Setting Up Dailies On Location When All You Want is a Burrito and a Good Night Sleep
Over the years I’ve had the incredible good fortune to work on many remote dailies jobs all around the world. They can be amazingly fun and there’s nothing better than being paid to travel, but the stakes are high with a lot of responsibility resting on your shoulders. I decided to write this blog to share common challenges on travel jobs, which are often not reflected in PR-focused magazine articles and on-camera interviews. Instead, I’ll give you a glimpse into the raw, unfiltered reality of some of the challenges you will face setting up dailies in a different state, or country.
I recently returned from six weeks in Budapest starting up dailies on a pilot. Although we knew about it for a while, we weren’t officially awarded the job until two weeks before day one of production. This isn’t ideal on an in-house job, but even scarier for a remote job in a country where you don’t speak the language. I immediately began working with our Engineers to make sure we had everything we needed gear-wise, tested and ready to ship in only two days. Therefor allowing time for the gear to clear customs and give us time to set up once we arrived in Budapest.
With only two days remaining before I had to travel, I had to get myself packed and ready to be gone for over a month. It was a whirlwind, but my dailies tech, Patrick, and I were ready. We arrived in chilly Budapest with only four work days left before production began. When we arrived, we had no designated office yet. An office is a must for dailies since we need to be able to make it dark for color correction, as well as be able to lock the door, since we are the keepers of the original negative. Aside from this surprise, our gear was also held up at customs. Challenges like this are things you need to be prepared for when traveling for work.
When our gear did finally arrive, we were given two tables from production, which we set up in a hallway to confirm our gear was working. It wasn’t until day one of production that we were given our office. I had to move all the gear myself and make sure it was all still working before the first drive of footage was delivered. Knowing how to set up all the gear is a necessary skill on travel shows, as there is a decent chance you may need to re-wire things.
The Power of Power
On international jobs, understanding different types of electricity and voltage ratings is even more important.
The first problem I ran into was our step-down transformer, used to convert European to US power, was shipped with a UK plug and not a European one. In situations like this, Google is a lifesaver and Google translate is even better, even if it’s not 100% accurate, it’s usually in the ballpark. I found an electronics store on Google and we made a trip to get a power adapter and a few other miscellaneous items.
Reading the boxes is extra important when buying electronics in other countries. Luckily, many of them are in English and or multiple languages. Making sure you’re buying the right thing will save a lot of time and frustration, especially with things that need power. You want to be sure they can work with your gear from other continents.
Much like when you’re on set, you don’t want to just start plugging things in to available sockets. On set, the electrics (or sparks) will yell at you for doing this. In the production office, the building manager will come after you as will everyone else who was also connected to the circuit you just tripped by plugging something in that wasn’t the right voltage.
Most products these days do have both 120 and 240, but there is nothing scarier than plugging in your $15,000 monitor into an unclearly labeled socket. If you fry that monitor, it will be challenging and expensive to replace and your boss and the engineering team back home will be pretty annoyed, to say the least. Although I’ve never fried a piece of gear, I’ve blown out several power strips and I’m happy to say we didn’t blow any fuses and didn’t fry any equipment on this show.
Troubleshooting When No One is Around
Once we got our dailies station up and running, we faced some new challenges. We had to set up and test a static IP for sending dailies back to Los Angeles. Even with all of the communication platforms available to our team, with a 9 hour time difference between Budapest and Los Angeles, it is common that you will have to make executive decisions with the best information you have. This is always nerve wracking, but sometimes you can’t wait for people to get back to you.
Dailies is a unique job where everything is an emergency. I try to answer all emails right away. My job requires me to be available 24/7 to answer questions and solve problems. Not everyone else’s job requires this same sense of urgency, so knowing when to make decisions and when to wait for a reply, is extremely important. Some clients like to be included and consulted on every decision and some don’t mind leaving the decisions to you, as long as they get their dailies on time and everything backed up properly.
It is key to have a dailies tech that can handle working in high pressure, less than ideal situations and have them understand that you’re doing everything in your power to make their job easier. Even if you aren’t actually making a difference, letting them know you’re on their side and share their frustration is very important. Bonding over the lack of good Mexican food is a great place to start.
Pilots generally, and remote pilots specifically, can lead to a lot of sleepless nights. The more prep time you receive, the better your chances of getting everything right on night one.
One particularly challenging night, Patrick woke me up for support. I remote logged in to take a look and accidentally turned the display brightness on my laptop all the way dark, so it looked like my laptop had crashed. I yelled a frustrated expletive about being thwarted at every turn and we both had a good laugh.
Finding the humor in vexing circumstances is critical. Having a tech that understands I’m not frustrated at them, but the situation, when dealing with unforeseen technical challenges in the middle of the night, is key to a healthy working relationship. Remote jobs generally find you spending much more time with your co-workers than you normally would and it’s always nice when you don’t want to kill each other.
Maintaining Good Morale After Four Challenging Weeks
Before I joined Sim, I had the experience of feeling totally alone when I was a dailies tech on a remote job. I was away for three months and all my coworkers worked different hours than I did. The LA office of the company never reached out to see how I was doing, or ask if I needed anything. They even sent swag to the other members of the team, but not me. I felt abandoned and forgotten and my bosses only communicated with me when something went wrong so it seemed like that was all they thought of me.
Working nights can be lonely already, but also having the people you are working with not show any empathy or appreciation for your hard work is demoralizing. This past job took an emotional toll that did affect my work and I nearly left the industry once it ended. It was a trial then, but I’ve tried to carry the lessons I took from that experience into my role as a Workflow Supervisor now at Sim. I try to always let my techs, the engineers in LA, and anyone else I’m working with know they are seen, heard, and appreciated.
Morale is everything on remote jobs. Not having the comforts of home and living out of a hotel for extended periods gets old fast. Even adjusting to wearing clothing that feels stiffer and itchier because there is no fabric softener and everything is air-dried, can take its toll after a while.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting to be in a new country that you want to see and explore, but remember you are there to work. You may have to postpone your trip to Vienna until next weekend because – surprise, they tell you at 4pm on Friday, that they will be shooting on Saturday and post is working the weekend – so they need everything right away. It’s disappointing, but it’s part of the gig. These things happen on non-location jobs as well, but being away where your job is pretty much your only focus is different. It’s important to get out of the hotel and the office and just be somewhere else for a bit.
One day near the end of the shoot I finished my work early and there were still a few hours before the footage would arrive at the office. I shot Patrick a text and said, “I’m going to Hero’s Square, wanna come?” We looked at some statues, watched some speed skaters, walked a bit in a park and had some food. We were only there maybe 90 minutes, but the feeling of doing something outside of work was amazing. I remembered there was a world outside of this pilot and it improved both our moods tremendously.
Patrick and I did of course get out and see some spectacular places on the weekends, which also helped. If you’ve never been to Bratislava, I can’t say enough about how much fun it was.
Cultural Sensitivity In and Out of the Office
Because I don’t speak Hungarian, I mostly relied on the numbers at the checkout. Total is 39,999 Ft? Okay, here you go, no speaking necessary. Many people have some English, but as a guest in their country, I try not to rely on locals helping me out. Often, they are happy to assist, but I find making an effort in their language, even if it’s terrible, goes a long way.
I once spent three weeks in Norway where pretty much everyone speaks fantastic English, but learning to say, “I don’t understand Norwegian, do you speak English?” in Norwegian, was appreciated. This also surprised some people who weren’t used to people trying to learn their language.
Much like maintaining office morale, I also believe in being a considerate traveler. The Office PA I mentioned earlier, had much better English by the end of the show. Way better than my Hungarian. Although it was frustrating in the moment when he didn’t understand why what I was asking for was so important. He did however lead me to someone who spoke both languages and we were able to work through the problem.
Is it slightly more on him to learn English, as this is an American production, than it is on me to be able to communicate in the local language? Probably, however what I was asking was very specific and technical. Being sensitive to that is important, especially as this is someone I was going to be working with and needing things from.
Never Really Wrapped
Even after the main unit wrapped, they shot four more days of 2ndunit, as well as two units in other countries. We remained in Budapest to process the 2ndUnit and flew back to LA to process the two other shoots.
In the end, we spent six weeks in Budapest, and I would absolutely do it again. Amazing people, lots to do, fantastic food, and the feeling of a job well done. I finally did get my burrito and it was everything I wanted it to be. Now I just need to get my cat to talk to me again.
Rachel McIntire, Workflow Supervisor