Friday, May 20, 2016
The Last Mile
The trailer was riveting, and then it just stopped. The bit of the video that is normally loaded ahead of what you are currently seeing on the screen, the buffer, had gone empty. The pace of the scene, gone, the flow, now missing. Now the player was trying to find the data somewhere online from a machine that wasn't replying fast enough for anyone to watch it. See, people don't realize that it takes time to send things great distances online. And this video player clearly didn't understand it. Or more accurately, it hadn't been designed to load more into the buffer before it started playing, so it wouldn't run dry. And this trailer, and the actors in it, are paying a price for it.
This is the last bit of our work: it getting to the audience. This last bit, "the last mile" as the telecommunications industry calls it, is expensive. In the theatre not so expensive on the day it happens, but may have been in training. In theatre, the last mile is up to us: we find our light and speak clearly and distinctly enough for the last row to hear the words. In film and tv it isn't in our control unless we are the distributor (like when we put our work online ourselves). There are people who dedicate their careers to making sure broadcast tv or movie theatre prints and digital files are technically perfect. And there are engineers who build screens and projectionists who run them to insure our work makes it past this last mile.
But there are other versions of the last mile. Getting things across the finish line, to a point of completion is vital. Get a script into a shareable form, move an edit to a picture-lock status, finish a sound mix, get a project to a point of being finished, meaning it is now in the audience's minds and hearts. If our work doesn't get there, we may as well have just been rehearsing.
An additional side note: there is a reason certain video web sites are as ubiquitous and well known as they are. Well actually there are probably many reasons, but the one I'm focusing on here is this: the site by and large works whenever we, or the audience, go to it. And the site works because they spend a small fortune making sure that last mile is handled well. For instance, one major site once gave $300,000 bonuses to every one of their employees who worked on a system that stores often watched videos on the servers of your internet service provider (basically the machines near what your computer/tablet/phone connects to first) instead of further from you on their own servers in their own data centers. What this means is, if you have any say in how something you are in is going to be shared online, don't fall into thinking the off-brand site with a poorly set up player and network won't kill your project before it's even been born. Use what works. It is sad to see good shows and movies languish and disappear into irrelevance because the last mile was ignored. So please, follow through, and get your projects across the finish line. Otherwise, I fear we are basically hobbyists.
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