Behind every team out in the field there’s got to be someone holding it all together in base, and that’s me. My role is to oversee the entirety of a project, from initial enquiry onwards, so I’m rarely out in the field.
The first part of my role is creating accurate quotes for the work and getting the more complex bids put out there. When an enquiry comes in, I work with the sales team to assess the technical requirements; if it’s a quote for dry hire, I can help the rental team if they need me. A project involving higher technology and people would be something I’m much more involved with right from the early stages.
When we win the project, the next step is to cross-check the hardware: we need to make sure that we have the right equipment in stock to service that job; that it’s up-to-date, that it’s been maintained and, if there are any gaps in what we need, then we may have to purchase or source items from elsewhere to fully meet the requirements.
At this point I’ll also be briefing the engineers ‒ who’ll be the ones in the field ‒ to make sure they understand what we’ve promised to the client, how we’ve intended to fulfil that promise, and how we aim to deliver. At any given time, there’ll be four or five jobs at various stages of this early process being worked on together.
Delivering the project is the next stage. I’ll oversee the whole process of getting the engineers out to clients with the appropriate kit. Most of the time, they’re absolutely fine and will get through the project unaided. But if they need any help ‒ a technical issue, something doesn’t go to plan or work as it’s supposed to ‒ then of course I’m here to back them up and support them, so they’re not out there feeling like they’re trying to fix an issue entirely on their own. This level of involvement also means I’m in the ideal position to keep my engineering skills up to date – I have to know the technicalities and how all the kit bolts together just as well as the engineers in the field.
Keeping one step ahead
Another key part of my role is looking to the future and forward planning. When it comes to investing in new kit, for example, I have to consider the evolving and developing technology that’s not necessarily in everyday use yet but is just around the corner. I need to decide what we should be buying now, and what we should not be buying now because I know there’s something better being developed.
The whole industry is moving towards higher resolution, higher frame rates, HDR – and that puts more demands on the kit we have. The kit does tend to evolve as fast as the technology does, becoming more powerful and offering more storage, but client demands evolve too. For example, as storage capacity for hosting terabytes and petabytes becomes cheaper and more readily available, the knock-on effect is that demand for both higher resolutions and higher frame rates increases, because more content can be stored. So we need to constantly assess what we can do with that technology and what clients will expect in the future. They’re always demanding the very best – and why shouldn’t they? It just means we need to know all about the next evolution of technology almost before it’s released; it’s fundamental to keep in touch with that cycle.
Thanks to COVID-19, 2020 was quieter than usual, but what kept us most busy was helping clients that were mid-post-production when lockdown struck ‒ setting them up with home-based systems so that they could continue working and complete some of the great drama productions that we’ve seen on our TV screens over the past 12 months. Home working for some simply consisted of an Avid laptop; for others, it was a complete Avid suite delivered to their door; and for others still, it was a remote working solution where they could access our hardware and software via a web interface. We aim to cater for all tastes, and the feedback has been brilliant. The technology has all worked perfectly, and our clients’ productions have all stayed on track.
The Circle is a good example – of both of how production demands and technology have kept pace with each other, and of how we and our clients have adapted since COVID-19 hit. The Circle is at the leading edge of how to put a reality TV show together; the scale of it is just so huge that ten years ago it couldn’t have been contemplated. It requires almost a petabyte of storage to cope with 40 live feeds running non-stop for several weeks. That translates into a phalanx of the latest Avid NEXIS units, connected to numerous EVSs all running permanently. Meanwhile, remote working allowed some of the editorial team to produce the latest series from literally all over the world ‒ the most distant team member being in Australia. This year’s series was a real triumph, delivered with our friends at The Farm. On these really big projects, it’s often not solely Gravity Media doing the engineering; The Farm retained overall technical management of the project and we played our part in that, looking after our role in the post-production and offering help and advice where it was needed.
The ‘next big thing’ isn’t actually new, but it is big: since 2008, we’ve been monitoring the possibility of moving the actual processing power into the cloud, rather than having it right in front of you in a desktop computer (the remote working solution I mention above). The concern back then was that, once everything moved into data centres, it might challenge our business model. It’s still a concern, but the reality for now is that it’s just not practical for everyone to work like that, for a number of reasons.
In normal circumstances, clients like to have a physical workstation right beside them: they need the reassurance that their media is there, on the computers in the same room as them, as opposed to being in a remote data centre where it’s beyond their physical control.
In addition, the online bandwidth required for transferring large quantities of media isn’t always instantly available. As technologies improve and we move more and more into UHD, where the demand for higher frame rates and greater storage also increases, it’s still very difficult to do this in the cloud and with existing internet speeds. Sometimes it’s appropriate, but the readily available processing power delivered by onsite workstations can outperform what you can get through a web interface.
Then there’s the additional outlay on large amounts of storage. Keeping the data in the cloud is not the expensive bit. The cost comes when media is downloaded from the cloud: this is the trigger point at which you’re billed an egress charge for use of the storage.
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is about which project I’ve most enjoyed working on. The answer is always Glastonbury. We’ve worked on it every time it has been held since I joined Gravity Media back in 2008: it was one of the very first projects where we pioneered EVS/AVID integration and a tapeless workflow that includes archiving all six stages. The relationship that we have had since back then with BBC Music is part of what spurred us on to be where we are now. It’s as prestigious and exciting as it appears, and the team are always eager to work on it. There are always two team members onsite during the festival; it’s a long day, so they stagger the work. We like to assign it to someone who’s done it before and knows the score, along with someone who may not have worked there yet but is experienced enough to handle the pressure of such a high-profile event. When Glastonbury 2020 had to be cancelled, and BBC’s coverage came from the archive, it was a particular pleasure to watch, knowing what a great part we’d played in creating that archive.
To find out how Gravity Media can help you with your next production, email firstname.lastname@example.org.