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One Piece at a Time: Creating a More Perfect Video Workflow

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The book Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City offers a fascinating look at Ford’s spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to establish a rubber production colony in the Amazon rainforest. At one point, author Greg Grandin describes Ford’s precise calculations of what it took to build a car on his famed assembly line in Michigan:

It took 7,882 distinct tasks to build a Ford car, and he divided the number by the physical and mental capabilities of his workforce. “Strong, able-bodied men and practically physically perfect men” were required for 949 jobs; 670 could be done by “legless men,” 2,637 by “one-legged men,” 2 by “armless men,” 715 by “one-armed men,” and 10 by “blind men.” The remainder required able-bodied workers, but of “ordinary physical and mental development.”

Ford’s ability to visualize a complex job, break it down by sequence and task for maximum efficiency, and transmute his vision into endlessly repeatable action proved peerless in the annals of modern industry, and it shaped a century of mass production. If Ford could be legitimately accused of treating machines like living things and treating human beings like machines (not to mention leaving human women out of the equation entirely), he balanced the dehumanizing power of his coldly efficient assembly line with his insistence on paying his workers a living wage and with his remarkably holistic attention to building model communities for his employees (although, one might argue, he did this only to make them more productive machines).

But Ford’s assembly line also proved monumentally inflexible. In 1927, when more feature-rich competitors had rendered the spartan Model T obsolete, Ford’s famed Dearborn plant went dark for 8 months to undergo the $250 million overhaul necessary to manufacture the new Model A. Human workers seemed to have been the line’s only interchangeable parts.

None of us in the comparably varied, creative, unpredictable world of live event video production and streaming like to think of ourselves as assembly-line workers or taskmasters. But our ability to devise and implement more streamlined and efficient workflows for our productions, especially as they move us from venue to venue, arguably enhances our competitive edge and serves us even better in the field than expert camera skills or superior gear.

In Streaming Media—especially in this annual Ultimate How-To Issue—we’ve often examined live event production in terms of integrated, adaptable, small-footprint workflows rather than endeavors defined by or designed around one or more irreplaceable elements. But never has a production piece been less about the camera than in this issue’s cover story, Anthony Burokas’ “How to Become an iOS-Based Broadcaster.” Burokas describes a mobile, multi-camera, streaming workflow he’s developed for client projects built entirely around video captured with smartphones—and they’re last-year’s-model smartphones at that.

Although Burokas has logged a quarter-century of managing production-truck-based broadcasts and operating full-featured pro cameras, his iOS-based streaming workflow takes a lifetime of accrued camera skills mostly out of the equation, along with the cost of top-flight pro gear. There’s an entirely different skill set at work here. It breaks down live production into an array of interconnected tasks and asks what interlocking parts can accomplish each task without overemphasizing one production element at the expense of overall balance, breaking the budget, or compromising the mobility or adaptability of the workflow.

If the end product bears some physical resemblance to the “frankenrig” assemblages of cages, mics, monitors, and cables that DSLR filmmakers jury-rig around their cameras in the service of a meticulously crafted shot, the purpose of Burokas’ iOS broadcasting rig is entirely different. “The shot” still matters, but it’s subsumed into a process that prioritizes coverage, delivery, flexibility, and easy breakdown and reassembly over artistry. If that means looking at your most prized gear and the hard-won skills with which you operate it as simply machines at work, that’s OK; in live event production and streaming, that’s exactly what they are.

[This article appears in the April/May 2018 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "One Piece at a Time."]

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