What's Pre-Roll?
October 1, 2008 8:53 AM   Subscribe

What Does Pre-Roll Mean?

A friend is filming an event for a producer with his high-end video camera. The producer is asking for 5 minutes of "pre-roll" on each tape. What does that mean?
posted by Ironmouth to Technology (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
They don't want your program to start right at the beginning of the tape, they wany 5 minutes of black / bars & tone / whatever before the actual footage starts.
posted by jjb at 9:03 AM on October 1, 2008


And make sure they don't mean B-roll, which is something entirely different.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 AM on October 1, 2008


That's a long time for pre-roll. A minute will suffice.
posted by Zambrano at 9:33 AM on October 1, 2008


A minute will suffice.

But your friend should do as the producer asks.
posted by stefnet at 9:38 AM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Five minutes is a lot.

Pre-roll usually refers to the five SECONDS or so that a camera is usually given to run up to speed, get in sync etc, before the action begins.

Bars & Tone is something different... audio and video test signals used to calibrate the picture and sound in post production. There is normally a minute of these at the beginning of a tape, after perhaps 30 seconds of pure blank tape (because sometimes the beginning of tape gets pretty chewed up, since it's where the head tends to re-engage after a rewind to the beginning).

Ask the producer for a written description of what they want. They are often completely clueless about technical matters and ask for impossible things. I speak as a former producer.
posted by unSane at 9:41 AM on October 1, 2008


Ask the producer for a written description of what they want.

This is excellent advice. As others have said, five minutes of pre-roll seems excessive. Perhaps this producer has some sort of ident information that they drop in the front of all their tapes they keep for archiving and wants the 5 minutes room in front of the footage for this. Who knows though?

Definitely ask for clarification.
posted by stefnet at 9:53 AM on October 1, 2008


Ask for clarification. I think it's good to get ten or fifteen seconds of pre-roll, and never drop below seven seconds, but five minutes? I don't know of a camera that is THAT high end. He could mean B-Roll, in which case it could be any amount of time the producer wants.
posted by history is a weapon at 10:18 AM on October 1, 2008


If they're filming a big event, five minutes of pre-roll means (especially if there are many cameras in use) that everyone will be rolling tape for the big opening moment, safely. Nothing worse than hitting record after the first note....or kick off. For Editing 1 minute of pre-roll is fine, but this sounds like event filming.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 10:48 AM on October 1, 2008


If you can't get clarification I'd do all of the above. Black + Bars (+tone) totalling 5 mins and then 5 mins 'pre-roll' before main event. Producer gets what Producer wants, even if it doesn't serve any purpose.
posted by gravelshoes at 10:56 AM on October 1, 2008


If it's something like a concert the producer might be aiming for shots of the audience taking their seats/the orchestra tuning up/some other mood-setting footage.

Seconding what's already been said, I would either clarify with the producer or err on the side of caution by recording a bunch of stuff.
posted by Mike1024 at 11:09 AM on October 1, 2008


unSane is rightest.

"Pre-roll" to a pro means the *five seconds* of "tape" recorded without pause before the action starts. It allowed analog editing devices to synchronize, and it made sure when spooling forward or backwards to find the edit points the machines wouldn't go too far, often resulting in the machine continuing all the way to the end of the reel or cassette.

Hardly anyone edits analog any more. I still ask for five seconds of preroll to ensure that the actors are on their marks and ready to go. It also ensures that no one is accidentally talking when the action starts. It also gives leeway for fades and dissolves.

"Five minutes of preroll" makes no sense. That is not how the term is used. "Five minutes of B-roll" makes sense, in that the producer wants to have five minutes of additional random footage to cover necessary edits. "Five minutes of stars and bars [bars and tone]" makes no sense: no one takes that long to set levels, and if ya did, you could just replay the correct 30 seconds.

Or the producer doesn't know what he's talking about. Which is also likely, as unSane also points out. Do what the producer says, regardless. And then print 30 seconds of stars and bars at the head of every tape, and always preroll five seconds before calling action.
posted by lothar at 11:22 AM on October 1, 2008


Pre Roll is the idea that the tape is rolling before an editing moment (or action) so the system is up and working. The term really comes from linear editing, where you had to back up your tape

• A tape is likely to break during the first 30 seconds.
• You want to get the hardware/tape to speed.
• Some formats (particularly HDV) need longer (10-30 seconds to be safe) to establish a good compression pattern.

Other than that, it's not the worst practice at a live event to prevent a problem.
Is it a bit much? Yes. It sounds like the producer may not be as experienced as some. But if he's having your friend work (what sounds like for free), and it's a "high end" camera (that's a relative word), it sounds like the producer may be just repeating stuff he's heard.
posted by filmgeek at 11:56 AM on October 1, 2008


If they're filming a big event, five minutes of pre-roll means (especially if there are many cameras in use) that everyone will be rolling tape for the big opening moment, safely. Nothing worse than hitting record after the first note....or kick off. For Editing 1 minute of pre-roll is fine, but this sounds like event filming.

It is a big event with multiple cameras and the camera is relatively high-end, ProSumer is what it is called, a Sony Z1U.

Does he record five minutes with the lens cap on? What does he do?
posted by Ironmouth at 1:17 PM on October 1, 2008


I would record the camera shot (lens cap off) for the 5 minutes before the event starts. The Z1U is a camcorder, not a full on studio video camera.

With only a video camcorder, it's not easy to record bars & tone. Unless your camera feeds a separate VTR and you have a switch that can take a feed from a bars+tone generator. If you have all that gear and you are still asking this question, heaven help you.

The producer is asking for the wrong thing by saying 'pre-roll'. A pre-roll is the term used for beginning the playback for a videotape machine before the video coming out of it is needed. There are various situations that this makes sense and is useful, but never in regards to a camera.
posted by Argyle at 2:02 PM on October 1, 2008


Okay I haven't worked in the American TV industy. I Agree 'Pre-Roll' is a slightly strange term to use, but would work for me as in 'start rolling 5 minutes before the event starts'. At most big events all the cameras would be linked to an outside broadcast truck and you wouldn't have to worry about theses things, they would record tape for you. But if he's the only one filming I guess they would just want his camera trained on the place where the main action will begin so he doesn't miss the start, lens cap off. I have also staggered starts with multiple cameras too allow for tape changes, without everyone running out of tape at the same time. But yes agree with everyone clarify with the producer, but I could see the point for this....and yes maybe they are asking for B-roll by getting cutaways of audience and build-up.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 11:36 PM on October 1, 2008


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