Using The Cloud To Save Hollywood

By Guillaume Aubuchon, CTO, DigitalFilm Tree

One of the most successful screenwriters in the history of the movie business, William Goldman, observed that, in Hollywood “nobody knows anything.” With all due respect to the man who penned “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” he has never met the people behind Rackspace and OpenStack or used Rackspace’s Performance Cloud Servers. They know things, including how to seamlessly and securely share massive video files over the Internet so filmmakers and their collaborators can review and edit their features in real time.

My name is Guillaume Aubuchon. I’m the CTO of DigitalFilm Tree, a cloud-based, full-service, pre- and post-production facility in Hollywood. We work directly with the major television networks and movie studios to save them money by boosting efficiencies in parts of the creative process that have historically been known to burn through more people and money than Charlie Sheen on a Vegas weekend.

We made utilizing cloud workflow in Hollywood a reality when we partnered with Rackspace to disrupt what we saw as a deteriorating business model. About five years ago we realized there was no good way for filmmakers to share their raw content with the many collaborators on the project. Short of watching dailies on the set (terribly inefficient) or using CAA’s private theater to view raw cuts (good luck with that, independent film maker!), studios had no economical and effective way to improve their work by tapping into the magic of the collaborative process. It was a day-to-day grind of back and forths. These huge files were shuffled around eight, nine, even 10 times, maybe more, to receive nearly 50 approvals.

Everyone wants everything immediately; we’re doing work that’s immensely time sensitive. As you might imagine, film is a location-agnostic industry and time is money. If any place is accustomed to instant gratification, it’s Hollywood. Plus, managing storage and bandwidth became a bigger nightmare than traffic on I-405. We could not expand our local storage enough, plus it’s just not economically feasible to throw storage at the problem.

You see, in a typical shooting day, anywhere from 25TB to 50TB of content is created. The average show can shoot 36TB of content per day. From there the content was stored on our shaky in-house SAN devices that were already bursting at the seams with the previous day’s shoot. Of course, sharing that content outside of our on-premise data center started costing more than Lindsay Lohan’s bar tab. Worse than that, we found ourselves ripped away from the focus of our core business because of the frantic 24/7 search for cheaper bandwidth. We used to find ourselves paraphrasing the famous line in “Jaws” nearly everyday: “We’re gonna need a bigger pipe.”

We found that with an OpenStack-powered private cloud we can host internally, then push to a public cloud when needed. One hitch was that each stakeholder had a different cloud – the effects vendor, the studio, us – so we had to federate multiple clouds. OpenStack empowered us to build a standard for content sharing and collaboration. It was the answer to our storage and compute headaches.

Then we created our industry-shaping software application, Critique, which is the front door to the backend. We’re building studios their own private clouds that then tie into DigitalFilm Tree’s suite of tools, where they can quickly upload these massive files to store and edit, using best of breed technologies like MongoDB or everyone’s favorite editing platform, Avid. This more efficient way is especially important when studios are shooting in remote locations and sharing the dailies with the brass at home.

We are right smack in the middle of a critical and exciting time. A regime shift is occurring that’s more open to the cloud’s game-changing benefits. And along the way studios are realizing there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to expand the business model by putting as much content on the cloud as possible for mass consumption.

To be frank, if Hollywood doesn’t embrace the new way, it will cease to exist. There will always be an army of new content providers challenging the status quo. If studios want to remain at the top of the stack, then they need cloud workflow solutions that leverage Rackspace Performance Cloud Servers and are powered by OpenStack.

In Hollywood, nothing is more important (besides what kind of car you drive, of course) than the Monday morning box office numbers. The big winners typically hit Morton’s Monday night for big steaks and champagne. At DigitalFilm Tree, we have to focus on a different set of numbers to make sure we’re delivering a world-class experience for our customers. Since architecting our business model on OpenStack and using Rackspace Performance Cloud Servers, we’ve seen a 10X improvement in our performance and a significant reduction in costs, mostly by not having to throw money and bandwidth at the problem. Add the fact that we’re running all of this on a network with 99.999% uptime, and we think we have numbers worth celebrating. Just maybe not at Morton’s.

This is a guest post by Guillaume Aubuchon, CTO of DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) a post, production, creative, consulting and software development company. Since 1998, DFT has played a definitive role in designing post and IT workflows for the media and entertainment industry. Clients include television, motion picture, independent and the technology industry. DFT fosters an academic approach to post and IT design. Known for its numerous books, whitepapers and engineering reports, DFTs advice is sought after by clients of all scale and scope.


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