JULY 1, 2021

Seamless Global Collaboration Starts with Media Accessibility

A film editor works remotely while collaborating with a colleague on a video call.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed global collaboration across virtually every industry. Video production and post-production activities overwhelmingly shifted to remote all over the world.

Working entirely remotely—once a far-off idea—became a necessity.

"As the pandemic hit, distributed workflows went from 'nice to have' proof-of-concept experiments to business continuity requirements for survival," says Ray Thompson, senior director of partner and industry marketing at Avid.

The shift to remote work, however, was in many respects already underway. COVID-19 certainly sped things up, but bringing together various parts of filmmaking happening across states, regions, countries, and time zones also transcends the pandemic. Now, technology-driven global collaboration is no longer a temporary measure.

As with any emerging status quo, adoption is just the first step to making it the best it can be. Here are some strategies to enable seamless collaboration among distributed teams.

Improving Media Accessibility

Redefining global filmmaking for a distributed workforce first requires making shared media between geographically scattered production and post-production teams more seamless.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked something like post production for Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7, cut on Avid Media Composer. Sorkin and the film's editor were in Los Angeles; its composer in London; its music editor in Hawaii; and its cinematographer in Greece. They and others all needed access to the same media—often at the same time. Enabling that remote collaboration paid off with five Academy Award nominations.

Working remotely works, meaning this style of decentralized workflow has a foundation to continue into the future. It needs to be as efficient as possible. For example, during an Avid customer roundtable in May, producer Peter Phok shared that he worked on a film shot in New Zealand with an editor in Los Angeles. Bridging the 6,700-mile distance and 19-hour time difference meant finding a way for the editor to seamlessly receive daily footage.

The solution? An assistant editor uploaded dailies in New Zealand through FileCatalyst to Avid NEXIS cloud storage as part of Avid's Edit On Demand SaaS editorial service, making the lead editor's access easy. Phok also wanted footage to run through Azure's West US 2 data center to further streamline that accessibility. "That was a critical decision to reduce any latency between the main editor and where all the footage was going to be stored," Phok notes.

Those types of choices—oriented toward minimizing disruptions in the creative process by optimizing remote access—are worth consideration from all key decision-makers at studios, production companies, and post facilities as remote global collaboration continues to accelerate and evolve.

Ensuring an editor doesn't have to wait for material is more than just a matter of creative convenience. Films often need to meet tight deadlines for inflexible release dates, festival premieres, or award consideration cutoffs. They can't afford to wait for a physical drive with daily footage to arrive via courier or to be locked out of a project as another editor reviews it.

For example, Dubai-based Genomedia's work on the television series Kingdoms of Fire, shot in Tunisia, contended with a set-in-stone premiere date that required not only accelerating getting shot media to the post-production team but also speeding up the editorial process itself. Up to six editors would work at the same time on different parts of the same project—copying, syncing, grading, timeline exporting—so they could deliver content on time.

Tools like Avid Editorial Management enabled them to do that. What Genomedia needed to meet that deadline will become more commonplace across the industry; decision-makers will need to ensure production and post-production teams can access media as reliably as possible without compromising delivery timelines.

Technological Capabilities to Match

It's not enough to simply decide to push for more efficient media sharing. Seamless global collaboration requires technology and tools to make it happen.

Filmmakers need to consider technological needs that depend, partly, on what remote work model they choose. For media companies looking to enable low-latency access to on-premises editing resources using a thin client, many took advantage of Media Composer Cloud VM—technology that has existed for many years but until the pandemic had not been widely leveraged on a day-to-day basis. Thompson saw this as a common business continuity solution during 2020.

"Many turned to PCoIP solutions like Teradici and HP RGS to allow employees to access desktops, workstations, and VMs remotely from home to allow production to continue," he says.

As working from home gives way to working from anywhere, the option to work fully in the cloud, using solutions like Edit On Demand to make content even more accessible to collaborators in disparate locations, becomes even more attractive. While Edit On Demand requires only commodity internet (25 Mbps down for comparable performance to an on-premises system), investing in better connectivity can make cloud-based workflows even more efficient: increasing bandwidth with service providers, using dedicated hardware with LAN cables, or boosting coverage with hot spots. Solutions like HP T740 can also provide additional acceleration, and the rollout of 5G will further improve connectivity speed, accessibility, and reliability.

A Question of Financial Investment

Decisions on remote solutions can't be made without considering finances. In 2020, productions had to invest in remote and virtual infrastructure to keep projects going and ensure business continuity. The quick pivot put new line items on technology budgets with the sudden need for an avalanche of SaaS and subscriptions to tools like Zoom, Evercast, Resilio Sync, and Slack.

According to a recent IABM report, most of the media world will not go back to the way things were pre-pandemic. The stage is set for spending on remote solutions and tools to continue its rise. What does that mean for decision-makers at studios, production companies, and post facilities?

"Rethinking operational and financial/business models to embrace a distributed workforce," says Thompson. With life returning to normal and the (remote) genie out of the bottle, remote global collaboration is here to stay. For many, that will require reallocation of technology spending to prioritize those efforts.

On-premises infrastructure and over-the-shoulder collaboration will continue to exist, but there are financial benefits to cloud-based solutions. "Equipment in the cloud is often ahead of where physical equipment might be, where editors are," Thompson notes. Especially since services like Edit On Demand are essentially an edit suite with storage in the cloud, editors and productions can—and do—utilize the speed, reliability, and added capacity that provides. Tim Guilder, head of technology at ITV, shared in the same May 2021 Avid customer roundtable that when his team used Edit On Demand, rendering happened quicker than with on-premises equipment, and he began planning how he could add capacity without adding physical hardware going forward.

The ability to scale cloud solutions can allow media companies and productions to reallocate funds elsewhere. For example, "Allowing them to potentially sell real estate they maybe already own or not rent as much as they currently are," says Thompson, since on-premises setups aren't required. 

In turn, that can lead to a broader, more decentralized workforce for productions. "It opens up a whole new palette of professionals who can now work from anywhere," he says.

Decentralization also has the potential to do something remarkable: it opens up the industry. "For the employees themselves, they can also now move anywhere they want and are no longer restricted to a localized area around their employer," Thompson explains. "It enables work from anywhere and employing editors and production talent in a broader geographic area."

That, like ensuring global collaboration works on a technical level, is good for the industry and for the entertainment it creates, as well.

Optimizing Access and Creativity for Distributed Teams

Decision-makers need to pursue choices that minimize creative disruption. That kind of efficiency happens when the right tools are in the right hands. For instance, optimizing shared media access—whether it's how editors receive dailies or selecting the best data center to reduce latency—helps ensure deadlines are met without straining the team. 

Seamless collaboration stems from choosing the right remote work model (virtual, cloud, or hybrid) and then prioritizing technological capabilities to enable that work. Speed and reliability are crucial.

As production begins to return to pre-pandemic levels, rethinking future technology spend is essential for mapping out the road to seamless global workflows through remote and cloud-based solutions. An efficient workflow relies on its technology and people together—making the lives of creatives easier helps teams find balance and allows tech solutions to really shine in creating new opportunities. 

  • alexander-huls-headshot

    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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