“Hell on Wheels” SIM Digital Reinvents the Rental House Model
to Serve Productions in the Digital Age
October 10, 2013
A lot has changed since 2009. Back then, SIM Digital was doing brisk business, renting cameras, editorial systems and other gear to film and television productions across North America. SIM had been in the rental business for nearly 30 years, but the type of gear its customers were using was changing. Productions were abandoning 35mm film and instead shooting with digital cameras. That shift involved more than new cameras, the entire production model had to be reinvented to support images captured as files rather than on celluloid.
SIM quickly realized that, in order to help its customers avoid such problems, its business model needed to change. It began collaborating with Bling Digital, a boutique specialist in data services, to develop custom workflow solutions. SIM supplied the cameras and Bling handled video assist, dailies and data services. The companies’ engineering staffs worked together to iron out workflow issues so that productions wouldn’t experience technical snafus. They first applied the formula to the USA series Covert Affairs, and it worked so well that other shows quickly followed: Suits, Warehouse 13, Against the Wall and Psych, among others.
Problems between the camera department and post vanished. Technical issues were resolved internally. “If there was a bad cable, we’d know about the problem before production was aware of it and have it solved,” DeBoer notes. “It gave a huge boost to producers’ confidence level. They no longer had to worry about technical issues. If a problem occurred, we didn’t point fingers, we just fixed it.” SIM eventually bought Bling and integrated it into its post-production department.
The AMC series Hell on Wheels is an example of just how far SIM has come in four years. “We do camera, dailies, manage a high-speed pipeline from Calgary to L.A., and support editing suites in both cities,” notes DeBoer. “Dailies get pumped directly to our office in L.A. where the show’s Avids are located. They do the edit on-site and the execs review the shots there.”
Hell on Wheels Co-Producer Peter Chomsky asked SIM to redesign the show’s workflow as it was about to begin its second season. “When I came onto the show, they were shooting everything on Alexa cameras, loading that material onto drives, shipping those drives to Technicolor in Vancouver, processing the dailies there and then piping them down to Technicolor in Los Angeles for delivery to the cutting team,” Chomsky recalls. “Editorial started out a day and a half behind production, and that was not a good place to be. I thought we could do better.”
For season two, SIM’s Bling engineers set up a dailies processing facility adjacent to the show’s set in Calgary. Data files were processed as they came off the cameras and dailies were sent via high-speed Aspera connection to the show’s finishing facility. The editorial team was located just five minutes away and picked up hard drives containing the dailies there.
For the show’s current season, the workflow has been further refined. Now dailies are piped directly to the show’s production offices where they are immediately available to the editors. “They arrive on a hard drive that’s near my desk,” says Chomsky. “Dailies download automatically overnight and assistants grab the drives in the morning.”
The workflow is configured so that all dailies, whether captured by Alexa or GoPro cameras, are delivered as ProRes 444. That simplifies the handling of data through post. “We finish in 444,” says Chomsky. “The master dailies drive that is shipped from Calgary goes to the finishing facility for online and then to the VFX house where they use it to do their pulls. Everything is speaking the same language all the time.”
The workflow is efficient and virtually error-free, says Chomsky, and the fact that production is in Calgary, while post is in Los Angeles is immaterial. “SIM/Bling came into this with a fresh approach using current technology,” Chomsky observes. “That’s given them an edge, especially over post houses that are still reliant on equipment that’s not state-of-the-art.”
Although camera rentals are still a big part of SIM’s business, it’s servicing shows like Hell on Wheels all the way through to post production where the company really excels. “We consider ourselves a partner to the producer,” DeBoer says. “It’s all about moving data now. Productions want to be able to move data from point A to point B without problems or confusion. We see our role as making the producer’s life as simple as possible.”
About SIM Digital
With offices across the USA, Canada and China, SIM Digital is a world-class rental facility specializing in digital production equipment and workflow services. SIM offers one of the largest and most diverse inventories of the latest digital cinematography tools from top manufacturers including ARRI, Sony, RED, Panasonic, Canon, Fujinon, Angenieux, Zeiss, Cooke. In tandem with its innovative Bling Digital division, the company offers the industry's most comprehensive workflow solutions for feature and television production, encompassing cameras, data, dailies, offline editorial, finishing and archiving. For more information, visit simdigital.com