You Can't Have Enough Drives

Thumb My tower of drives

Don't let these words make you shiver - "You backed up last night, right?"

Six years ago I line produced my first tapeless feature.  Now I never want to see tape again.  But instead I now wrangle a TON of hard drives.  So how do you plan for this on a low budget film?  Here's a few pointers:


For compressed HD, rent/buy four to six cards, at least 16Gigs each.  If you're shooting 2/3/4K, rent two to four drives.  You don't want to stop because you're out of space, so don't skimp here.

Rent or buy a small card to keep in your pocket.  This is for grabbing the seen-out-the-window miracle shot without having to reach into another case to load the camera.


Someone needs to transfer the footage from the camera and sound system to your master drive, then wipe the cards for re-use.  Ideally, this is your assistant editor or digital image technician (DIT), but if you can't afford either, make sure whoever's doing it knows the workflow.  On my last film, the DP did it at the end of the day.

The wrangler will also need to label the cards and track the state of each one, using a spreadsheet or paper log.


What you transfer the footage to.  I like LaCie Rugged drives because they're pretty durable.  If you're shooting a narrative on compressed HD (H.264 or XDCAM EX), you can probably get away with 500Gigs or 1TB.  If you're shooting a doc, you'll need at least 2TB.  If you're shooting at 2/3/4K, you'll need a RAID (see below).


Holds an exact copy of your footage.  Back your masters onto this drive every night, then lock it up somewhere safe after the shoot.


For storing your stills and electronic press kit (EPK) footage.  Make sure to back this up as well.


Over the course of post you'll deal with a large variety of material (transcoded clips, sound files, projects, renders, VFX/titles, music, temp Quicktimes, etc.)  So you'll need 10-15 times your camera master's capacity in drives.  My camera master was 500Gig;  I have 12 Terabytes of post storage, including:

(1) internal 2TB work drive

(3) external 2TB drives:

  • one backup of the work drive
  • one for other post staff (editor, sound designer and VFX artist)
  • one for the colorist

(1) external 4TB drive containing backups of EVERYTHING and my online files; this is my "ultimate backup"

Buy only what you need to get through each stage of post.  Drives usually get cheaper per megabyte over time.


Get an eSATA card (they're pretty cheap) and multiple-interface drives (USB/Firewire/eSATA).  eSATA is faster than Firewire.  Multiple interfaces means you can use your drive anywhere.


If you're shooting at 2/3/4K, buy a RAID card and a 12-to-16TB external RAID and additional drives.  You'll also need a couple of 2TB shuttle drives.


I prefer to back up my project files and media manually; others use Retrospect or Time Machine.


Set up folders with the project name (or acronym) and type of files (ex. "FIT-SoundMasters").  Label the drives themselves with your name, project title, and phone/email - your post house will thank you.