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.”