I started my freelance career in 2002, mainly due to the economic downturn that followed the horrific events of September 11th. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan was the kick in the rear that moved the video industry from videotape to file deliverables. Challenges often spawn innovation. As they say, necessity is a mother.
The current pandemic and efforts at social distancing have invigorated discussions and efforts to facilitate ways in which post teams—editors, designers, colorists, mixers, and producers—can work from home. There are many different ways in which people can and do collaborate remotely. Some methods work quite well. Others are still very much a pipe dream. Let’s talk about what works today:
Review and Approval
I haven’t had a client sit over my shoulder in an edit session for years. Services like Frame.io, Wipster, and Kollaborate are the best and easiest way to send rough cuts to clients and/or the team at large, gather notes, and post final deliverables. Vimeo Pro also offers a similar service or you can do something as simple as post an unpublished link on YouTube. The advantage of a professional service like Frame.io is the ability to integrate extensions into Final Cut Pro X and Premiere Pro.
It is also possible to use the internet to remotely share your timeline and make interactive decisions with a client. These systems work, but suffer from latency. Video conferencing methods like Zoom or even a simple webcam pointed at your screen are one approach. Editor Sofi Marshall has blogged about using Blackmagic’s Web Presenter as a method of sharing a cut with a client.
Shipping Files Over the Internet
Most projects make it unrealistic to push a large volume of native media dailies over the internet to an editor or colorist. However, if you do need to send full-resolution files, then use the consolidation (aka media management) function of your NLE. This trims down your longer files into a set of shorter selects that are more easily transferred.
A method frequently used by colorists is to be sent a “flattened” export of the timeline. All effects, graphics, and any temp color corrections have been removed. The edit is now a single ProRes or DNx master file. In turn, the colorist will “slice” the file (add edits at the cuts), apply a grade, and then export a new, color-corrected master file. This can be shipped back to the client over the internet or on a drive.
Moving large files over the internet is often a challenge mostly due to the local service provider at either end. DropBox is one way, but it’s a very poor service for this application. Solutions specifically designed to move large files include Signiant, Hightail, WeTransfer, FileMail, and MASV.
Mirrored Media/Shared Projects
By far the most proven method for working in distributed teams is to mirror the media. Every editor has a full copy of project’s media at their own location. Then, collaboration is achieved through the exchange of Avid bins, Final Cut Pro X library files, or Premiere Pro and Resolve project files. In order to make this work smoothly, each editor must be using a matching folder structure and naming convention, common locations for cache files, and the same set of LUTs and plug-ins. This method requires time to copy media to the drives and transport them to the editor(s). Once that’s done, the rest is relatively easy.
There are many ways in which editors can work this way other than simply transferring project files. Adobe Premiere Pro editors who are part of a Team account can use team projects. These are project files (not media) hosted in the cloud, which can be accessed by anyone on the team. Differences between versions of the project are reconciled upon check-in. Final Cut Pro X editors might use a service like Postlab, which offers similar functionality to the Adobe approach.
Collaboration in the Cloud
What if you want everyone to be able to tap into a common pool of media that is hosted and controlled either at a facility or in the cloud? At this point there are two caveats. First, this level of functionality comes with an enterprise-level price tag and you may need to add infrastructure to support it. Second, it is only realistic to work this way in offline/online editor workflows for now. That’s because internet speeds are such that you can only move low-res proxy media to each editor if you want to maintain an expected level of editing fluidity. Therefore, you will need some support staff at a facility that can transcode media, conform high-res files when the cut is locked, and get deliverables out the door. So you can move the editors out of the house, but you haven’t completely distributed the whole operation.
Avid offers such a remote infrastructure if you have invested in Media Composer software, Nexis storage, and a Media Central infrastructure. Other options include BeBop Technology and Blackbird. A variation to this is DejaSoft’s DejaEdit, if you already have an Avid-based infrastructure. It works to synchronize media and projects in the background around the world, much like DropBox on steroids.
Remotely Tapping Into Your Own Storage
In the rush to send editors home in light of COVID-19 guidelines, many facility owners are investigating ways to remotely tap into their existing infrastructure of shared storage. If you could edit directly from the media that is on your NAS—and at full, native resolution—then there is no need to copy files to drives that editors can take home. There are some obvious security concerns, regardless of whether you connect through standard web ports or use a VPN. These will provide roadblocks for some, but not all.
Security aside, if you own storage from LumaForge, QNAP, or Studio Network Solutions, just to name a few, you can add the ability to remotely view and work with files on your own system. Since this won’t happen at the 10Gbps speeds that you are used to on-premise, it’s not really a conducive way to edit. However, it’s a good way to grab a file from your NAS and transfer it to your local computer. Since you are only accessing files and not using processing power, you can’t use this method to transcode files or send them somewhere else without bringing them to your own system first. However, such functions can be tackled through TeamViewer. Simply remote into a computer at the facility with the storage mounted. Then use that machine to handle transcodes, file transfers, uploads, and more.
In you own Axle as an asset management tool for your shared storage, you can also use Axle for remote access. Any media available to the application within its curated storage pool is automatically transcoded by the Axle software into lower-resolution viewing files. If your system is connected to the internet, then you can access Axle directly and work with those files for review-and-approval.
Team collaboration in person or remotely requires effective communication. So don’t forget about some type of team messaging software. I’m partial to Slack, which is great for small and large teams alike. It’s a messaging service that pushes notifications to your devices and provides good integration with services like Frame.io. This makes it ideal for production and post.
We Are All in This Together
Many companies within our industry have stepped up and are trying to be supportive of the need to work from home. Some companies like Avid are making extra temporary software licenses available. Others like LumaForge are waiving set-up changes for its remote access service. Frame.io is offering bigger trial accounts. In many ways—large and small—companies are doing their part to help. Please be sure to check with the hardware and software vendors you use to see how they can be helpful in these times.
When we get through this, will it be business as usual? Or will companies have discovered new and exciting ways to work? It’s too early to tell, but I suspect that over time, it will be more of the latter.