08 Sep 2018

For all film makers: How to avoid losing your stuff and where to put it

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For all film makers: How to avoid losing your stuff and where to put it PJH


The Available Technology - One

Taking a look at what’s available on the current market there are generally three routes you can take towards archiving your film: hard discs, optical (Blu-ray), and tape (LTO). Each format has it’s own series of pros and cons, making them the logical choice for different scenarios.

What we’re going to be looking at here is a cross section of reliability, convenience , and cost. An ideal archiving solution should be easy to use, require minimal up keep over the course of a decade, and still show some promise of being compatible in the future.

Hard Discs

Archiving to hard discs is relatively affordable, but creates an issue of exponential growth. The more you shoot and edit, the more drives you’re going to need. Eventually having a pile of discs sitting around on your desktop is going to start eating up more space than you or your office-mates are comfortable with dealing with. Since hard discs only have a life-span of around three to five years you will find yourself migrating to new discs more frequently than other mediums.

A good, albeit more expensive, solution in this case would be a large RAID mirrored disc array such as a DROBO, LACIE BIG DISK, or TK, which provides large storage capacity while providing a “smart” backup system. With these RAID setups, it becomes easy to replace a disc that is full or failing with a new drive. Simply eject the drive from the chassis, insert the new drive, and the RAID knows what data to repopulate the disc with.

When attached to a network, a RAID solution can act like a slower, less elaborate version of the more corporate shared storage solutions from Avid or EditShare. This makes archiving to hard disc great for venues that produce a lot of television or programming that involves quickly accessing materials for reuse.

If you’re working on mostly one-off projects, you might not need (or be able to depending on your contracts) to access all previous materials from past projects. Keeping it active on hard discs that are constantly spinning costs money in the form of your utility bill, and might not be worth the long term cost. It also adds significantly to your carbon footprint!

Additionally, after a few projects you’re going to find you’ll max out your RAID and need to start another chassis. Soon you’ll have a collection of RAIDs, piling up the same way those external drives had been and you’ll begin feeling like you’re running a datacenter, which honestly, as a film-maker, was neither my intention nor an idea I’m keen on.


  • Ease of use
  • Rarely requires specialized software
  • Relatively low price point
  • Easily fits into most workflows
  • Format seems relatively future proof. Although drive connections change, simple adaptors seem to do the trick okay.


  • Stacks of drives quickly start adding up
  • Drives have relatively short life-span
  • Moving to RAID setups has a high entry point price
  • One day you wake up and realize you’re tending a data-farm

Back To Future With Tape

There was an article on RedShark a while back about tape being the current, and future golden standard for archiving (Tape has the last laugh: Sony breakthrough squeezes 180 TB onto a single tape). Frankly, Phil is correct. Talk to any IT professional and they’ll tell you that the most secure home for your data is going to be LTO / tape drives. It’s a long-standing institution for storing digital information with lots of infrastructure to support it.

While LTO is great for large businesses, well funded start-ups and people with access to the funds, it’s not great for indies on a budget. The great limiting factor around LTO is the cost-structure of the hardware and future migration. Although you can purchase the most recent iterations of LTO drives for around $3,000, to get a complete archiving packages that include tape drives, cables, software, hardware adapters and cards you can expect to pay upwards of $6,000 to $10,000. On top of this you’re paying around $45 for every 3TB tape cartridge (which is actually a really great deal if you break down the cost per terabyte!).

Additionally, if we’re talking really long term, current LTO 6 devices have the additionally ability to read LTO 4, and read/write LTO 5. This means that your tape drives are going to have some staying power.


  • Solid archiving format with a proven track record of compatibility
  • Less shelf space than hard discs!
  • Passive storage cuts down on electrical bill
  • Tape offers a great dollar to terabyte value
  • Many networks have adopted LTO as a deliverables
  • Tape will last you around 10-17 years on average, longer under better storage conditions.


  • Massive up front cost, especially when you’re on an indie budget
  • Technology isn’t as common on a prosumer or consumer level
  • Slow to record data to
  • Requires specialized hardware and software beyond the tape deck

I’m going to be upfront, LTO would be my ideal choice for archiving my films... if I had the budget for it. The startup costs for setting up an LTO storage system makes it outside the budget of most indie films and small companies.


Peter Haas

... is an award winning Brooklyn-based filmmaker and writer whose first celluloid love was “Godzilla.” Since age 9, he’s been chasing monsters and men, camera in hand. His chief inspirations are classic German Expressionist cinema, the free-wheeling creativity of Terry Gilliam, and the fog-shrouded forests of his New Hampshire birthplace. Through his films, Peter strives to unlock the experience of "ecstatic cinema" -- a viewing experience that challenges, delights, and sweeps up the audience in equal measures.  His work has appeared in American Cinematographer, Red Shark News, various broadcast networks, and various festivals around the world.

Website: www.peterjhaas.com

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