Camera Obscura: Ben Nelson on Technology Tools and Coding

Ben works as Hayden5’s director of technical operations, acting as the point person for all of the technology tools and services utilised by the company, and an advisor on complex, high-tech production projects. He built the company’s Lightning Delivery service, collaborated with the head of product and services to create DropKit Ship, and maintains all company workstations and servers, including the storage server used by Hayden5’s production and post teams. Ben also regularly builds internal tools to support workflows in Hayden5’s post department. He joined Hayden5 after spending four years at Complex Networks in roles that included manager of post & studio operations.

LBB> What is your niche craft obsession?

Ben> I’m obsessed with Python. Yes, the programming language. Python is an amazing tool in post production environments, it’s just that most people might not know it yet. Post teams are often dealing with repetitive, mundane (but necessary!) tasks that could easily be automated with a few lines of Python code. Tasks like file renaming, file delivery, transcoding, captioning, archival, versioning, etc. Python makes it all so easy. Who doesn’t want to make the computer do all the boring work?

LBB> Where/ when/ how did you first come across this thing? 

Ben> I first started using Python in college in an intro to computer programming class at NYU. I didn’t realise at the time that it had real-world applications beyond teaching the basics of programming. So I didn’t touch it for several years. But I did enjoy it a lot, and I found I was pretty good at it. I had a friend who would give me six packs in exchange for helping him with his homework, so of course I have a positive association with it!

LBB> Was it an obsession straight away or something that has evolved over the years?

Ben> It certainly wasn’t an obsession straight away. I only began to realise its potential as a tool for post production teams when I was at Complex. At first, I used it for very basic tasks, like batch file renaming. Over the years I dove deeper into the online Python community and discovered uses specific to the production world. Now, Python plays an essential part of Hayden5’s production and post operations, automating everything from media ingest and delivery to freelancer onboarding and more.

LBB> What are the most interesting debates or conversations you are having around this obsession?

Ben> I’ve only spoken with a few others who have the same passion for Python and production as I do (there aren’t a ton of us!), and our goals tend to be the same: automate the boring stuff to leave more room for creativity. We’ll share new discoveries, tools, etc. with each other to that end. The debates I have are typically debates with myself, usually: is it worth it to spend more time automating something than it takes to do the thing? To which I’ll reassure myself: yes, of course, this is the equivalent of teaching the computer to fish.

LBB> How widespread do you think this obsession is with your peers?

Ben> I don’t think it’s widespread enough! So many post pros could benefit from learning a bit of Python. 

LBB> Can you share any examples of work where that obsession really came to the fore and elevated the final production? Can you tell us about it and share links if possible?

Ben> Python is the unsung hero of a lot of our work. It allows us to work quickly and focus on creativity as much as possible. Lightning Delivery, Hayden5’s accelerated media delivery product, runs on Python, and almost every project we do relies on Lightning Delivery. Check out the video we made about it here.

LBB> For anyone just getting into your field, what advice would you share to help them get their head around this particular thing?

Ben> Because Python is a programming language, there’s a ton of free learning material available on the internet. My favourite is W3Schools. Their tutorials are simple and start with the very basics. There are some other Python-specific sites that are great as well, like Real Python and Miguel Grinberg.

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