A day in the life of Dan Turner – Post-Production Engineer

Dan Turner2

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I joined Gravity Media a year post-university in 2016, and was promoted to my current role at the end of 2020. I started out as a junior in our old Ash Vale warehouse, and moved up to running tech support at Gravity House in Soho for about a year. Being up there every day was an interesting experience because different issues were constantly popping up – sometimes every couple of minutes, and always when we were particularly busy. I did everything, from fixing someone’s internet or resolving an Avid crash to helping people move furniture or finding an extra set of chairs. It was a really varied setup, and I learned a lot very quickly from being immersed in it up there.

Gravity House

At Gravity House, I jumped right in at the deep end; after some brief instruction in the basics back at base, and about a week of support when I moved over to Soho, I then became the only person onsite. In that situation, the onus is on you to try and find the fix yourself, as fast as you can, so I picked up a great deal of experience, particularly with NEXIS and Avid, and it was a good foundation for what I’m doing now.

I remember one situation in particular when I’d only been there for a couple of weeks – I believe it was for The Dark Crystal. An editor’s Mac kept crashing ‒ especially when they tried to open Avid. It wasn’t spitting out any errors, and we couldn’t actually see anything wrong with the software side of things, but after a while I realised that it was getting very hot because the fans weren’t kicking in. To fix that, we had to ask the guys back at base to send up a fresh cylinder; I then had to rush it downstairs to swap the hard drives between the two, because the cylinders are so finicky. If a fan breaks, you can’t really mend it; you have to replace the whole cylinder. I remember feeling quite satisfied that I’d done the troubleshooting myself, and that was verified back at base. 

Being in at the deep end isn’t the standard Gravity Media approach; we were particularly busy back in 2019 and we needed all hands on deck where we could get them, so my arrival at Gravity House was a bit of a trial by fire. Ultimately, though, it was a good experience and certainly accelerated my learning!

When you’re working at Gravity House, you’re responsible for the whole of the building, so all the setups there are part of your jurisdiction. In fact, everything within the Soho region with our kit on it is under our remit, so I’d often get called up to help out at nearby locations, like Molinare or Goldcrest. As far as large or complex setups are concerned, The Crown is a good example. They took up an entire floor, plus a couple of extra rooms as and when they were needed. We had to patch every room into the NEXIS through the riser cabinet, and then down to the server room. Learning how the building patched together took a little bit of initial adjustment, but I got the hang of it fairly quickly. I had to hit the ground running when I first arrived there – and it’s quite overwhelming being responsible for keeping so many high-profile projects running smoothly – but now it’s second nature.

Southwood

Most of my experience comes from my time at Gravity House, but now that I’m being trained as a full post-production engineer, I’m with the team down at Southwood. Initially it was daunting here too, but everyone is really supportive. One of the first jobs that I worked on as a proper OB setup was Beat The Chasers. It was quite a good job to learn on: it was a standard EVS XT Access, IPDirector and storage destination setup, and we also had a decent amount of time to actually get everything set up, which meant some leeway in case things went wrong – a rare luxury. 

When a brief arrives, we’ll build things here at Southwood. We’ll get the kit down and set it all back to a flattened state with fresh operating system installs and that kind of thing. Then we’ll gradually start to build it, step by step, in a rack. We’ll test it in the same way it would be set up at-site to confirm that it should work. Once it’s been thoroughly tested and we’re happy with it, it’ll be boxed up and sent over to the location, where either I or one of the other engineers will end up rigging and providing support onsite.  

Ideally, the installation onsite would be done by someone who was responsible for the test rig, but in this job, things come in so quickly that sometimes that isn’t possible. It tends to be done more on the basis of who’s available than who’s worked on it, but we do like to try and send the same people up where we can, as they’ll have that extra knowledge from the build.  

Most of the time we’ll build to what the client asks for – they’ll specify the kit they want, rather than Gravity Media having to recommend a particular setup. Occasionally there’ll be instances where they might suggest, for example, a version of Media Composer, or a piece of kit that we question the need for or the compatibility of; in those cases, we will sometimes advise or double-check. Normally the client will bear that in mind and then come back to with us with a correction or an alteration but, ultimately, it’s down to what the client decides they would like, and we’ll do our best to support that.  

One recent kit request was specifically for Mac OS Sierra, which was unusual as it is quite an outdated build at this point. Trying to find a working copy of that operating system that we could actually supply was a bit of a challenge as we hadn’t had a request for that OS for some time. Theoretically, if a client requests an obsolete operating system, it would then impact on how the software then performs on that platform. In this specific job, the client simply requested the cylinder with that OS and no additional software, so we assumed that they were using their own software when it got to site. 

That was an example of a situation where the client had their own software; in these cases, we simply flatten the hardware and supply an operating system. After that, the client can then choose to download any other applications that they want to use onto our kit. Again, it’s all down to what the customer asks for. If they then request any additional software, we do our best to get that out to them as soon as possible. 

Remote editing 

At the end of last year, when I was formally joining the engineering team, we had to do a lot of home or remote setups to enable people to work remotely. My colleagues had all been working quite extensively with this, especially Andy Emmerson, and I did end up doing quite a lot of rigs in people’s homes. It’s a definite change from doing setups in the rooms of Gravity House, which are all laid out in a fairly similar way. The setup is completely different and the infrastructure is of course less sophisticated, but the largest challenge in this case is the space constraints. Not everyone has a full spare room to house a desk and three monitors! 

To get round that, we’ll negotiate with the client and try to establish how much space they’ve actually got before we arrive. Sometimes we’ll get there and it won’t be as much as we’d anticipated, but we try to ensure that they get as much of the specified kit as possible. We’re able to work with clients pretty much anywhere across the UK, and generally they do understand that a lack of space in a location can create difficulties. 

After setup, our technical support is mostly provided over the phone; occasionally we’ll do Skype or Zoom calls so that we can see the actual screen. Sometimes we’ll ask our clients to install TeamViewer as well, so that we can remote onto the machines if we need to perform any additional maintenance from base. If it’s a software issue that we think could be resolved fairly easily, we’ll try and talk them through it over the phone first. If not, we’ll source some replacement kit, additional cables or whatever we think we’ll need, take it over to location and get it swapped out.  

What’s next?

I’ve been with the crew here at Southwood for about five years now, starting out as a junior in the warehouse, but my goal was always to become a post-production engineer and I’d been pushing for it. Finally reaching it has been a little daunting, but the last couple of jobs over the past few months have really built up my confidence, and now I’m looking forwards to pushing on and continuing to improve. 

Interest in technology was what initially attracted me to the industry. I started with a degree in Media Production and originally wanted to be an Editor because I enjoyed the aspect of chopping and changing things, but I’d always been more tech-minded than my classmates. I didn’t even realise that this was a job until I landed my work in the warehouse. It just snapped in place, really, and I realised that this was it; it’s a good fit for me.