Philip Bloom is a Cinematographer and Director who has been working in the industry for over 20 years. Specializing in documentary filmmaking but working across all genres and with varied equipment, crew sizes and formats. Philip splits his time between production and traveling all over the world teaching people about filmmaking.
“I have two G-RAID with Thunderbolt drives at home. I have never been in a situation where I needed that extra backup, but all it takes is one time.”
“I kind of fell into this career,” admits Philip Bloom, one of the most highly regarded and pioneering DLSR filmmakers in the world. “I wasn’t one of these budding filmmakers, like J. J. Abrams, who have been making films since they were knee-high.”
For better or worse, one of Bloom’s father’s friends happened to be a photographer, and he counseled 18-year-old Philip to forget about photography. Digital was coming, and it was going to steamroll the industry. He suggested that young Bloom look at film and TV instead. Like any kid, Philip loved watching television, and his predilection for politics drew him specifically to news broadcasting. The fit seemed perfect.
“I wrote to every TV company under the sun,” says Bloom. “Back then, there were like 15 in the UK. It is now like two or three. But everybody turned me down – except for one. I got into SkyTV, which had just been started up by Rupert Murdoch, back in 1989. They gave me a job doing the most menial tasks possible, including getting the news editor his wife’s birthday presents. As soon as I saw what news crews really were doing, though, I knew that was it. It was one of those moments.”
Dogged determination to work every possible camera job soon earned Bloom the attention he deserved and the foreign assignments he craved, covering everything from Cannes to being accidentally bombed by American jets in Kosovo. From there, it was a short hop into more creative documentaries, but when that channel dried up, Bloom had to decide between taking a step backward into 90-second news spots or hopping off a cliff into freelance work. The choice was obvious, because only one of those two directions offered any challenge. Years of such challenges ultimately took him to Discovery HD, multiple Best Documentary awards, one of the most respected blogs in the industry, and work with Lucasfilm on the motion picture Red Tails.
A Different Grind
As a self-employed freelancer, Bloom found himself confronted with plenty of new challenges, some artistic, some financial, and many that were technical. Among these was the ever-mounting pressure of storage arising from camera capabilities migrating, as Bloom says, “from reasonable to ridiculous.”
“Every time you think hard drive capacity is really fantastic, cameras start producing these massive files. You’re like, oh, my God – I shoot 30 minutes in 4K and it’s 128GB on one PC. RAW video jumps you up to 240GB in 30 minutes or even more. A lot of people aren’t factoring in the costs of asset management, and it’s terrifying. If you don’t budget in the backend, you are asking for an absolute disaster.”
Bloom should know. He suffered one such disaster when chronicling a year of his life on the road. It was a personal project rather than one for a client, but for craftsmen of Bloom’s caliber, nearly all footage has commercial value. He suffered four hard drive failures in quick succession, two of which were critical. All drives were the same brand.
Storage in Action
He took the lesson to heart. Today, Bloom’s workflow begins with making sure he has enough camera flash storage to handle an entire day’s shooting. Otherwise, without having a dedicated digital imaging technician (DIT) to juggle and transfer media throughout the day, says Bloom, “you are going to screw up, guaranteed.” At the end of a shooting day, he backs up to two external hard drives, and one of these, in turn gets backed up to two additional drives at home for intermediate archiving.
“At that point, I have two G-Drive Mobile drives – one that is my editing drive, and one that’s my main backup – that I carry with me. Because I am traveling on the road a lot of the time, I’m always editing projects which need to be cut, but I always bring my edit drive and my backup drive, and I have two G-RAID with Thunderbolt drives at home. I have never been in situation where I needed that extra backup, but all it takes is one instance of that to happen, and you’ll be like, “Thank God I have that backup at home.”
Of course, since Bloom shoots massive amounts of high-def video throughout the year, his process generates untold terabytes of files now spanning hundreds of hard drives.He jokes about fearing to find himself on an episode of Hard Drive Hoarders someday, surrounded by 65,000 drives and unable to reach his front door. To keep his storage even remotely under control, he culls render files at the end of each job. The original footage, rushes, and edits get saved, but everything else is flushed. This frees up the editing drives for reuse elsewhere and helps lower total storage costs. Even with this step, though, Bloom still faces tremendous data sprawl and is now hiring a full-time editor who will also handle media management. He notes that data organization, like life organization in general, is essential for long-term success. Professionals need an economical organization system that works for them and doesn’t waste money, and that means reusing drives whenever prudent.
Of course, field use – and reuse – puts significant strain on drives, which is why Bloom is careful if not downright paranoid about the drives he uses for his work.
“As you can see, I need hard drives – we all do – but hard drive failure quite real. The only brand I have ever bought which has never given me a single failure has been G-Technology, and that for me is an incredibly good statistic. That makes you want to buy a particular brand.”
Caution Should Prevail
Despite Bloom’s sterling record with G-Technology, he still assumes that, somehow, there will be a failure. He lost footage once and plans to never have a repeat occurrence. Reliability, he says, should never replace best practices when working with file-based media.
Similarly, Bloom emphasizes that people shouldn’t place all their trust in insurance. While he believes that “if you don’t insure your gear, then you’re crazy,” but insurance can never recover unique, lost footage. The fatal mistake that too many amateurs (and even some professionals) make is to treat their footage as just another item in their daily kit. It’s not.
“If there is any part of the filmmaking process that a lot of people cut corners on, it’s storage,” says Bloom.“ But this is the most valuable thing of all. The one thing that can go terribly wrong will be the backend, so you have to make sure this is really solid. That means using really reputable companies such as G-Technology for your drives.