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Scheduling Time to Transfer Media On-site

Posted by Kevin Braband on February 19, 2014

Remember when at the end of shoot we would hand a box of tapes over to the client. Well, just like the Bob Dylan song these times are a changing. We have been shooting tapeless now for over a decade but in my experience Producers are still not accounting for media transfer time within the shoot day. With different codecs it’s important that both the crew and the client be on the same page in that regard. Now the crew needs to be aware of what card or drive they are recording to and which one needs to be moved to a client hard drive or backed up. We need to be ready to download the footage at moment’s notice.

Things Producers Need to Know Before the Shoot

On the client side, things have changed as well. The time constraints of the shoot day have not changed, they are still ten hours on average. However, now we have those pesky downloads. So, let’s look at what the client can do to make this part of the shoot go flawlessly.

  • Be aware of your shoot schedule. Unless otherwise arranged the shoot day is 10 hours door to door.
  • Talk to the crew before the shoot day. Let the crew know camera settings. Are we shooting 1080, 2k, or 4k? Frame rate? Is it 24p, 30p, 60i? Any information that will make the shoot go more efficiently is golden.
  • Decide if you would like to bring your own hard drive or other acquisition media. I have some clients that provide their own P2 or SxS cards. Make sure to bring enough cards for the shoot. If you do this then you can walk away after your last shot, with your cards. If you bring your own hard drive make sure you also have the correct cables. The DP can provide a back-up transfer system and hard drive upon request.
  • Select the camera that will fit the type of shoot or look you are trying to achieve. Talk to the DP about this. There is a whole other world of lenses and cameras that can make your project look awesome.
  • Discuss the codec possibilities with your post house. A good postproduction facility will have the ability to take in any format or codec.

Going into overtime on location can save you money on your production?

Shoot Day

In the past, the crew would shoot to tape and then the editor would spend hours digitizing the footage in the edit bay. There is an associated cost to that time spent in the edit bay too. Now, the crew does this procedure in the field. Transfer times vary and I dare not try to calculate what those times maybe for your shoot. However, I can give you an average of what speed the devices you are using to transfer will do in optimal conditions.

USB 2.0 – 480mbps

USB 3.0 – 5Gbps

Firewire 400 – 400mbps

Firewire 800 – 786mbps

eSata – 1.5-6Gbps

Thunderbolt – 10Gbps

Mac Laptop inputs thunderbolt USB Firewire800

What are optimal conditions? For USB and Firewire, it is best if no other peripherals are in use, which draws power from your hard drive or transfer unit. For eSata and certainly Thunderbolt power concerns are not an issue. However, let’s say you are moving footage using Thunderbolt via your laptop to an external USB 3.0 drive. You should have that 3.0 drive self-powered. A USB connection takes power from the laptop. If your laptop is already processing/using power to move footage, then it can’t provide full power to the USB port.

Media Management Tips for the Crew

It’s important for a crew to be in sync with the client. Have a full understanding of the shoot and the needs of the client. Be as efficient as possible during the shoot day. But, of course these are things that we all should be doing anyway, right? Well, we have now added a new duty to our day, “the download”. We must make sure we have all the tools to make this part of the day go as well as possible.


  • Is your laptop and the software to see the footage up to date? We use the latest retina/thunderbolt Mac Laptop and all of the latest software from Sony, Panasonic, RED, and even some great software from Imagine Products and others.
  • For every camera you own or rent you should have preloaded software that allows you to download from that camera. Can you provide the fastest and safest download possible? It’s so important to make sure to get every last bit of information gets onto that client drive.
  • When you finish the download, double check to see that the master footage is the same size as the copied footage.
  • Also, check to see the footage copied over properly.
  • Always carry a power supply to power an external hard drive. Don’t rely on the power buss of your computer to get power to that drive. A loss of power on the hard drive will cause shot information to not be transferred.
  • Think of hard drives as the equivalent of tape stock. Carry several in your production kit. The client may want multiple copies or you may have a bad drive so it’s always good to have a few backups.

So what’s next? The crew is now faced with downloading gigabytes and gigabytes of footage during the shoot day. A very fast laptop is the top need. A speedy computer is just as necessary on location as a color monitor. There are also third party boxes or dongles that will help assist with speed. For example, if you are using a Sound Device’s Pix 240 look into the Thunderdock to increase your speed of a download. Sonnet makes a small Thunderbolt box that reads Sony/Arri SxS cards which will also increase your download times. Sonnet, hopefully this year, will make a box called the Echo 15 thunderbolt dock that gives you many USB 3.0, eSata, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, and audio ports. The box will also contain a DVD/Blu-ray recorder and a 2TB hard drive for backup.

So I guess Dylan was correct, times have changed. I think for the better! Everyone involved in media production is facing a very exciting time. We have so many choices from cameras, lenses, and formats. Hopefully, with the information here, you can plan for a well-managed and well run shoot day at any location.

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