General Assembly maintain competitive post-production services on up to date equipment for nonfiction projects and clients without huge budgets, while also controlling costs.

Quantum general assembly

Before founding their post facility General Assembly in Los Angeles in early 2023, Tanner Alvarez and Beau Tipton had built careers in television production, but could see that the post-production landscape was changing. Post options for creative teams producing nonfiction content, such as documentary series, were shrinking as larger facilities began to acquire medium-sized post companies. Non-fiction producers often lacked the budgets to work with larger post-production studios that cater for feature films and scripted series.

Tanner is a former Netflix post-production executive, and Beau is a post-production supervisor with 20 years of experience in film and TV. They decided to form General Assembly to address the changes in their field, gathering a leadership team comprised of Beau’s brother John Tipton, a cinematographer, and Brian Thomas, an experienced director and producer. Their goal was a full-service post-production studio that could serve creative teams and businesses of any size, including those working on nonfiction projects.

One of their first steps was designing the technical infrastructure. The challenge was maintaining high quality post-production services – using up to date equipment – for nonfiction projects and clients without huge budgets, while also controlling costs. Storage would be a critical factor, with reliability as the top priority. “I wanted to build a storage infrastructure that would present no hardware issues when we were in the most critical stage of post production, and simply work,” Tanner said.

Expanding Post Services

Early in the system selection process, the General Assembly team considered Quantum because of Tanner’s experience with the Quantum StorNext platform at an earlier job. “My three years there was the only time in my career when we never went down due to storage,” he said.

Consequently, the company implemented a flash-based StorNext system for online storage. Fibre channel connectivity gives the post-production teams fast access to online content, while flash storage maintains high performance. The company set up multiple StorNext volumes, each configured for a singular use case. For example, one volume is configured to address potential issues with audio and picture finishing.

Quantum general assembly2

For nearline storage, General Assembly implemented a Quantum Scalar tape library with LTO drives. “We make robust, multi-layered backups available at no additional cost to our clients,” said Tanner.

Performance and Reliability

Since its founding in 2023, General Assembly has rapidly taken on several high-profile projects, including the Amazon Prime docuseries Coach Prime, which follows NFL coach Deion Sanders in his impressive collegiate coaching career. Such projects demand fast work. “The turnaround time is incredibly rapid,” said Beau Tipton, who takes the role of executive producer at General Assembly. “Moreover, if we don’t make our deadlines, there’s hell to pay.”

So far, the team has completed and delivered all work on time, and partly attributes their timelines to StorNext. “We’re just completing our picture finishing work on Coach Prime season 2, and we have had zero down days with Quantum and no issues when it comes to finishing,” Beau said.

At the same time, the team faced reliability issues with its offline systems from other vendors. Initially, they chose very economical systems for our offline storage – but consider that they’re paying for that now.

“We have one offline storage system that promised to support a certain number of editors at certain speeds with no latency or playback issues,” Beau said. “But it was probably designed for the needs of scripted series with two or four cameras, not a docuseries where you might have 30 cameras, with 18 editors and story producers, all working at the exact same time. With our projects, that system hasn’t been able to keep up.”

They have encountered ‘pending media’ issues that have lasted 10 minutes, and had to manage downtime, including periods dedicated to maintaining the system. “We would rather have spent that time scaling our business,” Tanner commented

Online / Offline Storage Integration

As a result, General Assembly’s team is making a change to using Quantum as well for offline storage, having decided that building their storage environment on one reliable storage platform is a better strategy. They have now started working with Quantum to design the new build-out of flash-based offline storage that uses the StorNext Distributed LAN Client (DLC), which operates through a SAN-like connection over Ethernet.

DLC was developed for rapid file sharing among servers. A new type of data sharing was added that allows LAN-based access to StorNext volumes. The clients connect to StorNext volumes through clustered gateway systems, so that StorNext File System environments function as clustered NAS systems.

Quantum general assembly3

Having a single storage platform for online and offline storage is anticipated to simplify workflows for the General Assembly team and its clients. “Our aim is to serve as a comprehensive facility that integrates offline with online storage, which makes conform and transfer processes much easier. Basically, you drop the media off, and we deliver the finished results. You don’t need to go anywhere else,” Tanner said.

The integration of online and offline storage will help General Assembly simplify delivery of not only projects but also promotional content. Beau said, “For example, for large customers like Amazon Studios, we regularly need to pull assets from our archive to deliver elements to the marketing team,”

Widening the Availability of Enterprise-Grade Systems

Because of their modest budgets, teams producing nonfiction and documentary projects are often limited to outdated equipment. “When I’ve worked on documentary series in the past, shows were typically edited on ageing, legacy storage systems,” Tanner said. “We know that teams working on those types of projects are ready for a change.”

Looking ahead, the General Assembly team plan to widen their workflow capabilities by adding more of Quantum’s platform options such as CatDV asset management and workflow orchestration tools, which could be a further advantage for clients. “Access to enterprise-grade hardware and software is going to be really exciting for our colleagues who work in the nonfiction world,” Tanner said.