It's easy to talk in the abstract about managing global production workflows for film, TV, and broadcast production. But what's it actually like to run post production through a globally distributed team in the 2020s? For Avid's Post Café podcast, executive producer Peter Phok, of Phok Productions and editor David Kashevaroff, and assistant editor Scott Milligan took us through the good, the bad, and the beauty of a production that spans most of the Pacific Ocean.
Setting Up Remote Post
The trio finishing post production on a film shooting in New Zealand, Ti West's X. Phok, who's based in Los Angeles, is a veteran producer specializing in indie, horror, and thriller fare. Kashevaroff, also based in LA, has decades of editorial experience. Milligan is handling all the materials flowing in from Wellington.
The decision to shoot in New Zealand was made because of COVID-19. Although X takes place in North America, Phok said the incredible variety of New Zealand's landscape gave them all the visuals they needed.
With the shooting plan in place, the next step was to figure out post production. Phok and Milligan were dubious at first about using Avid's Edit On Demand (EoD) solution. "Trying to wrap my head around EoD, logging into a virtual machine, that was pretty wild," Phok said. Milligan's previous experiences with remote editing were a nightmare: "I've tried these things before, and it just didn't work," he said. So when this EoD solution actually did work in a way that met their needs, there was much rejoicing. Not having to do a sort of "virtual sneakernetting," as Phok calls it, has been a huge time-saver.
Time zones were the next hurdle. Milligan is 21 hours ahead of Phok and Kashevaroff, which actually posed less of a problem than the average observer might think. Milligan was able to prep material before Kashevaroff logged in for the day, and if Kashevaroff finished late, it generally wasn't that late for Milligan.
(Strangely enough, even though post is nearing its end, Phok still hasn't met Kashevaroff or Milligan in person, and yet they were able to form a cohesive team from the start. This was largely accomplished via instant communications platforms like Slack, with a healthy dollop of video conferencing.)
The workflow they settled on goes like this: A drive is delivered to Milligan in Wellington. He moves that onto a redundant array of independent disks (RAID), backs it all up, and then moves the DNxHD media over to Avid | Edit On Demand via FileCatalyst. Moving that media takes about an hour, and during that time Milligan organizes the metadata. Then he moves the bins over to EoD, and Kashevaroff can start doing his thing.
Kashevaroff logs into a virtual machine and does his work via a full Media Composer setup, with all his shortcuts and presets already there and without the sound of GPUs whirring away. "It's so quiet," he said.
Now, that doesn't mean all is perfect. While Kashevaroff experiences little to no lag when working on his virtual machine, that's because the data center he's connecting to is in the state of Washington, on the same continent. For Milligan, who's connecting to the same server all the way from Wellington, there are latency issues that prevent him from being frame-accurate. Milligan's way of adapting is to do the more complex aspects of his job locally.
Recreating In-Person Collaboration
Although they've established a good working cadence, Kashevaroff said the biggest missing piece of the remote editing puzzle is the collaboration you get from in-person interaction. "Screening things with someone other than yourself in the room, just to feel another body in the room and see how they're experiencing everything."
That said, Milligan sees this as an acceptable trade-off for now. Because Avid | Edit On Demand is a full solution composed of several products, he said, "it makes it a lot easier for us to manage. We're able to focus on the work rather than just the IT support side."
Phok said that while it very much depends on the production, he certainly wouldn't rule out using an EoD solution again. The reality of modern production is that more often than not, some workflows will be global, and EoD gives productions a lower access point to getting involved in the world of post production and editorial.
Not all global production workflows will be able to be as lean as Phok Productions, with just an AE, an editor, and a director—and nothing will replace watching a cut in a room with another person. As a tool, though, Phok, Kashevaroff, and Milligan agree that remote editing tech has advanced to a place where not only can the work be done, but the level of friction has finally dipped to a point where the process is truly viable, whether it's film and TV or broadcast production.