DAM Champ: Jeff Beaulieu
DAM champ Jeff Beaulieu is the vice president of personal and brand asset management at Visual Data Media. He works with studios and production companies for production asset management. He also works with celebrities, athletes, music artists, museums, corporate archives, and the like for personal brand asset management. Jeff has over 25 years of experience.
Would you like to say a little about yourself and your experience in digital asset management?
I’ve been in the TV post industry since the analog days when we were using film and videotape. I started in television here in Hollywood at the Post Group, where almost everybody got their start. I was introduced into the digital world pretty early on with laser disk editing, but that wasn’t DAM by any stretch.
Back then, no one was really even mentioning DAM. It was more about how you stored the physical elements, whether it be film or videotape, how you jam them into a box, put an inventory sheet on it, and get it out. That was really asset management back then. After doing that for quite some time, I took a little bit of a break and went into DAM almost by mistake.
I worked with Rob Walston and Larry Chernoff, and I was introduced to Elektrofilm. They were building a platform that was pretty interesting. And when I got into it, I started to see it from a different way than they were thinking about using it.
It started off being a production asset management system. I thought, well, that’s great, but how do we start working with studios and understanding how their tapes are being digitized? How do we use this as a DAM system for storage of those films and have access to it? I knew that having access is probably the most important part of it. In the old days when we saw a video come up, if it didn’t have the right logo on it, it was like, oh my goodness gracious, we have the right film, the right TV show, but it’s the wrong logo. Where’s the tape with the right logo?
All of that became problematic, and then to go and fix it was problematic. You had to go find the logo and reshoot it, which cost time and expenses. The DAM systems that are coming out, they’re pretty cool because you can manage it and see it right away. They’re saving costs, headaches, and also getting the right thing out.
Yeah, definitely. That logo situation is common for a lot of people.
Oh, yeah, and even still today. Back in the day when they were changing the woman on the Columbia Studios logo, Columbia TV had a version of it, Columbia Films had a version of it, and then Sony changed it, so we didn’t know which one to put on a TV show. I mean, we were getting calls to put on this logo at the last minute before it goes on air, and if it doesn’t have it, somebody’s going to be sued, so wow.
Can you give an example of how someone would use your platform for personal brand management?
For example, let’s say athletes on teams, each player has their own platform. Some of the teams I’m working with are providing a platform for each of the athletes. The athletes can put in all of their home movies, college videos, photos, endorsements, commercials, charity events, and anything else that’s a part of their digital life. It can all be safely and securely put into the platform, and then if the team requests them, the players can easily give them the images. For example, one of the teams I’m working with is doing a story on all of the players, coaches, and owners when they were kids. They want to get pictures and video of all the players, coaches, and executives when they were kids playing ball.
The thing is, the team isn’t gathering all this. The players are gathering all this media into the Vida Platform and they (the players) own it. So the players all feel safe (about their images and videos); we’re just letting the team have access so they can do a story. Then the team puts it together, edits it, and airs it for the fans.
With personal brand management, the player has a record of their world, so it’s a scrapbook, if you will. And if they move to another team or get traded, they take that platform with them, so the team is providing this for them, but the player actually owns it.
You have a lot of experience working in television and other media. I was curious, I know there’s probably a lot of different ways, but in general, how do media companies use DAM or archiving?
Every studio that I talk to has something different. Not everybody is using the same platform. They all are doing it and they’re all taking their access and using it with great intentions. They all want to have control of where their content is going, where the right logo is, the right show going on…how do we re-monetize it, how do we repurpose it at as high a resolution possible?
And DAM also means, hey, where am I storing this as well? Am I storing it on tape? Hard drives? In the cloud? How am I managing those assets through this DAM system?
Everybody is using it and they all have high hopes for its success. There are problems to that, though. In a lot of these studios, it’s easier to work with a finished product. The problem is — and it’s a problem that might never be resolved — the inputting of original material, meaning camera original files. Whether it be a script, the camera original files, or edits, ingesting that into a centralized format for a studio, because remember, the production companies are really separate entities of a studio that are sort of contractors.
The studios may ask all of these independent contractors, editors, assistants, assistant producers, or whoever they are if they will ingest the right information and metadata about these files when they go into this platform (that we hope that you’re going use). Are they going to take the time to do it correctly? Well, first of all, are they going to take the time to put it into the platform at all? That’s the first thing.
The second thing is, are they going to put in the right information? That’s going to be the ongoing struggle with original material going into a platform of any sort. The important part there is the finished material, but there are a lot of dailies, scripts, and other artifacts of a show that they want to keep…and preserve.
That brings me to my next question. What are some of the common challenges with media organizations and DAM?
Well, you have a lot of facilities that are offering to help with the DAM. But if a studio has to rely on an outside facility, there are problems with that. The problem is the outside facility has control of their assets and they are stored outside of the studio’s realm. Then studios are subject to the viability of that facility, so certainly all of the studios know they have to have control of their own assets.
Then you have a problem of the storage aspect of all these files.
“It’s great you have all these files, but the files represent a risk of failure. So there is a preservation responsibility. There is an upkeep, which means what can we do in the future with this file? Keeping it safe is one thing, but then making it viable for the new formats is another.”
And there’s some expense, a legal responsibility, and a security function to all of that. So, where is that being kept? How is that being maintained? How is that file being kept viable? And at what cost?
Because in the old days, you kept an LTO tape, a videotape, or a roll of film on the shelf at a post facility or in-house and you’re paying for storage of that element. Now, do you pay more for all of those assets that built up that two-hour program? Do you keep all of those assets (digital files) and pay monthly for them? Or do you pay for just the main event? That’s another dilemma that the studios have that is ongoing. Who’s going to now say I can get rid of those dailies out of the system?
What that means is that basically when you shoot a film, you have hours and hours of dailies, and you might end up with about 20-50 hours of material for a one- to two-hour TV program. On television, they just leave the camera rolling, so you could have 15-20 hours of material for a one-hour program. That one-hour program is the gem. That’s what you want to maintain in the file, so now what do you do with those other 100+ same-size dailies files?
Those are digital assets, but they’re treated in a different way. They become physical assets because somebody lays them off the LTO tape or a hard drive. How do you manage those digital assets that are on a physical asset? And how does the DAM system manage those physical assets as well? And when do they get migrated to be preserved, if ever? Some studios are keeping everything in the cloud. So what they’re saying is, hey, we’re going pay for this one-hour program, but we’re also going pay a lot of money for all of the dailies as well, but how long are they going to do that?
There’s a lot of catches in the DAM world for a studio because it’s all well and good when you’re talking about the main program, but with all of those TV shows that you’ve recreated and had created? For every one-hour TV show, you have about 20+ hours of digital assets that you have to decide what you’re going to do with.
And that just keeps compounding itself. Oh, I can go on and on about the dilemma. I’m sure you’ve heard about the digital dilemma; there’s a whole report on it. It talks about this, what’s the best way to store these things on, but it’s really — the question is in my mind — how much do you want to preserve these things? What is it that’s valuable, and then who’s going to say that these assets aren’t important, we can let them go by the wayside because they’re never going to be used?
Take for instance, I like to use the analogy of “I Love Lucy.” You’ve seen the show, I’m sure.
How many times have you seen a re-cut of “I Love Lucy”?
I’m not sure.
You never have. They’ve never re-cut “I Love Lucy.” All of these TV shows are popular for a reason, because that’s the way it was. But when they shot on film, they shot about 10 hours to make that half-hour show. Well, that 10 hours of film for each episode is sitting in a vault somewhere, never to be used again. Somebody is paying for that. The dilemma is all those assets are digital now.
So why do you personally think that DAM is important?
Well, if you don’t see it, you don’t have it. Everything is pretty much digital nowadays. Even analog is turning into digital. In order to see it, you have to prepare it. With everything being born digital with cameras and with people shooting on their iPhones, just the fact of the matter is everything’s digital, so the importance of that is, again, if you can’t find it, you can’t play it, you don’t have it.
Digital asset management doesn’t really have to mean a high-powered platform. It really means life management to some extent. These are my home movies, my photos, my work, my accomplishments. This is my legacy, so DAM is really attune to financial management. Just because you have a small bank account doesn’t mean you don’t want to manage it. So if you have a big bank account, you have a big banker. If you have a small bank account, then you have a small banker, but either way, it’s the same.
What would you say is your biggest challenge working in DAM?
The biggest challenge is really getting people to understand it because it’s still that word, digital asset management. If you’re working with the studios or working with people in the know, that’s still a word. I mean, media asset management, digital asset management, production asset management. They’re still terms that only a few know or really appreciate because they mean so many different things, so it’s hard to get people to understand the terminology and then to get them to understand why they need it. Is it a bank? Is it money? Are you managing my assets?
You could call it archiving, but then people think archiving is stuff in a cold dark room, and who wants to go there?
But really when you call it brand asset management as we do, or personal content management, it starts to ring a bell. So really, you have to understand your clients or who you’re talking to. You have to get to their level.
Do you recommend any resources for people to learn about DAM?
Sure thing. AMIA is a good place. It’s the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Your forum is great. There are DAM forums throughout LinkedIn. It’s interesting to see everybody’s take on it, and the big push now is all about metadata, AI, more metadata, metadata, and how to use metadata for analytics, so that’s always interesting. It grows. It’s just interesting to see where it goes and how important is it. It’s just great to be able to be a part of it.
That ends my questions. I’ll leave it up to you if there’s anything you’d like to add?
My focus is the education part of working with clients. It’s easy to go and say, “Hey, here’s a platform, have at it!,” but again, I don’t see it that way. A platform is a means by which you enrich your life, and we’re here by your side to help you out.