My “Trust, but Verify” Lesson

One of my favorite books is written by Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby.

His book – ANYTHING YOU WANT, is one of the best sellers in its category on Amazon. It’s a quick read and has some great lessons that you can apply to anything – being a musician, starting and running a company, etc.

DEREK’S LESSON

One section that I remember vividly is titled “Trust, but verify” In it, Derek shared how he had built a system to handle most of the process behind CD Baby’s service of uploading customers music to the different online distributors like iTunes, Amazon, etc. However, it still required someone to manage the system, and so he hired someone who seemed like a good fit. Derek spent a week working side by side with this new employee in Portland, getting him up to speed. The most important aspect of his job was reflected in bold, all caps letters on his contract with CD Baby: “EVERY ALBUM, TO EVERY COMPANY, EVERY WEEK, NO MATTER WHAT.” It was constantly reinforced over the first few weeks “how crucial this was, that it was really his only job requirement”.

Once everything fell into place and the system was running smoothly, Derek went back to running his company. But, a few months later, he started hearing complaints from the musicians using his companies services. He checked in to see that music hadn’t been delivered to the distributors in MONTHS.

He flew back to Portland and fired the employee. He then spent the next six months working 15 hour days to get caught up and build a new system that would never let something like this go unnoticed again.

We’ve all had moments in our careers where a mistake we made caused some measure of irreparable damage. When this happens we all resolve to make sure that never happens again – that is, if we want to continue to keep working doing what we’re doing.

AND NOW, MY LESSON

Last Saturday I was working on a shoot with one of our new clients. It was the first of many shoots that we look forward to over the next few years. We were brought in to replace the old video team because there were issues with meeting deadlines, losing footage, inconsistencies between shoots, and the like. So it was important to make a good first impression and show that they made the right choice picking us to provide production services.

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We rented a 5d mark iii camera for the 2 day shoot, along with some lenses and some support – batteries, CF card, etc. We had brought our own cards as well, which were all SD cards. The 5D can take both CF and SD cards, but being our first time with the camera, we hadn’t been in the practice of using both.

We inserted our SD Card into the 5D and our B camera, our 60D. We formated, the cards, and shortly after began our first interview.

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At the end of the interview we ejected the two SD Cards, and I took them over to my laptop to ingest the footage. I clicked on the first card in the finder window, and the folder structure showed it was the card from the 5D. I dragged the folder onto my hard drive into the A Camera folder, and then did the same for the 60D footage, dropping it into the B Camera folder. While the files were transferring I went back to my other duties – wiring up the next interviewee with a lavalier mic, checking camera settings, etc. The cards finished copying over, I ejected them and handed them back to the other operator to put in the cameras. We formatted the cards and started rolling on the next subject.

Now, that all seems well and good. The problem was two fold: first – I never looked at the footage. I trusted the process I had made up on the spot, which was look at the folder name and then drag and drop. Nice and quick, then I can get back to the other things I need to do. Now, I’m not a DIT, so I’ve never actually done this process before. But not looking at the footage is a big no no.

Second, we didn’t realize what cards were in the 5D, and therefore didn’t VERIFY that the footage was being recorded to the SD card as we thought. As you probably guessed, the footage was being recorded rather to the CF card, which was never ejected, and never copied. It was, however, promptly erased in place of the SD card, and then recorded over.

This realization didn’t come until another interview or two had gone past, when I realized that the footage from the 5D wasn’t interview footage, but rather footage that we had shot 3 days earlier for a different client. Wait…

I frantically checked the A camera folder for the first interview and realized I had copied over that same footage from 3 days earlier. I asked my partner where the A cam card was, which he handed over. It still had the footage from 3 days earlier, which meant that we hadn’t been recording these interviews to it. We ejected the CF card to find that it had the second interview, but not the first.

If you know storage media like CF cards, you know that files that have been deleted or erased can often be recovered. However, as soon as you write over those files, say goodbye forever. That’s right, on our very first interview with this brand new client, we lost HALF of the footage – and it happened to be the wide shot.

THE AFTERMATH

Luckily, they were understanding. We explained what happened as soon as possible, after we ran through multiple attempts to recover the lost footage. It was gone.

So, I spent the next interview listening intently to the person’s story, but simultaneously creating a system that would prevent me from having this EVER happen again.

Life lessons are the subject of each section in Derek’s book. I wish that I was wise enough to have read it through once, internalized the lessons, and prevented this from ever happening. But it did. The best thing you can do in that situation is admit the mistake, not hide it, and explain what system you have implemented to prevent it from ever happening again. This system was easy enough – look at the footage on ingest, then again to verify before the card is ejected and returned to the cameras.

Lesson learned. Trust, but verify.

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