Back from the 2008 Association of Moving Image Archives conference (AMIA) in Savannah, a beautiful city. No archive visits, but then Savannah is an archive in itself, and extremely rich in metadata, eg:
It was a good conference. A couple of themes were dominant. Key for me was the focus on archiving in the context of production environments. I’ve worked in production-oriented archives since 1990 (with a three-year hiatus in there somewhere) and these are not new issues. Nor are the underlying principles new, in their essence. But as organizations like ours transition more fully to digital formats and systems the imperatives are greater and the complexities are too. In the session he chaired, Moment One: Two Case Studies of Preservation-oriented Production Workflows, Chris Lacinak (Audiovisual Preservation Solutions) noted that “Persistence by default,” possible in the physical world of tapes, does not exist in a file-based one.
Unless we are prepared to deal with massive losses of assets, culture, history, we need to embrace the following:
- Metadata supporting preservation/archiving needs to be incorporated into the workflow as early as possible;
- Archival considerations should be central rather than peripheral to workflow and production choices;
- Existing production practices can be leveraged into preservation practices.
Chris and Brian Hoffman (NYU) talked about the Merce Cunningham project, which entailed setting up a workflow to record, edit and archive Mondays with Merce, which is recorded and edited by the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio, and then archived by NYU.
Kara Van Malssen (NYU) and David Rice (Thirteen/WNET) addressed issues pertaining to the Preserving Digital Public Television Project. PDPTV is a partnership of WNET, WGBH, NYU and PBS under the aegis of the Library of Congress; NYU’s role is to create a prototype repository for the project. The goal is to push the metadata creation/capture upstream into the content production process. NYU is working with the program “Religion and Ethics” for the prototype. Dave spoke about the project from the WNET perspective, outlining some of the challenges of metadata capture during production. These are considerable: The P2 cameras they have begun using create seven files each time the camera starts; one producer came back from a shoot in Egypt with 13,000 files. Using automated metadata extraction tools Dave has created utilities to derive eight catalog records.
- There is a continuing lack of awareness regarding the ROI in implementing preservation-oriented practices (and this to me is huge, and we need data, and more case studies…)
- There is a dearth of tools
- Preservation-oriented workflows should not be burdensome to creators
Both Dave and Chris are working with WITNESS in developing our own workflows; the issues are much the same but it was great to hear more in-depth about similar projects.
Peter Kaufman (Intelligent Television) chaired a session called Building “The South” which tried to bridge the gap between archives and producers from the other side. Peter noted the historically poor relationship between producers and archives, eg the former sometimes wreaking havoc on collections and donating inadequately documented or poorly maintained material at project’s end. “The South” is a multi-part documentary series being produced for PBS; producers Stephen Ives and Joel Westbrook have stated their commitment to incorporating a workflow informed by archival preservation and metadata considerations. Ives showed an excerpt from the program (about Louis Armstrong and race relations surrounding Mardi Gras in New Orleans), which is meant to be a series of character-driven programs with digressions into other themes.
Westbrook said his whole career is in boxes somewhere but that he doesn’t even know where a lot of the finished programs are, much less the outtakes. He also illustrated how hard it is for filmmakers to shoot outside of the strict requirements of a documentary, for example to shoot extra footage or interviews. Money is always the driver, and the lack of it the biggest impediment to considering processes outside the minimum requirements for production. The lowest-paid person on the production team logs the footage. (and a log which is perfectly serviceable for production purposes is often wholly inadequate for archival ones.)
One suggestion during the Q&A suggestion was that producers work in partnerships with archives from the get-go; someone suggested that an archive in such a partnership might even provide metadata/cataloging support during the production process, rather than after. A great idea, although most archives hardly have these kind of resources.
So here’s my question: Is there a way to raise consciousness among producers and filmmakers? What tools can archives give them? To what extent do independent filmmakers think about their archives? I also didn’t really hear much concretely from Ives and Westbrook as to how they are going to achieve this within the context of this production. I’d love to see a follow-up session next year.
At WITNESS our work is with grass-roots groups comprised of media non-professionals and novices, many operating with limited technological capacity, sometimes under threat, often with extremely limited resources, speaking a multitude of languages. It’s a huge challenge. We have very defined workflows but they are by necessity to some extent variable and contingent, given the range of production environments we archive from. But I sometimes tell people it’s no more difficult to get good metadata from an activist in rural Kenya than it was from the typical American news producer when I worked in television, and that is only a slight exaggeration.
My point is that this is universal problem. We need better tools, but more importantly we need norms that diffuse archival processes of preservation and metadata creation throughout the media lifecycle.