Three weeks ago, the benefits of building a remote post-production workflow were its flexibility, scalability, sustainability and in many cases, cost saving. While those still hold true, now in the time of the global pandemic, you can add safety and social responsibility to the list. Most jobs do not require much more than a home computer and a decent internet connection, but post production has its own set of challenges when a team is working in separate locations. Collaboration and managing large amounts of data become much more complicated when everyone is not under one roof.
In his blog post “Best Practices for Adopting a Remote Post-Production Workflow,” Zack Arnold (ACE), a film and television editor and documentary director, addresses the challenges and offers solutions to anyone looking to move to a remote workflow. Arnold examines how to build that workflow, the tools you will need and the mental attitude required to become remote operator, whether you are a team of one or 100.
Step one is examining your current workflow and deciding what the basics are and how they can be fulfilled by a remote team. Arnold asks different questions for different sized teams.
For the individual artist, “Will this tool or approach allow me the speed and quality my clients require?”
Producers or post production supervisors should ask, “Will this aspect of remote collaboration be possible on our existing infrastructure?”
Production companies and studio executives have a different set of concerns, such as, “Do our creative teams have the resources necessary to complete contracted projects? And if not, do we have the budget to expand our capabilities?”
Finally for people working at all levels, “Do I have the tools in place to ensure that working from home won’t drive me/my team absolutely insane?”
Cost is an issue for any team. For the solo editor, all of the costs are on you. A small shop likely covers the cost of equipment and connectivity, but you may want to consider the advantage of investing in an upgrade to your own system. Producers or post supervisors must put together the sizable budget needed to assemble a remote team, which may be dozens or even hundreds of collaborators and then get approval from the people who sign the checks.
Security is an issue which requires more consideration than even the budget. Money lost can be replaced or budgets adjusted. Loss of data is devastating both financially and to morale. Building a secure system is vital before work begins.
The ability to manage media and people across town or across an ocean can make or break your workflow. Tools from simple cloud storage such as Dropbox or Google Drive can do the job for a single operator.
For the midsize team, Arnold suggests what he calls a “SneakerNet,” where “team members have their own local storage drives mirrored with the same media and file directories as your other team members.” He explains that “The ‘sneaker’ part of this network is the PA or assistant who runs all over town constantly updating everyone’s media on their various drives and ensuring everything still relinks properly as directories are renamed and media is moved around.”
For larger teams with a good budget, he praises BeBop Technologies as “…close to the Holy Grail of editing from home as it gets. It’s essentially the first viable cloud-based post-production solution for the masses.”
With BeBop, all of your media and your editing system is cloud-based, making any local computer a workstation.
While communication from far-flung locations does not cost much these days, a bad system can end up costing money. Arnold warns that “Email is the single greatest time suck to creativity. And it is the worst possible way to track notes and changes.”
Instead, Arnold says that his “weapon of choice” is Slack, which besides being more efficient than email is also free. “I find that the volume of email I get from team members is reduced by 80-90 percent, even when not everyone adopts this solution,” says Arnold.
For project management Arnold suggests Trello, “…essentially a digital whiteboard with infinite customization that can be shared across all of your teams that’s accessible from any device. You can use it for tracking cuts and deliverables, individual VFX shots, documents, client notes, workflow checklists…if you can pin it to a white board you can organize it in Trello.”
Once the lines of communication are working, collaboration can begin. For smaller budgets, Arnold recommends Zoom and Frame.io. “Zoom allows you to screenshare, draw on your screen, and even write on a digital whiteboard that can be shared with everyone else on the call. And, best of all for those who require CHEAP, Zoom is incredibly affordable.”
He calls Frame.io “the future of remote collaboration in the digital age… It’s secure, cloud-based, and it scales to meet the needs of individuals all the way up to massive enterprises.”
If you have the budget , Arnold recommends Evercast, which “allows you to stream video directly out of your NLE of choice to any connected device on the planet… you can literally stream real-time from your local computer to someone’s iPhone, laptop, or iPad with extremely low latency… and the security is so robust that this collaboration platform has been approved by the majority of the major studios.”
As is the case with many work situations, Arnold says that “the most neglected part of your new workflow is most likely going to be the human one.”
Managing a team’s morale when they are not all within walking distance is a different task. Much of the responsibility falls to the individual team members to maintain themselves. Put yourself on a timer so that you remember to get up and stretch your legs and clear your head at regular intervals. Keep hydrated. Arrange your workspace to fit your needs. Repetitive stress injuries can hamper or end a job or career.
Mental focus is just as important. Dealing with interruptions from family or pets is unique to working from home. Distractions, whether they be social media or that sock drawer that needs organizing, have to be managed when you are your own supervisor.
Arnold also advocates for staying connected to people when you are normally isolated in a home office. “Make a point to stay in contact with friends and colleagues via text, Slack, or in Facebook groups. And beyond that, do your best to get out of the house at least once a week for an activity with friends in person.”
For greater detail on how to build a remote workflow and why it is the future of post production, read Arnold’s full blog post. “Whether we like it or not,” he concludes, “the time has come to take remote workflows seriously on a global scale.”