One-on-one interview with Project Manager offers in-depth look at pivotal role PIX 270i recorders play for the Sundance Film Festival.


Q: How did you get started in the industry and in particular, land a job at Boston Light and Sound?

A: "I came from film production. I was a film electrician. I did lighting on movies and TV shows. I decided I wanted to get out of that and was looking for a new job, and I found this place, Boston Light and Sound—This is my 10th year now—and when I looked at the job description, they had one of the most crazy job descriptions I’d ever seen. They wanted someone with an engineering background, that had worked on stages, that had done theatrical work, that could drive a forklift, that could fix a tractor. I mean literally they wanted everything and the kitchen sink...every trade, and I thought that sounded perfect. We literally do that kind of work. We go places and have to just make it work."


Sundance Egyptian Theatre
The Egyptian Theatre Marquee for Sundance Film Festival © 2012 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jonathan Hickerson.

Q: Some of those places are film festivals. It was your work as project manager with the Sundance Film Festival that introduced you to Video Devices and the PIX 270i. Tell us more about that pairing.

A: "The Sundance Film Festival wants to push the envelope for film exhibition. Last year was the first year we used the PIX 270i, the year before that, Holden Payne, who is the Technical Director for the Sundance Institute came to me and said he wanted to move away from HDCAM as a standard. For the last 15 years the digital playback format for the film industry was HDCAM. It’s getting less and less common now due to the cost of the decks. They’re really expensive, and the tapes are hard to get, so he said, ‘I want to move away from HDCAM.’ So we started exploring ways to do that.

"We wanted to make it so that other film festivals could use whatever we switched to. So we were looking for something that was being used a lot in other industries. There really isn’t anybody who provides a device for that kind of playback right now. We had explored other options, but they were either too expensive or too obscure, and so ult imately we went with the PIX 270i, and so far everyone at Sound Devices has been awesome to work with."


Video Devices PIX 270i recorders
Video Devices PIX 270i rack-mount video recorders used for playback devices at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Q: So, what were some of the reasons you chose the PIX 270i?

A: "What’s great about the PIX is that it’s small. It’s really portable. You can rent it anywhere, because it’s being used a lot in video production work, and we can get it anywhere we need it. And it’s got all the right pro inputs and outputs, so it fits right into what we are already doing."

"We’d had some other devices we used for playback, either Blu-rays, or we had modified some other digital playback devices to do what we wanted to do, and we would always have trouble converting files for playback on all of those devices. One of the things we face a lot is that we get content last minute, and it almost always comes incorrect for how we need to play it back. We’re finding that people are way, way more likely to provide something (in a format) that we can play back right out of the gate when we’re using the PIX 270i, because it’s following most of the industry standards with its support for FinalCut Pro® and Adobe®."


Theater for Sundance Film Festival
The Eccles Theatre for Sundance Film Festival 2012 Sundance Institute | Photo by Jonathan Hickerson..

Q: How many PIX 270i video recorders do you use for the Sundance Film Festival?

A: "We had 23 in venues last year, and we had three spares. They were so new to us, and we had so many; it’s what we consider critical playback, so have to make it so that we never lose a show. We always have spares on hand to keep everybody up and running. The PIX actually performed really well last year. We didn’t have any failures with the PIX, which was great."

"This year, we’re going to have thirty. Twenty-seven in venues and three as spares. One of the challenges is that the Sundance Film Festival has hundreds of films submitted from just about every country in the world. We see just about every kind of video file that you can get, and so we’ve been putting them through their paces."

Q: So you’re using the rack-mount PIX decks as more of a playback device than a recorder?

A: "The way they’re being used right now is that we run most of the pre-show content on them. When the audience walks into a venue, there's a looping screenwash playing, and that’s being played back from the PIX. There’s a still slide that we use on it, and there’s a trailer we play on it. We have a cinema server that we use for the films and it allows us to ingest content while the audience is entering the house. So, right now they are being used to run pre-show and then once the actual movie starts, they’re used as backup which we run right along with what we’re playing, so if the server goes down in anyway, we just switch over to the PIX."

"We’re expecting this year for it to remain a backup, but the goal for next year is that we’ll accept it as the primary source."

Q: How has the PIX 270i affected your workflow?

A: "Having them for the preshow really changed the way we’re able to keep the festival moving. One of the challenges we face in cinema work is that the content—digital cinema is an actual format—when the films come in, they’re 2-to-3-hundred gigabytes, and we play in most theatres about eight a day, so we move huge amounts of data. The servers are not very good at ingesting that content when they’re playing back, so what we found is that we can use the PIX for all of our pre-show and post-show playback needs, and that allows us an extra two hours of ingest time. We were able to keep the festival moving because we were able to clear out the digital cinema server from playback. It was super helpful; in fact, it was a benefit we didn’t even think about when we switched. It was an unintended consequence, and we really benefitted from it."


Video Devices PIX 270i recorders
Video Devices PIX 270i rack-mount video recorders being packed for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Q: Has Boston Light and Sound ever had the need to use the PIX 270i for its recording capabilities?

A: "We do other production jobs. We do corporate events and other production work, and we’re finding that the PIX is just a great way to record those events. We can record every camera…just loop in, loop out and record each camera…or just take it right out of the AV switcher and record it as a mix. They are super handy, and because we have so many of them, we can basically use them whenever we want, however we want. We have been doing that, and it’s really helped changed how we record events."

"The nice benefit to having them at every venue is that we also do a lot of live performances…. At the TCM Classic Film Festival we used one to record an orchestra over MADI. We had an orchestra that’s playing for a silent film, and we were able to do a multi-track recording of the orchestra while they were playing so we could give it to the festival and to the conductor after the performance. They’ve got a lot of useful features, being able to record multi-track, being able to record video if you need to. It’s really nice."

For forty years, Boston Light & Sound has been delivering first class audiovisual presentations to discerning clients all over the world from specialized film systems to digital cinema and sound. For more information, please visit blsi.com.

Sound Devices is an Official Provider of Sundance Institute.