Recreating the Edit Suite: How Post Teams Are Keeping Teamwork Alive While Collaborating Remotely

Filmmaking is a collaborative art. With the current remote work paradigm changing how the industry gets things done, many creatives are missing the easy collaboration and camaraderie they’re used to having in a face-to-face environment.

Technology goes a long way toward bridging collaboration gaps in remote post-production workflows, but it’s hard to replicate the spontaneity of having everyone physically present. Even the sheer enjoyment of bonding over a project can get lost when your team is remote.

Since it’s going to be a while before you can stand over someone’s shoulder in the edit bay again, addressing the challenge of remote video editing collaboration will help to chart the course for the team’s cohesion and creative inspiration for the long term.

“We are an industry of creative storytellers, where creative communication is essential in producing a quality product,” says Jai Cave, technical operations director at UK post facility Envy.

As Tessa Treadway, VP of post at Film 45, puts it, “While technologies allow us to connect our media, our greatest challenge today is figuring out how to connect our minds.”

Here are some techniques editors are using to keep communication flowing freely across remote video editing workflows as they adapt to the industry’s new normal.

Highlight Remote Desktop Solutions

To keep editorial connected across a remote post-production workflow, collaboration systems allow teams to stream content to each other and discuss changes in real time.

“It’s hard to compete with the magic and momentum of live collaboration,” says Brad Thomas, cofounder and COO of Evercast. “Having to pass content back and forth and wait for feedback puts a huge damper on the creative process. But under the right circumstances, it can be done.”

He explains that Evercast works with an ultra-low latency experience (a nearly imperceptible 200 milliseconds) to facilitate live collaboration on video content. The goal is to create a channel for “natural communication” that feels “just like you’re sitting in the same physical space, shoulder to shoulder.”

“Instead of having to upload and download files and pass notes back and forth, Evercast enables you to simply ‘hop into’ a virtual room from your Google Chrome browser and interact with your team while experiencing high quality video and audio from the editor’s workstation,” he says.

Lisa Bromwell, ACE, says she became used to treating desktop sharing app TeamViewer as a stand-in for her edit room while remotely finishing two episodes of Netflix drama Shadow and Bone.

“My lame joke was to call my assistant (Paul Alderman) and ask him to step into my ‘room’,” she says. “Once he was logged on, we could look at things together, talk about the cut, look at something in the source monitor, look at the timeline. While it is not ideal, it does approximate standing in the room together and talking over either technical or creative issues.”

Lead the Team by Example

Aside from providing reliable tech, production heads can improve remote editing collaboration by scheduling predictable group meetings and encouraging everyone to connect as questions arise.

“It’s easy to feel isolated and invisible when working remotely, so it’s crucial to have a ‘virtual office door’ to knock on at any time—via Slack, texting, or a simple phone call,” says Treadway. “We all need to be accessible to the team. I believe connection and camaraderie is created by the team, not the physical space we occupy.”

Treadway says it’s the leadership’s responsibility to provide effective communication tools, structure, and creative platforms to nurture this connection.

Film 45, the Santa Monica-based, Emmy Award-winning production and post company led by filmmaker Peter Berg, holds daily morning virtual meetings. There, the team distributes information, shares ideas and challenges, and reports on any personal or professional “wins.”

“This meeting becomes a daily rally, and we see how the team extends beyond our living rooms and into a full network of peers,” reports Treadway. “Slack has been an excellent tool for unscheduled communication for one-on-one or groups, and simulates impromptu conversations.”

Promote Softer Collaboration

It’s also possible to foster team spirit with more informal techniques. For Steve Mirkovich, ACE, patience and understanding is a must. He says, “As the lead editor on [Sony Pictures] feature Escape Room 2, I feel I need to be the cheerleader. I believe staying positive and keeping things in perspective will help us all to get through this very weird and challenging time.”

While editing the feature remotely, Mirkovich has spent a lot of time talking with director Adam Robitel using Zoom meetings and Evercast sessions. “Working remotely can sometimes be clunky and slow until bugs are worked out,” he cautions. “Patience and focus are key.”

For Bromwell, the lack of interpersonal communication is the hardest part about working from home. She makes a point of regularly talking with her assistant about things other than the job:

“Current events, his life, his dog . . . things that naturally come up when you see each other at the office but get oddly lost when you’re working remotely and the tendency is to keep the focus on the work.”

She adds that pre-COVID, the team on Shadow and Bone had a standing “whiskey hour” every Friday at 6 pm. They have continued that remotely as a Zoom whiskey hour.

“Erin Conley [assistant to showrunner Eric Heisserer] organizes it. It’s a nice way to chill and actually see the faces of the people you’re working with.”

At Film 45, everyone is encouraged to speak at the daily virtual meetings. “This is where we combine work questions with just being human,” says Treadway. “We celebrate birthdays, we show off our pets, we introduce our children when they inevitably walk into the meeting asking mom/dad a question.”

“We don’t ignore the fact that we’re working from home,” she emphasizes. “We integrate it into the process.”

The Productive Positives of Going Remote

With only internet traffic to contend with, remote working can in some cases be more productive and collaborative than going into the office. For example, having the team more available for video calls has flattened out geographical differences between studios.

“Putting aside time zone differences, meeting someone who works in another continent is now as easy as meeting one of our local colleagues,” says Michele Sciolette, CTO at Cinesite, on the studio’s site. “Even for quick unexpected meetings that would have normally required room bookings in multiple studios. Some members, particularly from our support teams, suggest that the lack of frequent interruptions is making them more productive.”

Jack Jones, technical director at London documentary specialist Roundtable, says their assist teams can work “flawlessly” by connecting to media and desktops in the facility over a virtual private network. “The assists are transcoding, ingesting rushes, or troubleshooting crashed machines. They can do all their jobs remotely without issue. In turn, that opens up the ability to have fewer staff members on site. Where physical space is restricted post-COVID, it makes sense to use the capacity you have for clients.”

Whether working with COVID conditions or in a post-pandemic world, it would be endlessly difficult to reverse the global experience of collaborative remote video editing—and doing so wouldn’t be worthwhile. “Working remotely can actually enhance creativity,” insists Thomas, “because it allows creatives to work wherever and whenever inspires them.” As remote video editing collaboration continues, post houses will have to continue to pivot and evolve their approach.

“One thing is certain,” Treadway says. “It’s the combination of tech and team that creates a successful remote environment.”

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Editors Have Proof of Concept for Flexible Work Environments. Now What?

The media and entertainment industry has the green light to restart production—but while there are still health risks, many remote video editing workflows will stay in place. The question is for how long, and which aspects of these flexible work environments will go on to become the industry’s new normal after lockdown ends.

Post-production and VFX companies were not required to close during quarantine. In fact, many in North America and Europe have continued to service existing orders through a combination of remote workflows and social distancing measures for finishing procedures, such as Dolby Atmos mixes that need to be performed on site.

Meanwhile, trade bodies like the UK Screen Alliance and the Motion Picture Editors Guild are providing guidelines for working safely, aiming to get the post sector back to the office to limit the expected fallout of widespread redundancies.

Todd Downing, ACE (Mrs. America), is looking forward to returning but feels understandably hesitant about what the new rules mean in practice. “I don’t think we are ready to be in enclosed spaces with others right now,” he says. “But I am optimistic that with all the scientists studying the virus we can figure out how to make that a reality soon.”

Even after it’s safe to return, though, the industry will still have confirmed that it can support remote production. “For a lot of people in the industry, this was not an obvious assumption,” says Michele Sciolette, CTO at Cinesite, in an interview for Creative Planet Network. “Today we know, with direct first-hand experience, that remote production is possible while maintaining a high level of productivity.” Cinesite supports studios in Vancouver, Montreal, London, and Germany.

This changing mindset seems to run along the chain from studio executives to finishing boutique. As the industry recalibrates, it’s opening up to the idea of shifting away from the former centralized model, where the production office and facility were the operating hubs for creative personnel, toward more flexible work environments.

“A hybrid model—where some aspects of production continue to be office-based while others are done remotely—would have a lot of advantages,” Sciolette said, in an interview continued on Cinesite’s site. “This would allow us to address the limitations we face with the current ‘all-remote’ setups while giving us the flexibility to scale up our teams beyond the constraints of our physical office space, as well as providing more flexibility to our team members and reducing our carbon footprint.”

In truth, the industry had already begun implementing hybrid architectures where media is held on-prem and/or in external data centers, and is accessible from a facility or remotely via cloud using PCoIP remote display tools. COVID-19 has fast-tracked the strategy to ensure a far greater degree of distributed work across workspaces going forward.

We have proved during COVID that remote offlines work, says Jai Cave, technical operations director at UK post facility Envy, in an interview for AV Magazine . Envy rolled out over 100 remote edit suites, and when this period is over, he envisions an increased demand for remote offline for specific projects where it solves a problem. However, a lot of editors, producers, and production managers will want to come back to a facility for the improved creative communication it brings, he says.

He predicts the growth of a blended solution that has editors and producers spend a few days of the week in a facility and work the rest of the week remotely if that suits them.

Sciolette believes that the winning formula will come from the flexibility to take the best of both worlds: stay remote when it’s convenient and meet in person when it’s necessary.

After all, remote video editing workflows present some challenges regardless of the technology in place. For instance, calibrating reference displays demands completing some aspects of production in a specific room. It’s hard to fully recreate every kind of person-to-person interaction virtually.

“In documentaries, more than any other genre, you are writing the story in the edit, and directors feel a loss of control if done remotely,” confirms Jack Jones, technical director at documentary specialist Roundtable. “Directors are keen to get back to the facility.”

Charlotte Layton, commercial director of The Farm Group, recognizes that going totally remote means giving up some key elements of collaboration. “The question is: How do we keep a sense of community? And how do you celebrate an emotional journey when everyone is disparate?” she says.

The producers of a recent broadcast project opted to meet at The Farm Group’s central London location (observing PPE protocols) at regular intervals under lockdown, according to Layton, “to feel more connected” to the work in progress.

“There is a huge benefit to having clients in a suite, however the amount of time they spend with creative talent may change,” says John Rogerson, CEO of London post house Halo. “Remote working is not a silver bullet and only makes sense when a client needs it.”

However, working separately until the very final grade or sign-off stages is convenient for production executives as well as DPs and editors, and it may become a fixture of the industry.

“If traveling to distant locations year after year is affecting your life in a negative way, we’ve now proven it unnecessary and perhaps inefficient,” says Roger Barton, ACE, who helped edit Paramount Pictures’ feature The Tomorrow War under lockdown.

“Personally, I find myself happy cutting at home,” Barton says. “I very much miss the camaraderie, but I’m more creative here with fewer distractions, and I’m probably working more hours than I ever have. I’m happy to do it because it’s on my own schedule, and that creates a balance that I enjoy. The flexibility to do so is one of the lessons I hope we walk away with.”

Barton acknowledges that this won’t be true for everyone. Some are calling on the industry to use the enforced break to put a check on some of its more draconian work practices. Zack Arnold, ACE (Cobra Kai), struck a chord with his argument that decried “the ridiculously long hours, the chronic sleep deprivation, the complete and utter lack of work-life balance, and the lives that are destroyed . . . by the perpetual content machine that is Hollywood” of pre-COVID normality. If ever there was a time to set boundaries and demand change, it’s now, he urged.

If nothing else, the crisis has proved the prudence of a business continuity policy centered on routing media to work-from-home locations. It may also have triggered a change in the way craftspeople work within the industry—some of which may be here for good.

“We’ve all been asking for more remote working and been told up until now that, for security reasons, this wasn’t possible. But now everyone can see just how much more convenient it can be,” says Cheryl Potter, who edited HBO drama The Nevers remotely. “Good luck getting that genie back in the bottle!”

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What Is the Interoperable Master Format? A Closer Look at IMF

Content demand for online platforms and digital viewing devices is ever-increasing, leaving teams to face complicated delivery processes, increased costs, and long production timelines. The Interoperable Master Format (IMF) addresses these challenges by offering a standard package that simplifies the creation of multiple tailored versions of the same content for different audiences.

IMF has existed for several years, and more editing tools are making it easier to export footage to meet IMF delivery specs. Yet, there’s still considerable confusion about it within the industry. This guide will provide a high-level overview of how IMF works and the unique industry challenges that make it a necessity.

Defining the Interoperable Master Format

IMF is a file-based framework held up by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) as standard 2067-2. It’s designed to simplify the file exchange process by creating a single master file for distribution. That means distribution of content between businesses, however, not for delivery directly to the consumer.

IMF is actually an evolution of the Digital Cinema Package (DCP), which has been the standard for distributing theatrical content since 2012. Over the last few years, IMF has been adapted to suit the particular challenges of broadcast and online distribution. Specifically, it’s made it easier to manage and process multiple versions of a film or promo to fit, say, airline edits, special editions, alternate languages, or territorial compliance.

IMF gives teams a solid workflow that helps them stay consistent—even across different countries—as they tackle QC, mastering, and versioning for productions.

How IMF Works

Instead of a single master file that holds a particular version of a program, an IMF package contains all the essence (audio and video) and the metadata (including subtitles and captions) associated with a piece of content. These are treated as individual assets.

When combined in various ways, these assets create different versions of the content in a composition, such as the Chinese theatrical cut or an airline edit. The Composition Playlist (CPL) defines the playback timeline for the composition. Prime Focus Technologies uses a great analogy: if the assets are the ingredients, then the CPL is the recipe.

An IMF can contain unlimited CPLs. Each represents a unique combination of the files contained in the package, such as different cuts of a program. The CPL isn’t designed to contain media itself—instead, it references external track files that contain the actual essence. This structure makes it possible to manage multiple compositions and process them without duplicating common essence files.

Since IMF can help create many different distribution formats from the same composition, it needs a set of technical instructions to keep it all in order. Enter the Output Profile List (OPL). The OPL specifies the processing and transcoding instructions for the CPL, incorporating additional modifications like sizing, audio, and channel mixing to produce the finished product.

Why IMF Makes a Difference

IMF simplifies distribution workflows and lowers both costs and time to market. After all, it’s easier to manage and keep track of assets when there aren’t hundreds of standalone versions of a title.

For Netflix—one of the principal architects of IMF—a key benefit is reducing several of its most frustrating content tracking issues, namely those related to “versionitis” or the complexities of supplying multiple versions to global markets.

For example, Netflix explained that it frequently runs into problems when trying to sync dubbed audio and subtitles. To preserve the original creative intent, Netflix requests content in its original format, which includes the native aspect ratio and frame rate. Before IMF, Netflix might receive a 24 fps theatrical version of the video for a feature film—only to discover afterward that the dubbed audio and subtitles didn’t match, since they may have been created from the 29.97 fps version or even another version that was recut for international distribution. This is exactly the kind of asset management frustration IMF is meant to address, and ultimately it makes handling acquired content for compliance and outgoing programming for sales a lot more straightforward.

From the facility’s point of view, IMF circumvents the need to put together individual edits and ship them to each market. Rather than shipping a specific media file to Italy, for example, a facility just has to validate the editing list and send that to the territory. There, the appropriate version will be rendered from the master media files.

Not only will the data transfer be significantly less, but this cuts down on the processes involved, the duplication of effort within the team, and the number of files that have to be created due to varying file formats.

There are other benefits to incorporating IMF delivery into a facility’s pipeline. IMF offers improved video quality, since the distributor gets direct access to high-quality IMF masters. It’s also a way to reduce the opportunity for human error: since metadata is kept intact with physical assets, it’s able to be tracked and synced to at all times. IMF also offers a streamlined approach to making incremental changes like new logos and content revisions.

A Look at IMF Going Forward

IMF for broadcast and online was ratified by SMPTE in 2018, and it’s still maturing as a standard.

It went through revisions in June 2020 based on users’ feedback as they came across early teething problems. For example, the revisions address conflicts among various provisions, improve consistency for end users, and introduce additional features to the IMF system.

Bruce Devlin, SMPTE standards vice president, said the revisions “reflect increasing adoption of the standard and learned wisdom through operational practice across the theatrical and broadcast communities.”

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3 Predictions for the Media and Entertainment Industry Emerging from COVID-19

Open mic concept announcing predictions for media and entertainment industry

As the media and entertainment industry gradually unlocks from months of quarantine, it’s preparing to reenter a world that’s been permanently changed. Above and beyond social distancing and sanitary measures, the film and TV business faces an uncertain future stretching from the foundations of production to the economics of consumption.

However, there are some navigational markers CEOs and CFOs can use to guide their strategic decisions. In the aftermath of the pandemic, Avid predicts that the future of media and entertainment is poised to see large changes:

  • An acceleration of existing trends toward subscription models for production technology
  • A changing mindset toward distributed workflows and cloud applications
  • A growth in niche content from OTT providers

While challenging, the prognosis isn’t gloomy. In fact, the media and entertainment community has an opportunity to reimagine how it creates, produces, and delivers great content.

Growth in Subscription Models for Production Technology

Already well underway prior to COVID-19, the transition across the media and entertainment industry to cloud-based subscription services has accelerated in response to the crisis.

Data from the IABM’s Coronavirus Impact Tracker found evidence that demand for legacy types of software such as permanent licenses could decline significantly. In fact, this trend may accelerate suppliers’ transition to as-a-service offerings.

This holds true for even the biggest media organizations, which have begun migrating to enterprise subscription commercial models such as enterprise license agreements, Avid’s Chief Revenue Officer Tom Cordiner said in a video interview.

“There are lots of benefits for them in doing that,” Cordiner explains. “They’ve got a lot more flexibility in how they deploy their technology, so they can maximize use of their licenses for both their colleagues in-station or in-facility but also those working increasingly remotely.”

He adds, “Subscriptions also give them faster access to new releases and it’s a much easier, more streamlined license activation or ordering process. I certainly see that as a trend that will continue. The economics are just so much more compelling for our customers, and it’s happening right now.”

The desire for subscription models could mirror the transition to business models based on operating expenditure, according to Josh Stinehour, principal analyst at research consultancy Devoncroft Partners. “Part of the tail wind for operating expenditure is the inescapable impact of the current circumstances on capital expenditures for the next 18–24 months,” Stinehour says. “It is simply going to be a new technology budget reality.”

Rise in Remote Distributed Workflows

Arguably the biggest change wrought by the industry’s collective experience is an enlightened attitude toward the benefits and practicalities of remote workflows. Where media technology buyers were inclined to take a wait-and-see approach when investing in new cloud and remote production, those risk-averse preferences are shifting radically as a result of the external shock.

The IABM Tracker certainly underlines this, highlighting increased investment in virtualization and remote production. Most buyers suggest that, after the pandemic, they can’t imagine things going back to the way they were before.

“Our customers are racing to adopt many new modes of working,” confirms Cordiner. These ways range from streamlined business continuity and disaster recovery workflows to remote distributed editing, finishing, review, and approvals, to Edit on Demand, using the collaborative power of production asset management for editing and content repurposing in the cloud.

“I think [technology vendors] can play a key role in helping customers adapt and thrive in this new world,” Cordiner says. “Some of our customers are taking very bold steps and going right in right now. Some are a little more cautious and testing workflows, starting small but then rapidly scaling.”

Devoncroft has tracked cloud adoption within the media sector for the past decade and now suggests that the circumstances of the first half of 2020 will represent yet another milestone for cloud. “The most difficult aspect of changing workflows is convincing users to alter behavior,” says Stinehour. “[COVID-19] has changed behavior to a degree no amount of [argument] could have ever accomplished.”

Increasingly Niche OTT Options

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown led to an increase in content consumption and new subscriptions. This surge benefited subscription video-on demand (SVOD), catch-up services, and even linear TV viewing figures.

As lockdowns lift across the world, analysts expect some of these gains to reverse. However, the acceleration of consumer behavioral change looks set to benefit streamers. An Ampere Analysis report featured on Rapid TV News forecasts that streaming may gain 12% of additional growth in revenue by 2025.

“The drive to reach consumers directly . . . is going to continue to be front of mind as the dominant strategy for all media companies,” Cordiner says.

They will do this, he suggests, either by sheer scale of content (the model pursued by Comcast, Disney, Netflix, Amazon, and Apple) or by catering to people’s passions with more niche OTT options.

Examples include BritBox, an OTT platform for British TV shows from UK broadcasters ITV and BBC; the June launch of Barça TV+, a new SVOD from Spanish La Liga champions FC Barcelona; and the launch of Nowave—a French-based SVOD specializing in rarely seen art house movies.

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are also ramping up local content in international markets. The US, India, and China have the highest proportion of audiences regularly watching local content, according to an Ampere Analysis report featured on Digital TV Europe. In markets like the UK, popular local content can outperform even some blockbuster international titles, the analyst found.

Direct-to-consumer strategies are geared toward the long-term future of media and entertainment alongside a mix of revenue models. Together with subscription and advertising-led models, increased transactional VOD is likely to follow some studios’ recent experimentation with collapsing traditional release windows. There will, of course, be tiered or hybrid offerings of these monetization strategies to give consumers even more choices.

Whatever the strategy, audiences need more content—and quickly—according to Cordiner. He advises that every platform will need to keep its value high with fresh programming to satisfy the demands of increased viewing and prevent content-hungry viewers from churning away to something else.

The Future of Production Is Distributed

Remote and distributed production is the new normal for the media and entertainment industry. How will you equip your team for success?