Although some post houses were already experimenting with remote-friendly work options before the pandemic, COVID-19 galvanized the scramble toward a more robust and immediate investment in remote work technology and workflows.
Now, that investment is paying dividends as more and more video post-production houses adopt a flexible remote work model that has the majority of editors jumping for joy. In fact, more than 70 percent of editors who worked for Envy Post in London last year said they prefer a hybrid in-facility/at-home set-up, Jai Cave, technical director at Envy, shared in an episode of Post Café.
The pandemic has proven that in-person meetings and remote collaboration can coexist, allowing editors to use facilities when needed as well as enjoy days without a commute. So, what's the best tech setup for this hybrid approach? And how do you arrange teams so that they limit inefficiencies and maximize creative collaboration?
Assessing Technology for Remote Video Post Production
Remote access, shared storage, video conferencing and collaboration, and cloud editing tools have become essential to enabling a distributed workforce. This was clearly evident as post houses went remote during COVID-19 and two pressing needs immediately flared:
- Frictionless shared network storage. Even before COVID hit, stopgap storage solutions like sneakernetting had outlived much of their usefulness; cloud options were already coming into play. But when editors, VFX artists, and colorists suddenly needed access to media from a variety of different physical locations and at different times, the move to virtual or cloud storage became an absolute necessity. Plenty of editors and other post professionals have setups at home capable of handling their workflows; getting media to and from these machines, though, can be quite a challenge. This is why it's often far more viable for post teams to bring the workflows to the media—rather than the other way around—via a cloud-based solution or remote PC software.
- Remote access to editing software. Red Arrow Industries, a production company in Knoxville, Tennessee, initially took their Avid machines home with them as lockdowns hit last year, cofounder and executive producer Ryan Hardison told the Post Café. This solution proved to not be ideal; after testing out other options, they quickly switched to HPs running RGS, which allowed them to remotely access the Avid workstations they had taken back to their facility. "To be able to remote in to an Avid [system] that was in our walls, on our shared storage, it really took the weight off our editors' shoulders in terms of media management and allowed them to concentrate on the creative," Hardison says. "Is it a perfect system? No, but it is amazingly fantastic in that it does work."
Another advantage in moving to a more flexible model: space. Red Arrow saw its team of editors grow by 300 percent over the course of the pandemic. "We only have space for eight edit suites, and we now have 23 editors," Hardison explains. Letting editors connect to remote machines means Red Arrow can continue to expand without shelling out for extra physical space.
Working fully in the cloud erases worries about uploading media, since it involves bringing workflows to the media itself. For post teams that do some work locally, though, having upload times set at the end of the day or based on team members' locations can reduce friction among departments.
Finding the Right Remote Team Structure
For many post teams, collaboration marks the sticking point in remote work. Video meeting and screensharing options make fully remote collaboration more than possible—to name just one successful example, the Oscar®-winning One Night in Miami had a fully remote post-production phase—and advances in video transfer protocols like SRT are only improving the remote "over-the-shoulder" experience. Plus, post houses have found ways to tack on remote-friendly collaboration tools such as virtual storyboards, task management tools, and streamlined review and approval workflows; these will continue to be necessary in a flexible remote world.
Yet, as Hardison says, "To sit in a room and watch a cutdown—and talk about what's working, what's not, and collaborate together and talk about how we solve these problems—boy, I missed that." The ability to interact in person and read body language when the team wants is one of the reasons a hybrid, flexible remote work model has such pull.
Teams thrive under a predictable schedule. That schedule may vary from project to project or even change at various points during the post process, but it should invite them to the facility on certain days and allow them the freedom of remote work on others. Even if the arrangement ends up changing from week to week, you can make every moment spent on-premises count. With a flexible remote work approach, team members who prefer being in the studio can come into the facility every day, if they wish, or they can come in only on designated in-studio days.
For parents, the flexibility to fit their work schedule around childcare opens far more doors—particularly when it comes to women in the industry, who are not only underrepresented in post production but still disproportionately take on the burden of childcare. Depending on the amount of in-studio collaboration needed by various departments, you may also be able to have a more geographically distributed team that only asks team members to physically come in once or twice over the course of the post process. This opens doors to talent who may not live within range of a reasonable daily commute.
In sum, when it comes to team structure, it's both a matter of having the right team members connected to each other in the right ways for creative collaboration, but also workflows and processes that allow for work to happen in different locations and at different times.
Flexible Tech and Workflows that Adapt to Your Team
Video post production has seen some seismic changes in the last 18 months. "I don't see a world where we ever see 100 percent back in the office for post," Hardison says. The adoption of flexible remote work has taught the industry many lessons—including how well remote collaboration can work when teams have the right technology and workflows in place.
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