2 writer & filmmaker must-haves – backups and insurance

Bride of Frankenstein (Elsa Lanchester)

Two events have made me realise there’s a tool and a service that are vital for writers and filmmakers, but many overlook them.

The first was last week, when I knocked a pint glass of water over my MacBook Pro.

The second was when a friend, screenwriter Hina Malik (@dodgyjammer), tried to clean her laptop with a can of compressed air and accidentally squirted propellant into her laptop. Fortunately, the laptop wasn’t damaged.

The Bride of Frankenstein (Else Lancaster)

Soaking wet laptop and no insurance? This is how you'll react.

Property insurance
With our laptops, smartphones, netbooks and tablet computers have become vital tools for writers and filmmakers. Whether we’re writing scripts, planning shoots, or for communicating with other people.

If we lose these computers, we’re in trouble.

Most of us will take precautions to prevent loss, but many of us are casual about the dangers of drink. Despite knowing that electronic devices can be destroyed by spilling liquid on them.

Drop a cup of coffee over your laptop and you’re left with a pile of near-worthless spare parts, with your work trapped inside it. And as liquid damage usually voids warranties, you’ll have to pay for repairs or a replacement yourself.

To prevent the sudden expense of having to buy a new laptop, get personal property insurance and ensure that your computers and smartphones are covered under the accidental damage clauses while inside and away from your home. And double-check that liquid damage is not exempted.

If you have already have household insurance – or you’re living with someone who does (like a parent or spouse) – your belongings may be included in the policy, but check to make sure. But if you’re in rented accommodation, this is vital as a landlord’s building insurance probably won’t cover your own stuff.

While adding computers and smartphones to your insurance premiums for 12 months may be an additional expense, it costs far less than buying replacements.

Cloud sync services
Whether they’re notes, completed scripts, storyboards, shooting plans, contracts or rushes, today all of our work is stored as 1s and 0s stored in your laptops’ hard drives.

So backing up that data is vital. But making regular backups is a chore. And like all chores some some people – like me – will put them off.

Instead make it easy for yourself by using an automatic cloud-based file sync service.

I use Dropbox because it’s fully automatic. Once the Dropbox utility is installed runsin the background, enabling an instant and continuous backup of all files contained in a special Dropbox folder.

Your Dropbox folder can be accessed on other computers through a web browser and the Dropbox utility can be installed on different computers, allowing the Dropbox folder to synchronised over multiple machines.

There’s are also Android and iOS Dropbox apps, and other apps – such as GoodReader and Office2 HD – can open and save to Dropbox folders.

You also get a ‘Public’ folder which serves as a quick file sharing service.

Dropbox isn’t the only cloud sync service around. Lifehacker has an article listing the pros and cons of five popular services.

When this post appeared on my Google+ page, Randall Oelerich flagged up Crashplan. This service is similar to Drobox and SugarSync, but for $50 it offers unlimited storage, and keeps backups of your deleted files.

However, these services are useful, you should also regularly backup or clone your laptop.

No excuse to backup
These days there is no excuse for failing to do a local backup of your hard drive. Terabyte external hard drives are affordable – a 2TB external hard drives cost under £130 and will give a surplus of storage for laptop users – and Windows and Mac OS X come with built-in file backup utilities.

But while making regular backups is good, making regular bootable clones of your laptop’s hard drives offers even more protection.

A bootable clone is a copy of your entire hard drive – including the operating system and installed applications.

If you having to replace your computer or its hard drive, restoring from a clone ensures everything will be intact. And you won’t have to go reinstall and reregister all your software and its OS.

Utilities like Carbon Copy Cloner (free, Mac) and Paragon’s Drive Backup Express (free, Windows) make copying an entire, bootable, hard drive a simple process.

One step beyond backups…
A RAID-based file server on a home network offers even more protection. These can over 30TB of storage space that can be accessed anywhere in the world.

It costs costs about £500 ($650) and a couple of hours to build an expandable RAID-based server. This MacWorld article below describes how it can be done.

Now motherboards with integrated CPUs and GPUs are a valid option. You just have to buy a couple of SATA port expansion cards, plenty of fans, and a hard drive enclosure to make expanding the server’s capacity easier.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this post I have learnt of another cloud back system: Carbonite. This system offers a similar service to Crashplan, on different plans. But if you’re on a Mac system – like me – Carbonite only offers its limited basic plans to be used. You still get unlimited storage, but the service isn’t fully automatic, and you don’t get the extra services offered to Windows users (such as a new hard drive, restored from your uploaded backup, couriered to you).

I also forgot to mention Mozy. I used to use Mozy’s free 2GB service before switching to Dropbox. However, Mozy is a service that should considered, although it doesn’t offer unlimited storage.


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About rcosgrove

UK-based journalist, screenwriter and director.

35 responses to “2 writer & filmmaker must-haves – backups and insurance”

  1. Randall Oelerich says :

    I have been using the free trial version of Crashplan the past couple of weeks, loving it, it is automated cloud backup. Less than $50/year for cloud backup on their servers, or you can use their software free for your own network drives in your home, or send your data to a friend's PC, etc. Wonderful software, voted #1 by Veronica Belmont of Tekzilla, on a post here on g+ from about 2 weeks ago with reviews of various cloud storage servies.

  2. Richard Cosgrove says :

    +Randall Oelerich Crashplan sounds like a good service. I like how it saves deleted versions of your files.

  3. Randall Oelerich says :

    Crashplan interface GUI (but it also runs as a service in the background) is highly configurable, more so than a couple of others I tried; you can control bandwidth and cpu percentage used when using or not using your PC; 448 bit data encryption which is insane level of encryption (military NSA strength) before transmission, and also 128 bit encryption (online banking strength, damn good) for the actual transmission.

  4. Richard Cosgrove says :

    Encryption isn't something I'm overly bothered about. As far as I'm concerned the only way to ensure any file is secure is to keep it completely off the internet. If someone really wants your data, they'll get it.The bandwidth Dropbox uses is automatically configured. But as my ISP only allows me to upload at around 200Kbps, on a 50Mbps line, major uploads takes days.

  5. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Richard Cosgrove You might want to check out using Crashplan for your own network drive, that way you have all the software features of Crashplan, no cost save for the network drive (or you can use a usb drive too), and yet get the automagic backup of your writing.

  6. Richard Cosgrove says :

    I'll consider it. But Dropbox has a network sync feature as well. I'm yet to set up the network server. I have to spend money getting a new MacBook first.

  7. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Richard Cosgrove dropbox looks good for writers wanting only to backup writing material. Looks like it gets expensive though as you add storage. I would be paying $1000/year for dropbox given that I have a terabyte (1000GB) of data to backup [Crashplan has unlimited storage for the $50/year, so i need that storage]. That is the kicker for most other data backup plans– they get you for the storage space. Except for crashplan. But if someone does not need much space than dropbox or others should work find.

  8. Robin Put says :

    I don't own a laptop but have 2 desktops sitting deep under my desk, safe from any coffee, coke and water :) my keyboard however has been baptized more then once, I always have a spare one just in case.I keep backups of everything I have on usb 3.0 external drives but know that even that is not safe, if your house burns down it's all gone. Keeping a copy of all your crucial work data on an external location is much safer but quite a hassle if you need to move data every day from your desktop to your ext drive to that external location.I did not hear from crashplan before so that's a great share, cloud backup seems a good backup option but upload speeds on my account is about 125kbs so pretty useless, My pc would be uploading every night, all night long to keep up. Also having all my data on the internet, even with a encryption is a bit scary, like been said, if they really want to get your data, they will. And I'm not sure if a cloud based server can give you 100% guarantee that their servers will never crash loosing your data partly or completely. But nonetheless, it's a great addition to any local backup plan.Good tip for coffee or water drinkers, get a cup with a closed lid and a straw, if that falls over, you can continue typing on that laptop :)

  9. Randall Oelerich says :

    On NPR just now, silent (as in "you don't see it happening like someone kicking your puppy" [guest's words, not mine]) intellectual property theft by a certain countries (China, Russia, Iran [named by guest on NPR, not me]) outside the USA estimated to be as high as a trillion dollars, through network snooping / stealing e.g. furniture design plans, etc. I would not put it past such foreign firms to even look for screenplays. Me, I will take that 448 bit encryption on Crashplan :) and also keep my home network as secure as possible.

  10. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Robin Put a cool feature of Crashplan software (free software) is you can do the encrypted automated backups to a friend's house, and they can save to your PC too, or a network drive you both share, etc.,. and that costs nothing, no monthly fee, no storage fee, and the files are stored on personal drives– yet by having backups at a friend's house and vice versa, you are protected from fire / lightning / burglary / voltage surges, and such. I really like that a lot with Crashplan, and though I could do that with genetic software, Crashplan software handles it all so automatically and when new files are created or editing, that is a huge feature. I am sold on Crashplan.

  11. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Robin Put even at upload 125kbps Crashplan would get the job done. Might take a a few weeks, but it works automagically behind the scenes while your PC is on; and then it just has to do incremental backups. Try it out, two weeks free for storage to their cloud servers– and see how well it backs up– start out just choosing some easy folders to back up (text stuff, like writing material). A quick workaround for lots of data but slow connection would be to backup to a network drive in your home, then take that network drive to a friend's house and backups would only have to be incremental, not so much bandwidth, yet safe in case of fire, theft, etc. (incidents in your house, not your friend's).

  12. Robin Put says :

    Ow, that's great, thx for the info Randall, did not have the time yet to go deeper into crashplans functionalities but will sure do some testings the following days. I just love google+, the amount of useful info I got for that short period I"m registered here is absolutely great.

  13. Randall Oelerich says :

    A simple FREE way to use Crashplan, would be to just backup to your external usb drive that you have a friend plug into their PC! No monthly cost, nada! Your data is even highly encrypted so your friend could not even snoop on your data. They could do the same, backup to their drive kept attached to your PC. I might do this with my friend too, trying to decide. But for $50 a year it is kind of a no-brainer for me just to pay crashplan for unlimited storage on their cloud server storage space. But the friend to friend method solves bandwidth usage if you do your initial backup locally, then swap external (or internal if you prefer) drives with a friend for incremental backups over the net.

  14. Randall Oelerich says :

    haha, no, i have no affiliations with nor do i get any sales commission from crashplan. :) i am a geek though, and have looked into cloud storage for some time. my writer friend, also I know Veronica Belmont of Tekzilla also, uses Carbonite. I think Crashplan is new, and i really like its 448bit encryption, that is fricking NSA/military strength. Now I have nothing to hide from my government, but I do not trust foreign governments, and 14 year old hackers, from want to snoop and steal intellectual property such as my high concept screenplays. 448 bit encryption is surreal. I back up to several external USB drives, and keep one in my basement firebox, but even that is not safe from a serious house fire, thieves, etc. I backup to google docs, but that is not automated like crashplan and seriously i have 2TB of data to backup, so I need the unlimited storage crashplan offers, no extra charge.

  15. Richard Cosgrove says :

    +Robin Put Sync services all use incremental backups. The first backup uploads all of your files so takes a long time. After that they only upload files that have been changed. And Dropbox, SugarSnap and Crashplan upload continually, so files are uploaded immediately as they're changed.I think your data is already safe against everything short of a high-altitude nuclear explosion creating an electromagnetic pulse.+Randall Oelerich You don't have to worry about screenplays being stolen. There are so many screenplays on the market right now producers don't have to go to the hassle of stealing them or buying screenplays that may have been stolen. It's the definition of a "buyer's market".

  16. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Richard Cosgrove so then how about posting ten of your high concept blake snyder lognlines here for myself and others to read? :) On a side note, 99.99% of screenplays are utter crap, so as for a buyers market, the supply of good material to buy is actually quit limited.

  17. Richard Cosgrove says :

    +Randall Oelerich A logline is an idea. What matters is the execution of that idea.Even allowing for 99.99% of screenplays being crap that still leaves hundreds to a few thousand that aren't. And out of those, many are available online – either on writers' websites or on social media sites, like Circalit – so no laborious hacking is required to get them.But given feature film production companies can received a hundred spec screenplays a month – possibly more in some cases – they don't have to steal.

  18. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Richard Cosgrove so… since what matters is execution, how about sharing 10 of your high concept loglines of stories yet to be executed? And can i use them to execute a screenplay of my own? :) I certainly would not follow lemmings and post my screenplays online with public access– maybe on inktip.com but they control access quite tight to feature screenplays. Hell, even for Batman, I believe it was David Goyer who talked (on The Dialogues )about how they were super secretive about just the title

  19. Richard Cosgrove says :

    I seem to have this discussion every few weeks. Each time it's from someone who doesn't know how the film (or publishing) industry works. And each time it annoys me more than the last.The "stolen screenplay" is an urban myth.Give me 10 cases where it has been proven, in a court, a producer has stolen a screenplay from a writer and produced a feature film about it – without the writer having ever met the producer previously, or even submitted their work to them. (That does not include out-of-court settlements used to get rid of nuisance legal suites.) That's the scenario you're presenting: that your work is so brilliant that your computer will be hacked in order for producers to get at the screenplays.The only legitimate cases I can think of is Pulp Fiction. Tarantino took credit for writing some of the stories in the film that his friends actually wrote. But everyone knows about it anyway.So here's the reality check for you: 1. Producers have no need to steal scripts. There are hundreds of thousands of themAn agent I spoke to recently said he gets over 20 spec screenplays submitted on spec – in other words, the scripts are sent in even though he hasn't asked the writer to send it.(Before this continues: 20 screenplays a week is a conservative estimate. The BBC Writersroom accepts scripts from screenwriters in the UK who want to work for the BBC. They receive around a thousand scripts per month.)Applying the 20-scripts-per-week to individual production companies means they receive nearly 90 unsolicited scripts a month, just over 1,080 in a year. As there are about 500 film production companies in Hollywood, means there are up to 520,000 unsolicited screenplays in Hollywood. (Not including specs submitted to agents, managers, TV companies and individual producers.)Even going by the "99.99% of everything is crap" rule, that means 5,000 good spec screenplays are available to producers in a year.This year around 90 spec screenplays have been optioned. And a fraction of them will be made into features. 2. Stealing a script is too much hasslePeople – including other people at the production company, to development execs, to directors – will need to meet the writer.The script will need rewriting. And that writer will expect to be paid anyway.Lawyers will need the paperwork to show where the screenplay came from, so they know they won't get sued for copyright violations. The producer will get sued. If the film does get made and released – and the chances are it won't – the producer will likely face an expensive court battle.And any producer who attempts this will struggle to find any funding or people to work with again. Effectively, they'll be blackballed from the industry.3. Ideas are cheapA logline is an idea. It's a marketing tool. I could give you 10 loglines for you to use, but in the end you would create scripts that have almost no connection to the ones I'd write.That is what producers pay money for: the screenwriter's style and their originality. Which they promptly try to beat out of them.4. Your screenplays aren't as good as you think they areWhether it's because the style of screenplay isn't fashionable, or the reader just doesn't like it, your screenplay isn't a masterpiece. But then neither are anyone's.5. Screenplays don't travel wellA screenplay that works equally well in the USA and UK market, in Europe, in India, in China, in Russia etc is a very rare thing, due to the differences in cultures and audience expectations for the cinema. So the likelihood of a hacker in Shanghai breaking into your computer to steal a screenplay to sell to a Hong Kong producer are tiny.If you're submitting work to US companies it is worth registering the script with the US Copyright Office, because it gives you additional protection. But if your screenplay is shot, it's more likely that someone will sue you claiming that you stole their idea.The Batman film would've been kept under wraps so tightly because the studio didn't want the story getting out. It's part of the marketing. And it helps to prevent spoilers.

  20. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Richard Cosgrove so I am still waiting for those high concept loglines. :) Have had the same discussion on dvxuser screenplay forum where I am a regular. Loglines and scripts are stolen, then rewritten, revised. I even read an author recently who know people in the know who admitted to it, secretly, off the record to him. Oh well. You do not have to share your loglines, that would be too risky. But if you have no worries about them being stolen, then why not post them here? Hmm.

  21. Richard Cosgrove says :

    And I'm waiting for you to give 10 cases where it has been proven in court a producer has stolen a screenplay.A clue to the urban myth status is people who say they know screenplays are stolen for a fact say "I spoke to a guy who knows someone who once spoke to the assistant of…" etc. You won't find people who say "This happened to me."Many writers claim their scripts are stolen because films appear that resemble their scripts. I've seen films and TV shows that have closely resembled material I've outlined in notebooks. But I'm not crying that people from Hollywood or the UK TV industries have broken into my flat, photographed my notebooks, put them back exactly where I left them, and then written scripts based on my notes.But in order to shut you up about the loglines:1. During the early Twentieth-Century, werewolves are involved in industrial espionage.2. A sexy executive, a verbally-abusive axe murderer, and an itinerant maid discover their true selves in a small office.3. An ecologist rooms with the irritating adopted son of a hitman in the jungle.4. A disillusioned wife gets help recovering from addiction from a disabled personal trainer at her gym.5. A group of stupid toys team up to commit a bank heist, so their owner will be able to pay off his debts.6. A politician learns his daughter is a hacker.7. A ravishing photographer and a hitman meet and become friends on a cruise ship.8. In the 1950s, twins are separated at birth at a boarding school dooming their lives.9. A conceited footballer, an outgoing player player, and a talent scout reminisce old memories.10. Two zombies from an apocalyptic future travel through time back to the 1950s suburbs.

  22. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Richard Cosgrove I can't (provide the evidence; criminals hide their trail). Kudos to you for posting your loglines. I will admit you are right at least in your beliefs. You have this round. :)

  23. Richard Cosgrove says :

    Then provide court cases where screenwriters have sued producers for stealing screenplays and won. Or criminal cases where producers have been prosecuted for stealing screenplays.

  24. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Richard Cosgrove Last one, I just do have time or interest to keep research. Unlike 10 loglines in your files to copy paste, this takes time. I think this is some of the other links, but it shows there can be risk in having ideas stolen. http://mayareynoldswriter.blogspot.com/2006/11/film-studio-stole-my-idea_14.html

  25. Randall Oelerich says :

    But make of my previous links what you will, no worries, all good regardless of any personal conclusions. Me, I copyright my stories as loglines, synopsis, treatment, first draft, second draft. About all I can do. But personally I do not have your courage Richard to post my ideas on the web for the 7 billion people on the planet to google, including those from countries outside the USA who do not respect intellectual property (and it would near impossible for me to find theft of USA scripts/loglines made into foreign movies!).

  26. Richard Cosgrove says :

    You don't "copyright" works – it's not a verb. When you complete any creative work it is automatically protected by copyright, which basically means it's your property in the same way as if you built a chair yourself. But in the USA you have to register creative works with the US Copyright Office in order to get the full protection of federal copyright law. It's a similar system to China's.Those links don't refer to movies being made from copied scripts. They're claims by writers a released movie has been based on an idea for script that they were going to write. But it would have been very easy to prove that they really had written those screenplays because they would have written the screenplay.Instead they submitted a treatment, a film came out later that resembled their treatment, and they decided to try and cash in.Cases like these are why producers and production companies say they don't want unsolicited submissions. It's to stop being hit by expensive, time-consuming and nuisance law suits.Like I said earlier, similar things have happened to me about a dozen times. I've outlined stories or concepts for films and TV shows and anywhere from a few months to a couple of years later a film or TV show has appeared that's a close match to my idea. Even though no-one has ever seen my notes except myself. That happens because of parallel creation – two writers creating similar works independently of each other – which is a surprisingly common event.And those loglines are useless. They're descriptions of a concept used to market the script to potential producers and investors. Any writer can take any of them and produce a screenplay that is completely different to the one I'd write.For example, take this long logline:A vampire, who's sworn never to drink human blood again, falls in love with a young woman. But other vampires are pressuring him into continuing to hunt humans, and put his girlfriend's life at risk.From that basis story one writer created Twilight and another True Blood.Or how about:A young woman breaks up with the vampire she was dating and begins to see another man, who turns out to be a werewolf.That's the sequel to Twilight and one of the arcs from the Anita Blake supernatural romance series by Laurel K Hamilton (which predates the Twilight series by over a decade).Ridley Scott's Alien is almost identical to the comedy sci-fi Dark Star; Assault on Precinct 13 is Night of the Living Dead, except it uses gangs instead of zombies; and Avatar is a Disney movie Pocahontas.

  27. Randall Oelerich says :

    +Richard Cosgrove " You don't "copyright" works – it's not a verb" Yes, I know. As this is not an English term paper I chose to use the term loosely. I have an account with the US Lib of Congress (Lib by the way is short for library) and register my works there,.

  28. Richard Cosgrove says :

    People saying they "copyright work" leads other people to believe that copyright is not an automatic protection, but is granted by a government. That's why I correct it.

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