research. Vimeo private research links are very convenient if available
- You’re more likely to find specifics by keying in a broad search. Keywords become too tight and exclude
- Think laterally in your search, not literally
- Always trace back to master materials. Licensing can be very tricky and your Producer must have this info
- Make a note of the master material frame rate – this is crucial information for budgeting and workflow
- Ascertain the best way to acquire the screeners (e.g. HD scans are better and faster than telecine for screeners)
- TV footage: during the 60s, 70s and into the 80s, TV wiped and reused tapes so it’s wise to have second and third options available, or broaden your search scope if you can’t find what you’re wanting
- Use Youtube only as reference – check the provenance before downloading (see point #5 above)
- Researching sound archives are pretty much the same deal
So the next thing? Good organisation. Give the Archives as much information up front as you can and make sure you have written records of what and when. Some of the things you need to find out from the Archives won’t have immediate answers, so allow proper time for the information to come through.
2. What you need to discuss with your Archives
- The timeline you’re working to
- What are the ordering timelines the Archive requires (depends on their workload and prioritising)
- What materials are available on what formats
- What’s the age of the material you’re interested in – has it been preserved/digitised, or does that still need to be done?
- What time will be involved in prepping old material for supply as viewing files
- What frame rate is your production. Archival material may come in highly variable frame rates. An archive supplying a baked in frame rate in good faith, which is not your production frame rate, can cause real time and budget problems by Conform time
- What film gauge/format are the masters, and will the Archive handle the transfers themselves or do they use external vendors and what are the associated estimated costs
- What confidentiality and rights are involved for specific footage (e.g. TVNZ licensing has 3 different categories so don’t assume that because one Archive handles most of everything, that licensing is the same for all)
3. Then the Editor goes back to Production and sorts out what and when
Schedules for screeners and for masters (yours and the Archive’s) and any further research.
4. And the Producer sorts out how much
Costs for screeners and masters, and don’t be tempted to rip your screeners from the internet – you’ll end up paying just as much as you try to trace the piece you want, and Conform has to sight match it in.
5. Ordering screeners – finally!
Obtain an ordering spreadsheet from your Archive sources if they have one or you may have to design your own spreadsheet. Discuss with them how they want things ordered.
- Archive specific spreadsheet (if more than one, create filters in order to have separate PDFs for each)
- Original catalogue details
- Timecode In & Out
- Short description
- Basically, as much information that you think will be helpful and speeds up the process for the Archive without being OCD about it
- State what format and frame rate you want your offline screeners
6. Older footage
- Is generally not 25fps. It may be 16fps, or somewhere around that (early hand cranking)
- Liaise with Archive and your post house as to who is doing the frame rate conversion, or if you need to find a technical boffin. Editor: you need to inform your Producer
- If frame rate conversion is needed, it should be done before the Editor takes delivery of offline materials, but this is often a budget decision
- “Don’t worry about it till later…” will involve sight matching and almost certainly recutting between offline and online Conform, which will impact Sound Design, schedule and budget. So when you realise the scope of the frame rates it’s a discussion with Conform and Sound post early on to find the best way forward BEFORE the masters go into the Avid
- Frame rate conversions if not done correctly will create ghosting and stepping
- Frame rate conversions (because they create totally new masters) require robust naming conventions, which also delineate different archival sources
- Frame rate conversions: make sure there is no gamma shift (turn gamma off, don’t go with automatic settings)
7. Final Masters & Screeners – what needs to be done
- Archive(s) spreadsheet(s)
- Order # (from Production)
- Frame rate and format for Masters & Screeners
- Original catalogue details
- Timecode In & Out, thumbnail of first & last frames
- Short description
- Film: number of frames – it’s sometimes wise to add minimum 5fr handles head and tail
- Digital: number of seconds – add handles
- Basically as much information as you think will be helpful and speed up the process for the Archive without being OCD about it.
- And you will also need Screeners (ProRes or .mov or MXF) of the finals being created for you: cut them into your sequence and supply an EDL and AAF to your Conform post house – otherwise they’ll be sight matching each one and your budget (and their tempers) will suffer.
8. Final Handover
- Eye match the new masters screeners into the offline (they have new timecode as new Masters have been created)
- Remember those handles and keep an eagle eye out for ghosting, stepping and incorrect frame rate
- Discuss with Conform how they want the finals presented in your Handover to them. Archival materials along with VFX, are usually the last materials to be incorporated in the Conform and can trickle in days after the booked Conform so they may have specific requirements in order to keep track and not miss any
- Go in and check the Conform
Last updated on 15 October 2021
Images: Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen (Courtesy of Arama Pictures Ltd)
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