Subcontractor loses media
What is your recourse if your subcontractor loses your media?
I'm in a real pickle here. Hired an audio guy to record multiple mics on his hardware to individual tracks. Everyone had headphones on, mixed audio of all mics to 3 cameras. But, when I got the media today, the first 90 minutes doesn't exist. He was sincere about the oops, but that doesn't help at this point. At best, 10% or less is salvageable from the mixed audio. I'm just curious what you would do in this case because I can't even begin to figure out what to tell my client. Not paying their invoice is the least of my concerns. I will never get back what was lost. My client may decide not to pay me, or at least 1/2 of the bill. I'm sure they wouldn't have E&O, nor did I.
WOW, do I feel your pain, Steve! Certainly makes "Errors & Omissions" insurance seem like a tiny expense, but if you had it I'm doubting that it would cover your sub-contractor's mistake.
Is it at all possible for the client to let you do a re-shoot or was this an event that can't be repeated? If it's a piece with actors you could bring them in for ADR.
Huge sympathies on this one. Keep us posted.
Thanks for your condolences Nick.
Once in a lifetime event & a foray into 4 future sessions. This was more critical for audio than video to capture groups of people's discussions. All I have of the first 90 min is a mix of 8 mics with 30 people talking all at once. The part that was recorded came out exactly as anticipated. The client is more curious about the group discussions that are now lost. (I am weak in the knees to say the least.)
How did the mic signal flow?
I was thinking maybe you can create a series of EQ'd sends to isolate some conversations between some people on some of the mics. But this is a Hail Mary pass for sure.
I've had this happen before and can totally commiserate, and imagine the horrible feeling in your guts when you realised what had happened. The only thing I could do was go the client cap in hand and own up as it being my mistake. I waived their invoice and offered to reshoot for free and only charge for the post. I didn't pay the guy who made the mistake but luckily for me, the client respected the fact that I had made the offer and actually tried to work with me to deliver something useable from the rushes which I was able to invoice enough to cover my costs for the other freelancers on the original job. If there is a silver lining, we still work for them. The only possible thing to try would be if you can salvage anything from the camera feeds with something like izotope rx3. Best of British.
Everyone here is cringing.
If we haven't been there - we've been close and imagined it. So I'll add my condolences.
It's one of those "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" deals. Which suck to live through.
One instant place my brain went is to check out the dim possibility that the field recordist might be ignorant of some of the more esoteric file recovery arts - so I'd just double and triple check that whatever media he or she was recording to was in truth irrecoverable - to the point of pulling a drive and sending it to a clean room recovery service.
This might be totally useless, and you might have taken that exploration ALL the way. If so, ignore this. But it's the first place my brain went.
Hang in there. This too will pass.
Know someone who teaches video editing in elementary school, high school or college? Tell them to check out http://www.StartEditingNow.com - video editing curriculum complete with licensed practice content.
And just for future reference, not that it will do a thing to fix the current situation, Ty Ford (who you already know) does excellent sound recording for a wide variety of production environments.
Some kind of insurance would certainly help the cash flow situation. I'm curious why someone said E&O would not cover such an event; if not E&O, what would you call a policy that DOES cover losses due to subcontractor incompetence or "acts of God"?
[Mark Suszko] "what would you call a policy that DOES cover losses due to subcontractor incompetence or "acts of God""
And also, how would a completion bond affect the situation?
Funny, we just had two shoots come back with no audio on one key interview (like none) and super overmodulated audio on 14 minutes of another key interview.
Can't stress enough how important audio is in this business while we all are focused on shallow depth of field, aerial shots and gimbal shots.
Get the audio right! Hire a skilled audio tech!
This one sounds like it's gonna sting a bit.
Tilt Media Inc.
Video Production, Post, Studio Sound Stage
[Rich Rubasch] "Can't stress enough how important audio is in this business while we all are focused on shallow depth of field, aerial shots and gimbal shots."
Especially for small companies like ours where we usually go on location shoots with a tiny crew where there's no single person dedicated to monitoring and recording sound (maybe just a boom op)... that makes it doubly important to get the sound right. In those kinds of setups audio can really become a neglected stepchild, so we try to work extra hard to make sure the sound we capture is good. Fortunately a great deal of our work is MOS so we don't always have to worry about it.
As people have pointed out before... for some reason viewers will forgive bad images to a degree, but they will not suffer through bad sound at all.
The sad thing is though that Steve did what he could and did have a professional sound crew that was supposed to be taking care of that one-and-only thing... and they let him down.
Sadly he is a bit up the proverbial creek on this one....
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
[Rich Rubasch] "Funny, we just had two shoots come back with no audio on one key interview (like none) and super overmodulated audio on 14 minutes of another key interview."
Video production... with style!
Check out my Mormon.org profile.
Unfortunately there is nothing to be done for the situation you're in. There is the crux of our digital workflow, when the media is gone, it's gone.
All I can do is offer our field practices for you moving forward.
Laptop and two hard drives on site during field shoots.
All media is transferred ON SITE through the laptop to one hard drive and then immediate copied over to the second hard drive. depending on the length of the shoot, we may dump footage both at lunch and the end of the day. Cameras and audio are dumped.
Contractors keep the materials until we tell them the media has been transferred to our servers. So we technically have 4 copies of everything at that point.
Using USB3 has greatly improved the speed at which we transfer materials.
Very sorry what happened to you, but never let subcontractors walk away from a shoot unless you have at least one copy of everything first.
Walter Biscardi, Jr.
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Thanks for all the thoughts.
Some follow up:
A1 tells me that the laptop simply "stopped recording" about 10 seconds after it started and there's no media in the cache. He was also manning camera 1 but the laptop was right in front of him. What kills me more is that in building the multicam sequences, he is adjusting the mixer at 57 minutes in and still didn't notice it wasn't recording - ha! Could have been an opportunity to only lose 1 hour of material.
So in retrospect, while I have just begun to trust people to me not second-guessing their job, I will continue my nature of anal retentive, obsessive, over-the-shoulder-watching, paranoid tech-boy... just seems to work out better sometimes. So Walter, yes, what you suggest is our typical workflow. Silly me. Well, in this case even redundancy of non-existent data wouldn't have helped.
I even said at a meeting last night "audio is 75% of any video production."
For the good news: This was a 3-camera shoot with the cams relatively close to the tables. Ch1 was mix out, ch 2 was ambient cam mic on each camera. Sooooo.... I do have some salvageable audio of the individual groups (that was the purpose of the shoot in the first place, not the presenters. It was a lot of discussion at 5 tables of 7 persons; more focus group type of content). Although not perfect, I can have my editor sort out some of it and it's not all lost.
So back to my original query: What to do with the soundperson? I am not being billed for the work - their suggestion (my acceptance, along with Rolaids), and I will be billing him for my editor's time to sort the nat sound mics for usable content.
And in relation to not/reduced billing to my client, they will get my verdict on Wednesday after we have time to fully analyze what we have. But to the point of E&O-type insurance: Here's an event where they brought in nearly 30 high-level executives, lodged and fed them. So on the extreme end of doomsday thinking (which I don't subscribe to), if they deem the content unsatisfactory, can they claim that the production company would have to reimburse any of those expenses/salaries? I don't imagine this would happen, but I'm throwing it out for discussion.
I shall now enjoy a Magic Hat Elder Betty
... or 2.
WARNING: Long Post
So sorry for your disaster. We all know what that feels like. I wanted to digest your post and think about it for a couple of days and train wrecks like this have come streaming back from my repressed memories like PTSD. I have some thoughts, questions, observations and a possible solution (creative not technical). Although I am mainly a DP who often produces I am usually in charge of hiring or at least recommending all the other crew members and services so I saw some red flags in your posts I'd like to get some clarification on. At first glance it seems that whatever drive the audio was being downloaded to ran out of space and that's why the needles kept moving on VU meters but the red light disappeared, right?
You mention in Post 1 that: "Hired an audio guy to record multiple mics on his hardware". When you say "his hardware" I'd like to know is that his laptop also and if so, why a laptop? Had he done this particular work flow before? I have hired audio guys to do this sort of gig and they do not use laptops. They used sophisticated digital multi-track mixer/recorders that they were extremely familiar with. Is this A1 100% an audio geek? Or is he a generalist? I ask because...
You mention in Post 3: "He was also manning camera 1". Hmmm.....we all are having to deal with restricted budgets and need crew members to multi function but some people are better at that than others. I asked if he is a 100% audio tech because if you ask someone like that to "man the camera", even if it's a simple shot, you're adding to their stress level, dividing their attention and asking for a mistake to happen, especially if he is on intercom headsets. Thankfully he wasn't in a airplane cockpit. Since there were 8 of his mics involved I would think if I needed to scrimp somewhere it would not be in the audio area where he could easily overlook the lack of a red icon illustrating recording. Even if it was "right in front of him" he is distracted by operating the camera. I am assuming he is mainly an audio guy because he owns 8 mics but by having him "double", that to me, at my advanced age with many battle scars, is a recipe for a FU to occur. The stress at live events, where there is no net, means everyone has to hyper-focus. Also, how old is he and how long has he been doing audio? I ask because even though he owns 8 mics he could have gotten an entire audio package as a graduation present from rich parents, I don't know yet.
I don't mean to be contrarian but depending on your answers to these questions would determine in my mind whether he was in an untenable position meaning: Was he hired for something above his competency level? Was it his laptop? Does he know the recording software very well? Was ANYONE ELSE using the laptop besides him to set up card downloads, etc.? Is he old and experienced enough to smoothly handle both tasks at a live event without a sweat? Most of my disasters have been in the audio area, often when I used a guy who was new to me, asked them to use my (or rental) audio gear, they were using something they weren't familiar with. When they did screw up and it cost me money my solution was to have them not charge me the next number of days we worked together. If you have never used this guy before and know what he was capable of then he is not 100% to blame. You would have needed to hire someone you knew from previous experience could do the audio aspect while manning a camera. I have a stable of 5-8 regular audio guys, young to old, cheap to barely affordable. If I told them we have an 8 mic situation at a live event, going to 3 cameras, watch levels, manage media dumps...most all of them would push back when also asked to "man a camera". A couple I know would definitely hang up on me. The young, starving, eager beavers will do anything I ask of them and then...F It Up.
So in sum, in terms of the technical, I do not yet feel the world should collapse on him although technically it fell within his domain. It all depends on the factors above. If he is young, didn't record to a laptop before, was previously unknown to you, not highly experienced doing camera...I would have had a whiff of impending disaster a couple of days before the shoot. So got that off my chest, wasn't even sure if I should mention it, but as a freelancer myself of 37 years I can relate to both sides having been put in untenable positions. But here's my solution...
I do a lot of corporate gigs like the kind you described where they bring execs to retreats, or they bring in management consultants or motivational speakers to brainstorm, team building exercises, etc., where they break into small groups, have contests for solutions, etc. It's always a PITA when they huddle around round tables and we're expected to capture the eureka moment. You mentioned in Post 3 that you have on-camera mic audio which we all know sucks but at least you can hear what was said and you mentioned in Post 2 that they considered the audio the most important aspect. Why? Because what was said was what they need to know. So...
My mentor taught me never to raise a problem (and this is a disaster) with a client until you can present a solution, preferably several options. Even if the audio had been recorded we all know it wouldn't have been great since it was, if I'm guessing correctly, each mic was in the middle of a table in a room with 8 tables, lots of people talking simultaneously, right? My solution would be to create a couple of short, jazzy videos as examples of your solution, perhaps even before you tell them about the audio train wreck. Use the video as background, quick cut, half tone, montage like b-roll and have moveable text cool graphic treatment of the salient sound bites you discern from camera mic audio as text. After all, the eureka moment "power thoughts" light bulbs going off over heads is probably what they wanted, right? If my experience is a guide each group or table would have had someone acting as scribe writing down all their great ideas/solutions and they will still exist somewhere. You said you have to communicate with them on Wednesday so you have two full days to start throwing some samples together. Go heavy with graphics but keep the faces. Perhaps use VO too. Make lemonade out of your lemons. Your solution may be better than what they had in mind, or at least spin it that way. Save you client's butt.
Lastly, if I wanted to try to salvage the relationship for future business I would do my utmost to "protect" the person who hired me because when it hits the fan it is he or she who will be blamed, not you and this A1. After all, they hired you. So my two cents would be to forego any of your personal costs and planned profit. Just submit a much smaller invoice that covers your real costs of the other crew, gear rental. You worked for free. Steel yourself for the possibility of the project being "killed" in which case they may not want to pay anything and you can't blame them. Lick your wounds, lessons learned.
All the best,
I wonder if you could hire some people to ADR loop the key dialogue, based of the mixed-channels camera tracks. Ned's idea seems easiest to implement.
The rest below is just commiseration.
We all have similar stories somewhere in our careers. One time 2 decades back, I was hired to shoot a wheelchair athlete in the Chicago Marathon. I got his start okay, but he turned out to be so fast, (who knew they could go fast as bikes, faster, even, not us) and the hassles of getting to the finish line to set up so tedious, he surprised us and beat me and my assistant to the finish line by many minutes, so I only got the first half of the assignment. We stayed and rolled on anything approaching that finish line until dark, never saw our guy. All I could do was apologize and not bill for any of it. Stuff happens. I still got repeat work from the guy hiring me after that.
Best "worst" story I know was local, down here in Springfield, high school state basketball finals, being shot with an OB production truck for the local FOX station. All the ad time was long sold-out. Was a barn- burner of a game. They were taping a live switch in the truck for a delayed re-broadcast later that same night. 4-5 cameras, live-switched into a betacam deck. They had two recorders, but local TV being run on the "thrifty" side, didn't budget for extra tape stock for a second recorder.
First half of the game went fine. They stopped the master recording deck during half-time, to save tape, and the time code display on it was in free- run, and the record button (but not RECORD AND PLAY) was pressed... so the time code numbers were progressing the same as if the machine was in record.... but nobody remembered to actually, physically put it back in record+Play and actually verify it, by watching the reels inside the cassette shell window turning, as the second half tip-off happened.
The director and crew did a masterful job of covering a historic game with the home town heroes coming back from a huge point deficit, that went into multiple overtime with dramatic shot after shot, ... and they didn't get a second of it. Didn't know they'd missed it until the coaches and teams were already leaving the stadium.
With broadcast airtime looming just hours away.
What they did to make good was get the play by play and color guy back into position and have them record an explanation to the audience, then show the first half, then fill time with their best narrative description of the key plays of the second half. I can't imagine the embarrassment to this day, of being part of that gig, from any aspect.
Soooo glad I had nothing to do with that.
What I learned from that was, among other things, not to take the simple things for granted, but verify key items like verifying clean recording, several times. To this day, I'm suspicious of any recording system where I can't see something turning, like tape reels. And I try to always have a back-up recording system going, even if it's lower resolution. It's at least sound and picture. That's saved me a couple of times over the years, when for example some audio equipment failed.
I find it's generally people that let me down much more often than equipment, most times. When the job is small enough you can do it completely alone, you have ultimate accountability, but most bigger jobs require delegating authority and sharing responsibilities across a crew of individuals. Then the job is only as good as the worst guy on the team, but as the Producer/Director, you're still the one responsible for your crew member's mistakes. There isn't always a perfect answer to that, except to over-prepare to a ridiculous, OCD-like extent. That's what they mock me for at the shop: back-ups on back-ups on back-ups, three levels deep sometimes, which almost never need to be used...
...until suddenly, they do.
Thanks for the reply. (Please read my response as though we just had a beer and we're talking about a fishing trip and the one that got away. Simply answering questions, not a rebuttal.)
The same setup was used the same week at another gig, except that one was 5 days, 30 hours, had 16 wireless, larger Presonus console feeding to Macbook Pro running Audition. Flawless all week. The particular gig I'm referring to had a smaller Presonus console running into Presonus dedicated software. This guy and I had done this setup many times without issue; he's a seasoned guy who let one slip. It's a case of simply not being observant. For corp stuff like this I utilize more of a recording studio setup rather than a location sound attitude. 1 setup, 1 location, moderate room control, wall power, etc. Had I known there was an issue, I have no problem with asking a client to restart if necessary. (Embarrassing, but possible.)
Client not sure if any editing will be done with this, the cameras were secondary. The key point is for a group of people to review the table conversations to gain insight on the subject matter that was discussed. Other than trying to salvage the audio I have, there is no point in trying to woo or wow them with mini-edits. They'll get an honest assessment from me and I will keep the relationship. It's what I do. Your mentor is correct.
Well since you have a history with him and he's a seasoned pro I guess it must be chalked up to a bad day. Happens sometimes. Sounds like a good client to have. Hope you can keep them.
Best of luck,
Steve, I read this yesterday and thought "That has NEVER happened to me."
Then I remembered that something similar had. I was using a Betacam BVW300, which routes the audio signal to the headphone jack, and then to the tape deck, by a very delicate ribbon cable. VERY delicate, it turns out. (Yes, the camera offers monitoring off-tape as well, but I was interacting with the subjects (it was a tennis instructional tape) and didn't want to get thrown off by the audio delay, so I didn't use it.)
The wireless worked perfectly, the audio sounded great through the headphones, and of course, no audio was recorded on tape. Zero zippo zilch. Worse, it was an extremely hot day, lots of people were involved... And I didn't make a lot of tennis videos after that.
I'm glad your relationship to the client is strong enough to weather this storm, and I appreciate your sharing - and reminding me of such a delightful memory.
There are many instances I can think of when VU meters are moving and you have a false sense of security that the signal is being laid down somewhere but it is not. I recently owned the Panasonic AF100 for 4 years and if you shot variable speed, then decided to shoot 30 or 24, although the needles were moving NO AUDIO WAS BEING RECORDED. Until Panny came up with a firmware update. The forums were full of posts of shooters and soundmen whose reputation was besmirched. I got in the habit of making a note on bright orange tape and placed it on the camera.
And here's a biggie because it's usually the experienced soundmen who do this because they want to make their day easier. If we are shooting documentary style, especially in a crowd, the audio guys prefer not to be connected to the DP via cable and prefer to send the signal via wireless to the camera. OK I can understand that, especially if they are out of shape and can't keep up with me. However, I have my hands full and don't want to monitor audio. There have been several times, usually when they want to power down the receivers to save batteries like at lunch, and then we roll again. They are hearing great audio on their headsets, they see needles moving, yet unless I divide my attention and look for confirmation in the VF, there may be no audio being laid down. That has happened a couple of times. So now I try to figure out if the audio guy has a real reason to go wireless to me or is he just out of shape and can't keep up.
Also the Sony Z1U in it's hay day, the transport mechanism could stop pulling tape yet the red light would stay on in the VF. I could go on and on. Nowadays, if I have time, especially if I just met the audio guy or we're using something new/rental/strange, I do a quick test and ask for a playback before the real deal. Especially with VIPs and celebs. But the problem Steve had is scary, could be major financial repercussions. Seems like the audio guy just had a brain fart that day. Also wonder how late he was up the night before? New born baby perhaps? Who knows...
I feel your pain as well. Another option would be to provide a transcript of the discussions assuming they are discernable from the camera mic sources.
Also, since we are sharing war-stories; I have a University client that I provide recording, media backups and live streaming services. I was hired by one of their clients to JUST do a live stream. I asked the client three times (through email) if they needed me to record the events as well and they said no.
The day of the show, I was watching the venue engineer shade cameras and before the first of four events that day I asked if he was told to record them - he said no. That's when I figured it would be good to record anyway to cover my clients as-. Sure enough, about three weeks later he called me and asked where the recordings were and I reminded him that it was the venues deal to do that. He did not say a word before I told him I did a confidence recording just in case-- he learned that day about CYA!