After much pitching, persuading, and begging, you have control of the video for your latest production masterpiece.

Now what?

It is all too easy to get tied up in the hardware of video without thinking too much about why you want it in the first place. Just see how far the mantra of “I don't know what I want, but I know what I like” will get you when you are in rehearsals, and you have an unhappy artist onstage. Waiting to see what content comes with a media server system is probably not the smartest thing you will ever do. It is easy in an industry obsessed with the latest and greatest technological marvel to forget that the thought and planning behind content, and the ways to acquire that content, are just as involved as any lighting design, if not more so.

At the top end of the scale of ways to acquire content is going directly to the video directors and video artists who create video imagery for a living. A number of these people, such as Jim Gable of Gray & Balding or Kimo Proudfoot of Hobra, come from the world of the conventional video director. Gable was the video director for a number of Sting's recent live DVDs. Proudfoot, in collaboration with band member Joe Hahn, has created most of Linkin Park's music videos. Video artists such as Vello Virkhaus of V Squared Labs are adept at fulfilling the vision of others. If your project is going to require MTV-quality images, it is probably unrealistic to think that you and your $500 video camera (or even $2,000 video camera) are going to cut it. You need some professional help, and in more ways than one.

There is nothing wrong in working with other creative people to make your ideas a reality. It is worth remembering that you bring valuable ideas to the table that a conventional video director might not take into account. The user of video imagery on the live stage has to deal with matters of timing and spontaneous accents that the director of a music video does not have to consider. A prerecorded piece of music never changes, but as we all know, what the band on stage will do next is anyone's guess. Therefore, the job of the visual designer is not simply one of creating wallpaper but one of layering images and reserving complementary footage for moments that may or may not happen. Getting help from specialists does not mean that you have to lose control.

STOCK OPTIONS

At the other end of the content spectrum are the companies that specialize in stock footage. This is footage that has been shot for some other reason and has been sold, probably as a job lot to the stock footage company. If you live in a major production center, such as Los Angeles or New York, you will be drowning in companies that specialize in the broadcast market. If you need footage of people getting on a bus in China, for example, chances are you can go to a stock footage house looking for just that and be given nine hours of footage to review. Most stock footage providers are also on the Internet, sometimes with an entire archive online and sometimes with samples only. It should be noted, however, that such a stock footage house is accustomed to working only in the broadcast market, and most do not understand the live market at all. Many stock footage companies want to know exactly how and when their footage will be used, and they bill you, accordingly, rather than give you a royalty free license to do as you will.

Content companies, such as Artbeats, Digital Juice, and A Luna Blue, and live entertainment specific providers, such as Scene Change and Inlight Gobos, provide footage that has fewer or no restrictions on its use. However, the same issues that the music business faces regarding the downloading of music also applies to digital content. Most content houses, even the ones specializing in broadcast content, are small, independent companies. They are trying to earn a living, just like you. Stealing content by using footage outside the realms of the agreement under which it was sold does no one any good, particularly the user. Apart from opening yourself and your clients up to potential legal action, it's just plain wrong. Widespread abuse of content licenses will mean that content will get more expensive and become lower in quality, if not disappear all together.

This also goes for multiple uses of the same footage. There seems to be a generally accepted rule, if not strictly accurate in terms of the license agreement, for using software on multiple computers: “If it will be used on more than one computer at a time, then it requires multiple copies.” This also applies to content. If a rental company purchases one copy of a piece of CAD software and distributes it to all its employees, we would consider this wrong. The same goes for a rental company with two media servers. Content should be bought for each machine or the company should implement a strict policy of wiping drives after every show. This is not a bad idea anyway, in case of problems with custom content left over from a previous show.

As a renter of media severs and, one assumes, a purchaser of content, it is essential that you control and secure your content. Forgetting to delete your content off of a rental system means that some yahoo VJ could be using your very expensive content at his next rave or, even worse, making it available for download from his website. Where does this leave rental companies and, for that matter, the manufacturers of media severs who want to provide populated systems? By its very nature, digital content must be able to be copied back and forth, so how does the creator protect his or her investment?

Copy protection of the individual clips of footage is almost certainly a recipe for disaster. Who wants to be explaining to an irate client five minutes before doors open that you cannot do something because of copy protection? Instilling in clients, users, and everyone else that the protection of content is just the right and honorable thing to do has the most chance for success. There are always going to be abuses, but we can make it professionally unacceptable.

OTHER INVESTMENT OPTIONS

There is a middle ground between going to a professional video director, shooting it yourself, and going to a stock footage house. You can always cut a deal with a content creator. If you have ideas for cool footage or a series of pieces but don't have the budget to develop them, why not work with a content provider to develop something that they can then sell? Content providers are always looking for ideas, and most of them are small one- or two-person operations. If the content you want is not so specific as to be useless for anything other than your current project, perhaps you can strike a deal. There are also individuals out there such as Sean Bridwell, who developed some of the content that is shipped with the High End Systems Catalyst system, who can create content for you.

Whether you decide to shoot your own, research online, research in someone's archive, work with a content creator, or just hand over the job to a video director, content and how you protect your investment is likely to become part of your life for the duration of your career. I was, therefore, both heartened and impressed when UK television programmer and designer Ross Williams came to see me recently. Williams was one of the first people in the UK to purchase his own Wholehog® II and then sell himself as an operator who comes with his own console. He is also one of the first programmers to purchase his own Catalyst system. It occasionally goes out for rental on its own, but its prime use is with Williams as the operator. Profits from the rental of the Catalyst system are plowed directly back into the purchasing of content. Each time a client uses Williams' system, he has more content available. This has the added bonus of making clients partners in Williams' venture, and therefore, they have significant incentives to protect the integrity of his investment.

Perhaps Williams has found a model for the future. Content has the potential to be far more valuable than the hardware it is used with and stored on. A visual designer or programmer who has access to a vast library of footage is likely to be in demand just as much as a programmer who came with a console a few years back.

It's a brave new world out there, but don't believe the hype. Media servers are all about what you put into them, and that is how it should be.

THE SPLURGE

Custom Content Resources:

Sean Bridwell
www.azulmediagroup.com

Ross Williams
mail@ross-williams.co.uk

Vello Virkhaus
www.vellov.com

ON A BUDGET

Stock Content Resources:

a Luna Blue
www.alunablue.com/

Artbeats Software Inc.
www.artbeats.com

Digital Juice
www.digitaljuice.com

eFootage
www.efootage.com

InLight Gobos
www.inlightgobos.com

Scene Change
www.scene-change.com