working flexibly in post production

Post production has changed dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than a year ago. After an industry-wide shutdown, professionals in video post production found themselves quickly adapting to social distancing and new ways of remote collaboration to keep creatives safe.

Vaccines are available, and the pandemic is finally showing signs of subsiding. What does that mean for the future of post production? Will temporary measures become new industry standards? Here are four predictions for how the industry may evolve over the coming months and years.

1. Centralized and In-Person Post Production Won't Go Away

Whatever changes await the video post-production industry as it moves past this unprecedented period, studio and on-premises environments won't go away. Even with the shift to remote working, a completely decentralized process may not be feasible. Editing and other post services revolve around a nucleus, and post-production facilities continue to serve that role by providing a technological and organizational hub. State-of-the-art editing bays are cost prohibitive to roll out in the homes of every editor or director, so it makes sense for the industry to invest in cutting-edge work environments—even if they end up being accessed remotely. And for certain workflows, for example color grading, in-facility is the only option.

The value of in-person creative collaboration hasn't been lost, either. Collaboration still often goes the most smoothly when directors, editors, and assistants get to work elbow-length apart at editing bays while watching cuts on the same monitors. Whether that process remains the standard form of collaboration after the pandemic is up in the air, but the value of putting heads together under the same roof will protect it from extinction as the world reopens.

With reopening finally at hand, post-production professionals may have to ask themselves if they want to return to on-premises work. Given the option to continue working from home, shifting to a permanent remote arrangement may require workflow as well as home setup changes in order to make it work for the long term. If heading back to in-person work, practitioners need to readjust to on-prem routines.

2. Migration to the Cloud Will Continue

While pre-COVID workflows will survive, new cloud and remote access tools that became necessary during the pandemic are already turning into fixtures of the industry. Of course, these methods existed before—but they didn't have nearly the same level of prominence. The pandemic forced them to become a proof of concept to digital skeptics. Now that the industry has seen how seamlessly remote workflows can work, there's little reason to give up the technology.

Over the course of the pandemic, more than a few measures taken out of necessity as post professionals scrambled to work in a new remote paradigm have gained the potential to become permanent solutions that move the industry forward. Post-production houses have acquired more powerful servers and cloud media storage that better enable quick data synching, sharing, and scalability. Workflow and media management tools and media asset transfer solutions have also become more common. An increase in tape-to-cloud solutions has made it easier for editors to dive right into dailies—no matter where production is—and share same-day rough cuts with a director, which they can watch virtually together through Evercast or Zoom. Editors and assistants can then make changes simultaneously from different devices with no latency or file version confusion.

The compatibility of these steps sets the stage for advanced digital-first workflows in the future. As a result, post professionals may require better setups at home (e.g., dual monitors, 4K-friendly bandwidth) and further additions to the digital literacy they've gained in the past year.

3. The Benefits of Remote Work Will Keep Driving Adoption

The shift to remote work over the last year was necessary, but it's shown the industry that such an approach is more than possible—in many ways, it's beneficial.

For instance, a shift from time-oriented to goal-oriented work has produced more flexible work schedules. Giving editors the opportunity to work when they are at their most efficient—whether they're a night owl or an early riser—has increased productivity. So has asynchronous collaboration, which has allowed editors to take their time cutting a scene before getting a director's insight. Once they do send it along, they can choose to keep working while the director reviews it.

Asynchronous work has also enabled round-the-clock post production. An editor in Los Angeles at 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time can send work to a director in London, who'll see it first thing in Greenwich Mean Time. By the time the editor wakes up in LA, they can dive right into the director's notes. What that means for the future, too, is that creatives don't necessarily need to live in industry hubs like Los Angeles or New York, opening up to a whole new pool of potential talent anywhere in the world.

For professionals, this arrangement often equates to a better work/life balance. Flexible schedules allow professionals to meet deadlines in a way that doesn't conflict with the time they make for family or hobbies; when an editor is stuck, they can walk their dog or have lunch with their loved ones, then return to their work reinvigorated.

Of course, some people will always prefer in-person collaboration and only accept remote work as a temporary measure. But for those who don't, the industry may now be more willing than ever to allow (or even encourage) flexibility for the good of both creatives and their projects. Time management tools and project management programs will become more important as post-production supervisors, especially, find themselves refining ways to track asynchronous work.

4. Remote Workflow Tools and Hybrid Models Can Coexist

Remote collaboration tools will only continue to shape the future of post production. Necessity is the mother of invention, and as such, many of these tools have prioritized upgrading and maintaining functionality. As remote collaboration become more pervasive, practitioners will need to stay open to adopting version changes and ever-evolving workflows.

That said, a post-pandemic middle ground may be possible through hybrid models of work. A blended approach might see editors, producers, and directors meet at studio facilities a few times a week but work from home on other days. The months and years to come may also yield a hybrid cloud workflow, in which on-premises media or external data centers are made accessible from a post-production facility and the cloud. That could also lead to editing sessions where filmmakers are both physically and remotely present.

Ultimately, while long-standing elements of the industry such as on-premises environments won't go away, it's true that video post production will look different in the future—and much of that stems from the increased adoption of now tried-and-proven remote workflows. It's unclear if they will someday become a new industry standard, but they may certainly become a parallel one. Regardless, post professionals will likely have more avenues and accommodations for differing production and working styles moving forward than they could have ever dreamed of just a year ago.

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Alexander Huls

I’m a writer based in Toronto. My work has appeared in The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Esquire, The Atlantic and others.

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