Discover the secrets of a successful backup workflow

Want to know how to reduce the risk of losing data? Director and producer Sander van Iersel shares his tips for a successful backup workflow in this article.

Whether it took months of planning or you quickly gathered your gear this morning, now it’s time for action! During a shooting day there are a lot of creative choices you have to make. Therefore the nitty-gritty processes like signing a quitclaim and doing a continuity check often shift to the background. There is however a workflow which often starts too late and can even have disastrous consequences when ignored: the backup workflow.

The moment you lose your data, you have no excuse towards your customers. In some cases the recordings have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For this reason you cannot afford to have no backup.


A drawer full of disks
During my career I came across many creative professionals who deal very differently with making a safe back-up. Whether it is a central NAS, a whole service room or a draw with plastic drives with sticky notes on them. A lot of creatives think they have a good backup system but when I tell them that they are at high risk they are startled.      


One backup is no backup
Regardless which data medium you use, your data doesn’t have eternal life, even if you don’t use your hard disk at all. In fact most hard disks do not like it, when they are not used on a regular basis.
Therefore I recommend to make three copies of all your active data:

  • One work disk on which you have your current project. Here you can make adjustments and work towards an export.
  • One backup where you have quick access to, in case of deleting something from your work disk or when your work disk has an error.
  • An off-location backup, so that if something disastrous happens to your workplace, your data is safe.

 Discover the secret of a successful backup workflow1


Also a smart way to be extra safe, is doubling your backup automatically in a raid 1 configuration. For example: you can use NAS and software like hedge to migrate all data in an organized way. There are also a lot of services where you can upload your data online. This way you considerably reduce the risk of data loss.


The chaos of productions
Most of the professionals that I know, have some good solutions for making a backup in their post-production phase. But at this stage it is already too late. The need for a safe backup actually begins earlier, on the moment that you want to transfer you data from your camera. Often I see crew members bumbling with their cards on location. One laptop on which everything is saved internally and everything is saved through the finder program on a mac laptop. This results in a card that is formatted too early and a folder that is copied incorrectly.

The backup process during production takes a lot of time, there has to be space for a laptop with power and all the disks. This can be very time consuming for a full day of shooting. If you want to do your backups in a safe way during production, then this must be tackled by a digital imaging technician. When there is no D.I.T. present and you want to make a backup on location as easy and safe as possible there are some things you can do in preparation:

  • Think about which codecs and data-rates you want to use for the day. This way you can predict how much data you are going to use.
  • Then estimate how much storage space you need and be sure that it fits on your disk. Take the double amount with you for the backup.
  • Calculate the data transfer time per card and put time in the schedule for this.
  • Prepare the locations for the footage with names and folders in, for example: Post-Haste.
  • Set up automation of your copy software (e.g. Carbon Copy Cloner and Hedge) in advance. This way you only have to press one button when a card needs to be unloaded.
  • Tell your DP that he or she cannot format the cards on location.

 Sander 6


It is important to have a good workflow during and after a shooting day. This way the preparations you have done will not go to waste. Some things to consider:

  • You can transport the hard disks separately. In two different bags with two different crew members. Or you can leave one disk with a DP when you are shooting several days.
  • Only format your cards when there is a backup of a disk at the office in the central backup system.
  • Leave your raw footage on the disks and only erase the disk if you need it for another project or when the current project is ready to be archived.


Automated backups on location
Now I hear you thinking, this is a lot to arrange altogether. Not something you like to do if you want to spend your time doing creative things. Yet no professional can escape making a safe backup.However, I think that making on-site backups doesn’t have to be a hassle. In the past few weeks I tested a device that can automate the whole back-up workflow with a high speed. This way you still have time for the other important activities on the shooting day. If you want know more about this device, read my next article about my review of the NPS-10, an ultra-fast backup hub in pocket size.


Sander BW

About the author: working as an editor and post-production assistant, Sander van Iersel has seen a lot of different sides of the media industry. He worked on projects for international tv such as National Geographic and he travelled through Africa, Iceland and the Himalayas as a time lapser and photographer. Currently he works with his crew as a director and producer making media formats about science and nature.


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