In a nutshell

  • Always back up your files to prevent devastating data loss.
  • Quick thinking and collaboration with seasoned professionals can salvage a seemingly hopeless situation.
  • Facing challenges with a calm mindset and relying on the support of others can transform a disaster into a success story.

It seems like only yesterday, but it was 20 years ago. 2004 was the year. Spirit, a NASA Mars Rover, landed successfully on Mars. Martha Stewart went to jail for insider trading. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918. And the last episode of the TV show Friends aired. 2004 holds various great memories for many, but for me, it was the year I faced every editor’s nightmare: losing your project’s timeline hours before it’s due.

My nightmare begins

2004 was the height of Candid’s Video Production, otherwise known as “Happy Face Videos.” Video production companies like ours, Crystal Pyramid Productions, were hired by major corporations to shoot and edit their conventions on-site when they came to San Diego. We shot and produced several of these for clients over a decade, including Eisai, Berlex, the Irrigation Association, and others. These videos not only documented conventioneers but sometimes included interviews of officers fortuitously gathered in one location and they presented forecasts of success for the company, reminisced about the past year or highlighted top-performing personnel.

During this “Hey Day of Happy Face Videos,” the company hosting the convention typically selected a theme. For instance, Berlex’s theme was “Spark a Reaction.” Eisai chose “Excellence in Action.” Once the theme was chosen, music would be selected so the editor could edit according to the tune and lyrics.

One day, we were thrilled to receive a request for our services from MasterCard. Their theme reflected the Southern California location they had chosen: “The Next Wave.” The music they chose was “Walking on Sunshine.”

Over a four-day convention in June 2004, MasterCard inhabited the San Diego Hyatt. Director of Photography Mark Schulze shot footage on Betacam SP over the first three days: the arrival of the conventioneers, main events at the convention, break-out sessions, and evening cocktail parties. Everything had gone smoothly during production, and it was ready for me to take over the project in post-production.

Disaster strikes

As the project’s editor, I set up our mobile Avid editing station in a hotel room. By the time I was all set and ready to go, Mark had footage for me to feed into the system using our Betacam Sony 1800 deck. I then began to edit a four-minute video that would be shown on the fourth morning during breakfast as the highlight of the convention before its ending.

It’s been said that an editor needs to have the eyes of a fawn and the skin of a melon, particularly when dealing with clients coming in occasionally and adding their ideas. Thankfully, each time my client wandered into my hotel room to see my progress, she expressed how pleased she was. The action was all timed perfectly to the music.

On the third evening, the night before the showing, we all expected that I would keep vampire hours as Mark delivered the last tape after the afternoon event.

After dinner, the client came in to check on my progress. She saw that I was almost done with the show and gave me a smile and a thumbs-up before she left. Mark patted me on the shoulder and said he would take a walk around the hotel grounds and stretch his legs.

Now, alone and basking in the glow of kudos from Mark and the client, I stretched my legs out under my desk. My shoe met with the power strip off button (usually taped to the “on” position). Suddenly, the computer went black. I had just kicked the power out on the computer, the VCR, the monitors, everything.

Time to panic?

I instantly went into full panic. I quickly tried to turn the computer back on, but it wouldn’t. I tried unplugging everything, waiting 60 seconds, and then trying again. Thankfully, this worked, and the computer came back to life. But my troubles were far from over. After warily waiting for the computer to reboot as it slowly fired back up, I launched Avid. To my dismay, the timeline was gone. All the work I had done had seemingly vanished in an instant.

At this point, with my deadline a few hours away, I didn’t know what to do other than restart. So, I began editing an entirely new timeline, trying to replicate all the work I had done over the prior three days in just a few hours.

Unfortunately, the client had chosen to return right then to check on my progress. I had to fess up that the timeline had been lost, and I was starting all over. Her face turned a whiter shade of pale even as I assured her everything would be fine. She walked out in a daze.

In the meantime, Mark called a producer friend named Michael. He knew him from an industry group they both belonged to, the Media Communications Association International (San Diego Chapter). As a seasoned Avid editor, Michael promised to come and see what he could do to help.

A glimmer of hope

I continued to work on this new timeline with my nose feeling like it was literally on a grindstone. Once Michael finally arrived, he sat down at the computer and got to work. Did I dare to hope?

In just five minutes, he shoved his chair back, stood up, motioned me to sit down and asked, “Is this the missing timeline?”

It was. The feeling of relief that cascaded over my numbed-out body was rejuvenating. I shouted my thanks and hugged him. He told me that the Avid files went to an “attic” so he could retrieve the most recently saved timeline there.

Thanks to Michael and his expertise in Avid, I now only had a few more edits left to wrap up the video.

All that’s well ends well

Mark called the client to deliver the good news. When she entered the room, I vividly remember how she and I hopped up and down, performing the Snoopy Happy Dance together. It was exhilarating. The deliverance from despair to the peak of happiness was bullet-train fast.

At breakfast the following morning, the conventioneers all enjoyed watching themselves on the IMAG, and I basked in the warm round of applause. The client thanked us profusely.

Looking back on that fateful night 20 years ago, I am grateful for the support I received and the valuable lessons I learned in facing such adversity. Aside from always backing up your files, it’s important not to panic when faced with a challenge. Thanks to Mark’s quick thinking in contacting Michael, we were able to recover the timeline. And in the challenging times, know that you can fall back on others for help and, in some cases — like this one — it can turn a disaster into a triumph and a great story.

Patty Mooney is a partner at Crystal Pyramid Productions and has over 40 years of experience in various roles: producer, editor, teleprompter operator, sound mixer, boom pole operator, voice-over artist and camera operator.