The Machine Room

The machines rooms. The haven that all runners look towards as a way out from dashing about with food and beverages. The machine rooms are a symbol of upward movement in Envy. Here are where the “assistants” are e.g. the online assistants, the audio assistants etc. They assist the main operators who work in the suites.

In order to move up in Envy you have to do internal training in the machine rooms and clock up hours. You can train in whatever machine room you like if it is the route you wish to take. Machine Room 1 (MCR1) tends to be the busiest as audio mixing is the most competitive currently in Envy with quite a few people vying for positions there amongst the runners.

As an intern/part-time runner in Envy I also have the opportunity to train in the machine rooms as much as I’d like. Tom knew that I was interested in colour grading and suggested I try spend my time in Machine Room 2 (MCR2).

So today I had to work over at Foley St. When I arrived there it was completely different to its usual busy pace. It was a lot quieter and there were no producers, just a swanky lobby, a nice rooftop terrace and doors concealing machine rooms, suites and the kitchen. Most of the time Foley St. is very busy as it is where clients are cutting the shows together, sometimes for months.

The offline machine room was really quite large…very large. It has stacks of machines and tape decks on one side humming away and on the other side are about 3 or 4 machine room operators doing things with computers I have no idea about. Until it explained to me what offline machine room assistants do:

  • Assist clients and freelance editors to set up their computers (Avids) to commence the offline edit of a show, film etc.
  • Log all of the rushes from the shows – which means the raw footage that has come in from shooting needs to be copied onto the servers and backed up immediately.
  • Check that when the footage is logged in that it plays smoothly on the computers and that it is exactly the right resolution, aspect ratio etc. for the show.
  • Help the clients with any problems they may have – which can be difficult compared with other machine rooms assistants who don’t have to even meet the clients. He relates it to having to mix technical abilities with client services.

Machine Room assistants have to handle the rushes, the most important part of production and make sure everything is transcoded and compressed accurately ready to be edited. Most people fail at the job because they don’t establish a practical workflow. If you miss a beat you will get something wrong. This is something I find quite intimidating working in post-production. The line of responsibility is nerve wrecking and the margin for error is so little it prevents me from pursuing the next job up in roles like this for fear of not knowing what I’m doing.

I think there is a lot of unnecessary stress in the creative industries. You can often get clients ringing you expecting you to know everything and often you have to pretend or look like you know what your doing. But because clients are so valued they must not feel as though anything is problem.

Offline editing was always my goal coming into Envy. I do offline editing in my freelance work and I really do love it. I love piecing together a narrative and bringing a piece of work together coherently and creatively. Working as an offline assistant though…this is something that I would not enjoy. The reason being you are more of a data-wrangler: logging and ingesting footage, transcoding and troubleshooting. These are probably my weakest points in video production and funnily enough they are so necessary in order to progress and become an editor, who in the end does none of those jobs.

This is the problem with working in large post-production companies, the lines are so vividly drawn between roles with little cross-over. This is compared to smaller creative companies who often have runners doing assisting jobs and assistants doing editor jobs.

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