Los Angeles—John DeBoer, chief operating
officer of Toronto-headquartered SIM
, sensed that the rental house business model needed to evolve back
in 2009. At that time, SIM had been operating for nearly three decades and
become one of the top rental houses in North America for cameras, editing
systems and a variety of other gear for television, commercials and broadcast
production. The rental business was going through a radical shift as
productions were abandoning 35mm film in favor of digital capture. The shift
involved more than switching cameras, the entire production and post-production
workflow—one that had been in place for decades—needed to be reinvented in
order to accommodate imagery in the form of data files rather than celluloid.

There were growing pains, recalls DeBoer, as producers, and
others in the production chain, grappled with the different file formats
produced by the increasingly broad selection of digital cinema cameras. The
effort to develop smoothly functioning workflows to manage data as it moved
from the camera through dailies processing, editorial and post-production was
fraught with technical difficulties and sometimes led to conflicts.
“There always seemed to be  arguments between the camera department and
the post house,” DeBoer observes. “When problems arose, the post house blamed
the camera and the camera department pointed the finger at post. The poor
producer was often left in the middle, not knowing what the problem was and not
understanding the technology.”
SIM began developing a way to avoid such problems when it
was contracted to supply camera systems for a commercial for one of the world’s
top athletic shoe companies. It was a massive production, involving some 57 RED
cameras operating simultaneously from hidden positions along a Toronto street. Monitoring
all those cameras would obviously be a huge challenge, so SIM brought in digital
workflow specialist, Bling Digital, for help. Bling set up the video assist and
managed, with the support of SIM’s fiber optic gear, to get all 57 cameras
recorded and displayed on 50-inch plasma screens. “It all clicked,” DeBoer
That success prompted SIM to explore further opportunities
to collaborate with Bling. They next worked together on the SyFy series Warehouse 13. Once again, SIM supplied
the cameras and Bling handled video assist, dailies and data services. The
companies’ engineering staffs worked together to iron out workflow issues so
that the production wouldn’t experience any technical snafus. The arrangement
worked well and several other television series followed, including Suits, Covert Affairs and Against the Wall.

Problems between the camera department and post vanished,
DeBoer says. Any technical issues that arose were solved internally. “If there
was a bad cable or whatever, we’d know about the problem before production was
aware of it and have it solved,” he notes. “It gave a huge boost to the
producers’ confidence level. They no longer had to worry about technical
issues. If a problem occurred, we didn’t point fingers, we just fixed it.” SIM
eventually bought Bling and integrated it into its post-production department.
In 2011, SIM began applying its new model to productions in
Vancouver. Its first project there was the NBC series Psych. “It exploded in Vancouver,” DeBoer says. “Pretty soon,
producers were coming to us asking for it the ‘Psych’ treatment. We’d do cameras, we’d do dailies, we’d do
playback, we’d handle that whole side of the production.”
Part of what made SIM’s new model so appealing was that it
reduced productions’ reliance on external post-production infrastructure. SIM’s
Bling unit developed P.O.D.™ (Post On Demand), modular, cart-based systems that
could be configured for a variety of traditional post-production functions
including dailies processing, editorial and color grading. Services that
formally were sent out to brick and mortar post-production houses, could now be
performed on-set or in a near-set environment. By reducing costs and delivering
increased production and creative flexibility, Post On Demand proved very
popular among television productions.
At the same time, SIM began expanding its physical
resources. It opened or expanded new offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta and
Halifax, giving it the geographic reach to service productions throughout North
America. It also purchased the post-production finishing operations of Master
Key Digital in Los Angeles. Those facilities are now used to perform color
correction and finishing for Suits and
Covert Affairs.

Hell on Wheels is
a good example of what we’re doing now,” DeBoer notes. “We do camera, we do
dailies, we manage a high-speed pipeline to L.A., we support editing suites in
Calgary and L.A. The Avids in L.A. are located in our production offices.
Dailies get pumped directly to our office in L.A. They do the edit and the
execs look at the edit there.”
“We now have the ability to handle the data for a project
from beginning to end,” DeBoer adds. “It never goes to another house. The
producers don’t have to worry about different codecs. They don’t have to worry
that someone might change a setting somewhere in the system not knowing how it
might impact someone farther downstream. Our engineering team is made up of
camera people and post people. When a new camera comes out, we work the
workflow for production and show them the workflow before they start shooting.”
It’s not just TV. Last summer, SIM provided a range of
services for Warner Bros.’ sci-fi epic Pacific
, which was shot primarily at Pinewood Studios in Toronto. “We built a
post house in the production office,” DeBoer recalls. “They were shooting
downstairs. We brought the data upstairs where we had seven edit suites. We
created the ability for ILM to draw visual effects shots straight from the
servers. Everything was in-house. Nothing went to a lab.”
SIM Digital today is no longer simply a rental house. It is
designing customized workflows for productions and providing services that once
were the domain of post-production facilities. “We consider ourselves a partner
to the producer,” DeBoer says. “When producers come to us, they often ask us to
explain our service. We respond by saying, ‘No, you tell us what you want to
do, and we’ll adapt our system to your needs.’ We’ll design a system from the
camera through post to whatever makes the most sense financially and
“It’s all about moving data now,” DeBoer concludes.
“Productions want to be able to move data from point A to point B without
problems or confusion. We see our role as making the producer’s life as simple
as possible.”
About SIM Digital
With offices across the USA, Canada and China, SIM Digital is a world-class
rental facility specializing in digital production equipment and workflow
services. SIM offers one of the largest and most diverse inventories of the
latest digital cinematography tools from top manufacturers including ARRI, Sony,
RED, Panasonic, Canon, Fujinon, Angenieux, Zeiss, Cooke. In tandem with its
innovative Bling Digital division, the company offers the industry’s most
comprehensive workflow solutions for feature and television production,
encompassing cameras, data, dailies, offline editorial, finishing and
archiving.  For more information, visit www.simdigital.com.
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