Digitizing Dead Trees
When I lean back and let my mind mosey into the infinite fields of possibility, I imagine a utopian society in which everyone picks up after their dog, Small Wonder is back on the air, and film production no longer generates piles of paperwork. Sadly, the world does not bend to my will (yet), and filmmakers are a long way from going paperless.
We print piles of talent releases, location agreements, camera reports, call sheets, script revisions, rental agreements, crew contracts, and much more. Some of the apps I’ve discussed in this chapter will help reduce your dependency on the printed page and the waste it generates, but until every department embraces a digital workflow, filmmaking will continue to generate a cornucopia of documents. Fortunately, our iOS devices can help us collect, manage, and sort through it all.
One enormous advantage of digitizing your production’s paperwork is that it all becomes searchable. You’ll never have to scale a mountain of contracts just to find a particular form. Instead, whip out your iPad or iPhone, tap in a few keywords, and your desired document will materialize before you.
If you must generate paperwork, at least you can now digitize the documents, and then recycle them without fear of destroying anything important.
There are two primary ways of digitizing documents with your iPhone and iPad—with a physical scanner or with a scanning app. Let’s look at examples of both.
Go, Doxie Go
Nothing beats the quality of a dedicated hardware scanner. That said, most scanners are large, bulky devices that occupy too much desk space and are never as easy to use as their retail boxes would have you believe.
If you have a desktop scanner connected to a Mac or Windows machine and you’ve managed to figure it out (congratulations, by the way), then getting your scanned documents onto your iPad or iPhone is a snap. Simply use your scanner’s software to save your scanned documents as PDF files. Then import those files into your iOS devices as e-mail attachments or via iTunes File Sharing. Some iOS apps also support importing PDFs via a cloud storage service like Dropbox or iCloud. I covered a bunch of PDF reading apps, along with various importing techniques, in Chapter 2.
Desktop scanners are fine for office use, but what happens when you’re shooting on location? Do you really want to lug around a massive scanner everywhere you go? If you’d like to keep things portable but still be able to scan documents into your iPad, you, my friend, need a Doxie Go ($199).
Unlike other scanners, the Doxie Go was designed to be used away from your computer. In fact, its documentation warns against connecting it to a computer during a scan, claiming that such a connection would impede the device’s performance. Bottom line, the Doxie Go was meant to be used on the go (FIGURE 4.34).
Figure 4.34. The Doxie Go scanner is a battery-powered, wireless wonder that can scan production paperwork to SD memory cards, USB thumb drives, and its own internal memory.
Measuring only 10.5″ x 1.7″ x 2.2″ and weighing less than a pound, this thing is compact! You’ll barely notice it in your backpack, briefcase, or shoulder bag. For every two-hour charge, the Doxie’s internal battery will power through around 100 scans at its default setting of 300dpi (600dpi is available, but it eats more battery). It’s worth pointing out that once the battery is depleted, you’ll have to wait until it’s at least partially recharged before continuing to scan. In other words, you can’t plug it in and use it at the same time. First charge it; then use it. Plan accordingly.
As you might imagine, a scanner this small is meant to scan one sheet at a time, which makes it perfect for things such as talent releases and call sheets. If you have a two-sided document, you’ll have to scan one side and then flip it over and scan it again.
Aside from scanning production paperwork, the Doxie Go has another invaluable use for documentary filmmakers—scanning photographs. Recently, I produced a documentary, a good portion of which was shot in a restaurant located in the heart of Balltown, Iowa. The owners of the restaurant had dozens of astounding photos that we knew we wanted to include in the film. Unfortunately, the easiest way to capture them involved the director wasting valuable time by schlepping a full-sized desktop scanner to his hotel room where the images were scanned overnight. I wish we had a Doxie Go at that time! We could have scanned the photographs, imported them into our iPads to double-check the quality, and returned the original photos to their owners, all without ever leaving the restaurant. For this reason alone, my Doxie now has a permanent place in my gear collection.
By now, you’re probably wondering how the scans get from the Doxie Go onto your iPad or iPhone. You have great timing, because I was just about to explain that. There are two primary ways to transfer the scans, one more mind-blowing than the other.
The first way is the easiest but will work only with the iPad. Although the Doxie has its own built-in storage, you’ll need to plug in your own SD memory card or flash drive in order to pull this off—the Doxie has slots for both. You’ll also need Apple’s iPad Camera Connection Kit, a set of two adapters that will set you back about $29 (FIGURE 4.35). One adapter gives your iPad a USB port, while the other adds an SD card slot.
Figure 4.35. Apple’s iPad Camera Connection Kit allows your iPad to access SD memory cards and USB devices.
With either an SD card or flash drive inserted into the back of the Doxie, the device will scan documents directly to your removable media. When you’re done scanning, remove the SD card or flash drive from the Doxie, grab the appropriate Camera Connection Kit adapter, and plug your memory card (or stick) into your iPad (FIGURE 4.36). All of the scans become instantly available for import from within the Photos app. Each imported scan is added to your camera roll as a separate JPEG file. Now, clear the card, recharge your scanner, and repeat!
Figure 4.36. I use the Camera Connection Kit to import saved scans from an SD memory card.
Once you have the scans on your iPad, you can go one step further and upload them to an Evernote account. This will make them available to anyone you choose, and more importantly, it will make them searchable, thanks to the text recognition process Evernote automatically applies to JPEG images. Once you’ve uploaded your scans to Evernote, they will also become available on any of your other devices, including your iPhone and most desktop computers. Think about that for a moment...you can scan production paperwork on set and have those documents uploaded, sorted, made searchable, and shared with your entire production staff within minutes. In your face, fax machine!
The second method of transferring requires a very cool piece of tech called Eye-Fi, which is basically an SD memory card with a built-in Wi-Fi transmitter (FIGURE 4.37).
Figure 4.37. The Eye-Fi SD Card turns your Doxie into a totally wireless scanner, capable of transmitting files directly to your iPhone or iPad.
Once you’ve used your desktop computer to set up the Eye-Fi card (not the most intuitive process), pop it into the back of your Doxie Go and start scanning. Moments after a document passes through the scanner, the Eye-Fi card will wirelessly transmit the image directly to your iPad or iPhone running the free Eye-Fi app. Does that sound awesome? It should! Why? Because it’s awesome! Same as before, you can upload your scanned documents to an Evernote account if you’d like them to become searchable. Even better, if your Eye-Fi card is connected to a local Wi-Fi network with Internet access, it can upload scans directly to Evernote all by itself. Then you can access the documents via the Evernote app for iPhone and iPad. I know it’s a bit confusing, but that’s what happens when you have too many options.
On the downside, using the Eye-Fi card will reduce your Doxie’s battery life. Once again, plan accordingly.
You can order a 4GB Eye-Fi card directly from Apparent, the makers of the Doxie, for about $30, or you can grab one at your local Best Buy for around $40.
When a new iPhone or iPad is unveiled, it almost always sports an improved camera with higher resolution and updated optics. These hardware revisions do more than simply up the pixel count. They invite developers to create more powerful and versatile camera-dependent tools. Document “scanning” apps are a prime example of this. As cameras improve, so do the results of photographed documents. When you need to scan production paperwork and you don’t have a physical scanner like the Doxie at your disposal, using a camera-based scanning app is a terrific alternative.
There’s no shortage of document-scanning apps in the App Store. They all orbit around the same basic idea—after you take a photograph of a sheet of paper (or whiteboard) with your iOS device’s built-in camera, the app crops, rotates, distorts, and color processes your photo to generate a digital re-creation of the original document. Each app caries out this process a little differently. Some do all the work without any interaction, while others let you fine-tune each parameter along the way. Finished documents can be e-mailed, uploaded, printed, and shared depending on the options offered within a given app.
I keep a few scanning apps on my iOS devices at all times, but the one I rely on most is called DocScanner.
Forget for a moment that DocScanner produces the best-looking photo-based scans I’ve seen from any iOS device. What I find most remarkable about this app is its autodetection features that kick in the moment you launch the app. Simply pointing your iPhone’s or iPad’s camera at a document will cause DocScanner to automatically identify the edges of the paper, even if it’s rotated or skewed. The best edge detection occurs when your document is placed on a surface that’s colored differently than the paper you’re scanning. In other words, a white document on a white table might make the app gasp in terror, but a white document on a dark table will work wonders (FIGURE 4.38).
Figure 4.38. When scanning a document with DocScanner, the app does most of the work for you, making it your lowest-paid crew member.
Before you snap the photo, prepare to witness a second bit of prestidigitization (not a real word, but I’m considering petitioning Webster). As soon as DocScanner identifies the edges of the document, it will also attempt to detect the type of item you’re scanning, classifying it as either a document, receipt, business card, whiteboard, or miscellaneous. The app doesn’t always guess correctly, but I’ve found it to be surprisingly accurate.
Seconds after you tap the scan button, your document will be scanned and waiting for you within the app’s document library (FIGURE 4.39). If you’d like, DocScanner can even perform OCR in any of 36 available languages, making your scan fully searchable. If that weren’t enough, your scans can also be automatically uploaded to iCloud and Evernote (allowing you to take advantage of Evernote’s awesome sharing tools). There are a few other whiz-bang features, like networking to an external scanner, but I believe I’ve pimped this app sufficiently.
Figure 4.39. After DocScanner works its magic, your corrected scan appears on-screen.
Like most apps, DocScanner isn’t perfect. It can yield some funky results if conditions aren’t ideal. Also, because the app just received a major overhaul, there are bound to be a few pestering bugs that will need to be squashed. The app’s growing pains aside, if you love the idea of digitizing your production paperwork and don’t want to carry (or pay for) an additional piece of hardware, take a look at DocScanner.