Wrap Binders, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Wasting Paper

If you don’t know what wrap binders are, take a moment to bask in the beautiful bliss that is your ignorance. Your world is a magical one, but it is one I can be a part of no longer.

Wrap binders might just be the biggest waste of time, space, and paper in a business that wastes all three with regularity and alacrity.

You see, television has what’s called continuity, or internal consistency. (Usually.) Events in previous episodes have an effect on future episodes. More importantly, scenes themselves have to appear to take place over continuous time.

One way to keep track of that is with photographs. Thousands and thousands of photographs. Every item of clothing, every accessory, every hair cut, every facial scar needs to be catalogued visually, in case we need to revisit that scene.

I’m not talking about flashbacks, either; frequently in the edit bay, we learn parts of scenes need to be re-shot, or insert shots are required to make the scene flow more smoothly. That’s where you need continuity pictures for the vanity departments, to make sure everyone’s dressed and made up the way they were when we first shot the scene.

It goes beyond make-up and costume, too. The property department needs to make sure they have the exact right prop; set dec needs not just the right dressing, but needs to know where it goes.

It’s all very complex, and even the best script supervisor can’t keep every detail in her head. So, she takes pictures, as does every other department.

As little as ten years ago, these pictures were taken with Polaroids, but nowadays, we more often use digital cameras. For ease of use on set, these still get printed out, and saved in continuity binders.

What do we do once we wrap? We save the binders. Why back up the digital files on a hard drive when you can take up physical space in a warehouse with scores of binders from each show, times the dozens of shows each network has on the air?

This really is what the ABC warehouse looks like.
I need a reference photo from episode 14, season 7, day 3 of 8, of cast member 14.

And that’s just the tip of the too-many-binders iceberg.

Just about every department has to put together binders full of pictures and information about every asset they’ve purchased over the season. Production has to create binders that contain every call sheet, production report, L&D report, script, pages, script report, time sheet, camera report, sound report, and Jesus Christ, I can’t keep adding to this list report.

Then we come to post, and you can really go crazy.

Best. Treehouse of Horror. Ever.
Don’t mind if I do!

The vast majority1 of television series now shoot on video. The files are saved on a hard drive, transferred to a computer to for editing, uploaded to a network server, then transmitted via satellite and fiber optics to your television set at home. At no point do we need a physical medium to watch TV.

Yet when it comes to the post production wrap binder, they have to burn DVDs of each episode, along with dailies.

Why is this a thing? Why is any of this a thing? All of this information, the photos, the reports, the goddamn show itself, can be stored on a single thumb drive.

It’s a generational thing. I solve problems with computers because I grew up with computers. I think they’re wonderful tools, and superior in nearly every way to paper, especially when it comes to long term storage.

But all that will have to wait until my generation is in charge.

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Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Possibly the entirety, now.
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5 Responses

  1. In documentary, every acquired image or clip has to be documented–vendor, what rights, terms, territory, etc.

    1. Which totally makes sense. I even get that you want to save the original hard copies in a file somewhere. What drives me bonkers is, why isn’t everyone else satisfied with an electronic copy, scanned from the original?

  2. I’m older but with you – I always hoped that the “digital age” meant we had less paperwork. It seems we just added the digital TO the paperwork and inordinate hard copies and other digital copies of deliverables and beyond. When the revolution come – and I hope it’s on the internet and not televised – know that I am with you in spirit.

  3. The show I worked on last year as a post PA was trying to push a move away from physical media. We were distributing dailies online, but we still had to hand deliver DVDs of every cut. I’m not complaining since I got tons of mileage pay out of it, but it did seem like a waste of resources. The wrap binders were pretty minimal compared to previous seasons after my boss convinced everyone that we were safe with backups on hard drives instead of countless DVDs.

  4. You can call me stupid here but aren’t they also stored on LTOs? DVDs will compress the quality of the files, will they not (MPEG/H.264) etc? Maybe I’m just talking about features (that would be a LOT of dvd storage/many dvds on some camera formats with 4K, 8K etc, unless they compress)? Again, maybe I’m wrong, but I went to an entire SMPTE seminar a year and a half ago about archival and LUTs, regaining correct color from damaged negs and all that jazz. Great, I sound like a nerd now.

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