Specs, Lies, and Videotape: Document Control for Movies

NoJarJarWhile researching Googling briefly for this article, I was shocked, shocked to find out that “document control for video” and “document control for movies” are both Googlenopes. Granted, there are eight hits for “version control for video” but (a) eight hits in the whole Internet is pretty pathetic and (b) version control and document control aren’t the same thing. Version control means that version B is reliably kept distinct from version A. But document control means (among many other things) that all of my users are using version B of the video, and none of them are using version A.

Who cares? After all, you might prefer the original version of “The Phantom Menace,” while I might prefer the fan-edited version that completely removes Jar-Jar Binks from the action. The thing is, I work in medical devices: If version A accidentally refers to the patient’s elbow as “that bendy thing in the arm,” you can see why it would be crucial to make sure everyone’s using version B. Just to make life more interesting, I also work in the world of paper-based records, so I need to be able to hand someone a piece of paper that reliably reflects the video.

This isn’t as hopeless as it sounds. When I release a new version of software that runs on our hardware, I also release a printed specification that specifies not only the software version but its CRC value. (CRC is an electronic error-check to ensure that the code is unchanged – and yes, we also verify the CRC value during device manufacture.) The electronic version of that same specification has the software embedded in it as an object, but that’s more of a matter of convenience than true control. Likewise, when I release a new version of a marketing poster, the printed specification has a reasonably high-res version of the poster in an appendix, and the electronic version has the InDesign (or whatever) file embedded as an object.

By the way, that printed appendix is extremely helpful for the whole document approval process, which is another crucial part of document control. When someone comes to audit us (and we just love auditors), we can prove that the folks who signed off on the paper specification were able to view the poster as it would be printed, more or less. Maybe the reviewers didn’t see it in all its glossy glory, but the text and pictures were clear enough.

But you can’t print a video, can you? Well, yes, you can. Just provide the full script (including descriptions of sound effects) and maybe some screen captures – even a full storyboard, if your reviewers are particularly nitpicky. Your reviewers should be able to not only watch the full video, and possibly to sign off that they watched it, but also to see enough detail in the printed specification to distinguish version A from version B. You’ll probably want a revision history table in the printed specification as well.

Anyone who’s worked in video knows that I’m describing the process backwards: You always have a script and storyboard before you start shooting. But for document control, the printed specification gets signed at the end of the approval process: “We saw the video, which follows this specification, which we approve of.” Another requirement is your own control of the actual file: A YouTube video can’t be under your document control, since it resides on their server and not on yours.

And even if it’s on your server, what if the intern slips in a split-second, subliminal ad for WordStar 7.0? Well, just because you control your documents doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun.

Dan Goldstein

Dan Goldstein was born and raised in Ithaca, New York, known to its denizens as “ten square miles surrounded by reality.” In tenth grade, Sylvia Mintz taught him everything he knows about writing. Years later (thirtieth grade, approximately), Neil Churgin taught him everything he knows about technical writing. Since 2002, Dan has specialized in Regulatory Affairs and Quality Assurance for medical devices, which is actually a lot of fun.

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