A Cloud Storage Collaboration Guide for Filmmakers

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Digital technology allows filmmakers to capture and catalog terabytes of footage with ease, but the more you film the more you realize you how difficult it’s become to share all that data with your crew. Enter online storage, aka “cloud” storage. Cloud storage isn’t just a way to back up backups of backups, it has great potential for use as a hub for your film production.

While there’s no shortage of guides for using the cloud to make backups of your personal photos, when you’re dealing with massive video and audio files, say, 3 or 4 TB worth for a documentary film, you’re in another league — it’s hard to find a cloud big enough to support your weight on your budget.

If you’re looking for an online storage platform for your projects, the first thing you’ll want to do is ask yourself a few questions:

1. How much data (video, audio, photos) do you need to share? Is it 1 TB? 5 TB? 15 TB? Some platforms charge less per GB the more data you’re looking to store.

2. How many people need to access the data at the same time? The goal of finding the best cloud storage option is to improve your workflow, and you don’t want one of your team members booted off in the middle of their work because too many people are accessing the account.

3. How long will you need to collaborate? Some team cloud platforms give a discounted rate if you sign up for a year or more, so consider your production timetable. (Don’t forget that when your collaboration period is over, there are cheaper ways to store your data.)

4. How fast is your Internet connection? If you’re planning on uploading huge amounts of data via typical high-speed Internet, keep in mind that the process can take days or weeks. Some ISPs have data caps of 250-500 GB per month, so without a business-class Internet plan, you might run into trouble.

Got those numbers ready? By my calculations, taking into account the volume the average documentary maker might be working with, here are some of your best bets. Costs are broken down for a typical doc short (1 TB of data), a typical feature documentary (4-5 TB), and your ambitious Up series wannabe film project (50 TB).

The Benchmark: A Good Old Portable Hard Drive

hard_drive

For about $200, you can buy a 2TB hard drive, like a WD My Passport or a LaCie Rugged, and pass along the data via snail mail or a courier. No monthly plans, no recurring fees, no upload failures. It’s not high tech, but if you’re looking to share big data on a budget, it’s the price and convenience to beat. If none of the below seem like suitable options for you, pick up a portable hard drive (at cheaper and cheaper prices), load your footage and ship it out across town, the country or the world.

  • Capacity: 2-8 TB
  • Users: One at a time
  • Ease of use: :)
  • Cost for a Short: $89 for 1TB WD My Passport Portable hard drive (+ shipping)
  • Cost for a Feature: $300 for two 2TB WD My Passport Portable hard drives (+ shipping)
  • Cost for a Feature Series: $3,000 for 20 2TB WD My Passport Portable hard drives (+ shipping … if you dare)
  • OS: PC & Mac

Google Cloud

google_cloud

Pros: Like most things Google, Google Cloud‘s interface is straightforward and accessible. There’s no cap on how many users can log on, and data owners can quickly create and update a control list to share data with teammates. Google Cloud uses a pay-as-you-go model, charging users by the GB per month, so you can up your storage without giving prior notice. If you’re already registered with a Google account, and using Gmail or Google Drive, getting started with Google Cloud is as simple as getting a verification number texted to your phone.

Cons: As far as the non-enterprise models go, Google Cloud only operates on a month-by-month plan. If you have a fixed time schedule for your project and you know exactly how much you want to store in a cloud, you might be able to get a cheaper plan elsewhere.

Bottom line: This is an affordable choice if you’re testing the waters of cloud storage for your documentary team’s production and want to pay as you go, with no upfront commitment. But the costs add up if you’re using Google Cloud for long-term storage.

  • Capacity: “Unlimited”
  • Users: “Unlimited”
  • Ease of use: :-)
  • Cost per year: $1,020 / $4,940 / $40,200
  • OS: PC & Mac

Dropbox for Business

drop_box

Pros: Dropbox for Business uses the same super user-friendly platform as its ‘Basic’ and ‘Pro’ versions. The starting rate is $795/year for a team of five, with no limitation on storage capacity.

Cons: Dropbox for Business allows you as much storage as your team needs, but charges $125 per additional team member beyond five people. There’s no month-by-month option, so if you don’t think you’ll need remote data access for the whole year, a monthly option from another service might be your best bet.

Bottom line: If you know you’ll need to access your data for a year, and you only need access for a fixed number of team members, Dropbox for Business is an affordable choice. Unlimited storage capacity for $795 is a great deal.

  • Capacity: “Unlimited”
  • Users: 5+
  • Ease of Use: :)
  • Cost per year: $795 / $795 / $? (Contact for an estimate)
  • OS: PC & Mac

DollySpace

dolly_drive

Pros: DollySpace users can control what kind of access each team member has and has the ability to send secure, encrypted links to files, so collaborators can access data without creating an account. There’s an iDolly app for mobile sharing and access and customer service reps happy to help you set up DollySpace with a screen-sharing tutorial. DollySpace also offers “seeding plans” — they’ll send you a drive, have you load your data onto it and send it back. Then they’ll transfer your data onto the DollyDrive server in days, not weeks, which is how long a typical high-speed Internet connection might take.

Cons: DollySpace is only available for Mac users. As your storage needs grow, DollySpace’s cost surpasses the base price for Dropbox.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a long-term storage system with customer support and tons of intuitive features, DollySpace is the way to go… as long as your whole team uses Macs.

  • Capacity: “Unlimited”
  • Users: “Unlimited”
  • Ease of Use: :)
  • Cost per year: $288 / $928 / $? (Contact for an estimate)
  • OS: Mac

Amazon S3 & Amazon Glacier

amazon_glacier

Amazon S3 is not filmmaker-friendly on its own, but it could be a great option if you’re working with an experienced coder, perhaps on a cross-platform project. It’s highly durable and protected, but isn’t geared for the general non-coding public. Amazon Glacier is Amazon S3′s inexpensive counterpart, but it is designed for cold storage – as in, put it there and leave it there. It is not a solution for filmmakers requiring quick access for editing and re-editing, but if you’re done with a project and want to store it indefinitely on the web, this might be for you.

    S3

  • Capacity: “Unlimited”
  • Users: “Unlimited”
  • Ease of Use: :(
  • Cost per year: $1,140 / $4,800 / $48,000
  • OS: PC & Mac
    Glacier

  • Capacity: “Unlimited”
  • Users: “Unlimited”
  • Ease of Use: :|
  • Cost per year: $1,140 / $4,800 / $48,000
  • OS: PC & Mac

Hacking It: Other Options To Consider

SoShare: If all you really need is to get a big hunk of data from point A to point B on the spot, SoShare’s simple, straightforward, up-to-1TB sending capabilities might be for you. Seemingly the first platform created with media producers’ needs in mind, SoShare uses a BitTorrent browser plug-in, so delivery should be swift — and users can pause transfers at will. Just visit the site, upload the files and click send. You’ll receive a receipt in your email when the “project bundle” goes through. You can also create a public link to your file and share the link among multiple recipients. The program is still in beta, so there may be hiccups to watch out for. Files disappear from SoShare after 30 days, so this is definitely not a long-term option. To learn more: NoFilmSchool wrote up the platform in more depth.

SendSpace, MediaFire, WeTransfer and YouSendIt: If you’re looking to send a file for free – a small file, we’re talking single-digit GBs – these options are available for quick and easy transfers.

If you have a site for your film, consider using your own hosting and FTP to share files. It might not be the most innovative fix, but it’s reliable for small transfers. Check with your ISP and see how much storage comes with your hosting plan. It’s not going to be enough to store and share all your data at once (maybe 50 GB at a time), but it is a solid, stable way to keep some of your library available for remote access and sending.

These cloud options are just a few of the many others out there. Are you a filmmaker working with cloud storage? Tell us — what platform do you use?

Emma Dessau
Emma Dessau
Emma Dessau is a Web Producer at POV Digital. She is also a producer of the digital documentary Folk to Folk. Prior to POV, Emma worked at Emerson College's Engagement Game Lab. She holds a Bachelors degree in journalism from Boston University.