Don’t Lose Your Movie : How to Avoid Data Loss

Everyone’s worst nightmare is getting that call from your editor: “Something is wrong with the hard drive and I cannot view the footage.” No filmmaker takes data protection seriously until it happens to them. I was one of those people until I got that phone call, now I am here to help to make sure it doesn’t happen to you!

I was editing my first feature film “Cow Power,” and was working with a tight budget, so backup drives were out of the question. I thought it was better taking a chance than having to pay an extra $300 on backup drives. That was until my editor told me that the only hard drive holding all of our footage had mysteriously stopped working.

The drive was new and there had been no physical damage to the drive. It just refused to mount on the computer. Several phone calls, angry emails and $1,200 later we received a new drive from LaCie with all of our original footage on it; good as new.

Troubleshooting Your Hard Drive

There are some preventative measures every editor should take when editing off of an external hard drive. All drives should be kept in a cool (not freezing!), dry environment. The best thing to do is to keep them at your locked office at all times. If you have to transport them, keep them in the box that came with the drive.

They should be on a desk or other stable piece of furniture, but always backed up against a wall. Never have food or drink in the vicinity of your drive. If your drive is powered through an AC wall adapter, make sure you are always using a surge protector. It is common for drives to get shocked, especially if you are working in an office space where several people are using computers.

If you notice something is wrong with your hard drive, there are several things you can try before calling in the professionals:

  1. Turn off the drive and let it sit in a cool, safe place overnight
  2. In the morning, power the drive using a surge protector and in a different location. If the light on the drive turns on and the drive starts to hum, it is not a power connection problem.
  3. Try using all interfaces to connect to the computer
  4. Try using both a Mac and a PC. If the drive is on but does not mount on the computer, this usually indicates that the drive will need to be replaced.

For more information, visit the website of the company that makes your hard drive.

What You Should Know About Your Warranty

Don’t let hard drive companies fool you with their “3 year warranty” or “unlimited tech support” promises. We purchased your typical 2TB LaCie hard drive. It turns out that LaCie drives are prone to power damage. That means that without you doing anything wrong, LaCie drives can give themselves an electric shock that will disable the drive permanently.

While LaCie has acknowledged this is a know bug, they have not agreed to front the costs to retrieve lost data. With most hard drive companies, your warranty will not cover data loss. With LaCie in particular, they run their data recovery through a third party and charge their customers all of the fees. I am happy to report that LaCie gave us a new hard drive for free, but the third party company had to rebuild the broken drive from the ground up, which cost us an additional $1,200.

Buying a Good Hard Drive

When you are shopping around for a hard drive, as painful as it is stop looking at the price. A good hard drive costs more for good reason. Instead of dealing with the pain of losing your footage and paying quadruple for data recovery, buy multiple drives. I would suggest the GTech GRaid drive.

This is a duel drive, meaning every time you save, you are saving to two drives inside one casing. Additionally, it has firewire and USB interfaces and can work with Mac or PC. It retails at $400, and you can find similar drives by other brands for cheaper. A drive like this supplemented by small backup drives will save your film and your pocket down the road.

If you are only looking to save money, you should purchase a 1TB firewire hard drive for easy editing and purchase three USB hard drives as back up. In total, this should cost you about $400.

The moral of the story is, spend the extra cash to get a great hard drive and a few back up drives. If your drive is already broken, don’t fear! You may have to spend a lot of money, but you will get your data back. To see what a replaced drive can do, check out my film at

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Allison Gillette is a recent graduate from Emerson College’s documentary film program. Her first feature film “Cow Power,” tells the story of turning cow manure into renewable energy: saving farms and the environment. The film has been picked up by FilmBreak and GoDigital, and acclaimed by U.S Dairy. Gillette has worked for PBS’s NOVA as well as the Harvard Forest. Additionally, Gillette is the game play director for the International Quidditch Association; a sport with 600 teams spread across 30 countries. Her passion for nature and adventure drive her to use media to change the world.

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