Going Remote in the Face of Coronavirus

March 21, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc, the pandemic has accelerated the deployment of remote-working options to such an extent that many clients and production companies may never look back.

In the past, production companies lost out on projects because either the client didn’t want (or was unable to) fly out for the shoot. But what if they can see what’s happening on-set from their office? Streaming the live camera feed from the shoot directly to clients might be the best solution to keep productions moving forward.

While the concept of streaming video has been around for quite awhile, it seems particularly relevant now for film and television productions. Clients don’t have time want to wait for months to have health concerns resolve themselves. They’re on a tight delivery schedule. And travel expenses are always an issue in any production budget. With the right streaming technology, clients can get their projects shot on their timeframe and save money in the process.

The first step is determining what the client wants to view. Do they need to see the camera feed or just dailies throughout the day? The choice will affect the amount of remote workflow involved. In either case making your Video Assist the point person is a must. While the main role of the Video Assist is to provide playback to Video Village, they are ideally positioned to get your video footage to remote clients.

With the abundance of streaming technologies in the market, there are many different options to choose from. Let’s talk about three of the most common solutions.

Video Conferencing

Many services provide video conferencing, including SkypeZoomGo-to-Meeting, and BlueJeans. These services generally have fees associated with them, so research carefully and make the client aware that they will be responsible for this additional expense. Note that the on-set bandwidth of the wireless network plays a major role in video quality. Recorded video looks much better than streaming video on these services and can affect the way the client responds to the work.

Also note, many wrap-up insurance policies do not cover transmission failure. Given that, you should identify this activity in the special risks exhibit of the wrap-up insurance addendum, and/or have the agency indemnify you for costs and delays related to transmission.

Video Streaming

Live video streaming from set is a popular choice but like video conferencing, it requires a steady and reliable internet connection on location. Most streaming options offer the ability for client, agency and other team members to join and watch video shoots in real time. The difference comes in whether the solution is hardware-based, app-based or a combination of the two.

At the low-end, the elgato Cam Link 4k is effective and simple. It has an HDMI port on one side and a USB port on the other. When you plug the camera into the HDMI port and the USB into the computer, your camera will show up as a webcam. Stability is an issue, however, as this system requires occasional restarts for no apparent reason.

For a more substantial solution, Blackmagic Web Presenter is a hardware-based solution that gives you multiple input options that you can switch between. Similar to the elgato Cam Link, you need to plug in the HDMI in and connect the USB into a Mac on set, running FaceTime. The Web Presenter then becomes the “WebCam” for almost any popular streaming software (YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch, Skype… even FaceTime). Any number of viewers using their phone, tablet or laptop can call in and watch the video. It also has USB interface for audio equipment, so you can hook your mic into it.

Using video assist hardware like QTAKE is another popular option. QTAKE has been used for years to stream video playback on sets where camera location and Video Village are separated from one another. Numerous vendors push the QTAKE video output to the cloud so clients in other locations can view the footage with a web browser. By installing a steady and reliable Satellite Internet connection on location, we’d be able to set up a VTR, switcher and encoding service such as LiveU or AWS Elemental to upload a feed to any streaming platform available

Turning to web services, Virtual Village provides an internet-based portal that securely delivers video to any internet connected viewing device. Stream to your phone, tablet, laptop or set up your own village in a client’s office. Virtual Village even offers concierge service! Although only currently available in popular filming destinations like Los Angeles and New York City, and countries like Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand and Spain, they say that their system can be implemented wherever you need it.

On the software side, OpenReel is an app that enables producers to remotely capture and live direct video anywhere. The technology allows footage to be recorded locally on your device, ensuring that the full quality is recorded and then is sent directly to the cloud. It works on both Apple and Web-based platforms, allowing you to remotely pair with another phone or tablet. Quality control, video and media teams control capture, and you can drop into editing right from the app.

Immediate Dailies

Dailies have been part of filmmaking since the dawn of the industry. Digital technology has impacted the way dailies are processed, making them downloadable and streamable. Now companies like Moxion provide software to share your dailies with all crew – on and off set, across multiple units – instantly. Using QTAKE, clients can review footage from set instantly on any device or even via their Apple TV app.

As an added benefit, editors can start editing seconds after the camera has stopped recording, allowing them to quickly share assemble edits back to the Director on set. That aids the creative process and dramatically reduces the cost of pickups later in production.

Remote Postproduction

Remote postproduction is fast becoming a viable (and sometimes preferable) workflow for many teams these days, according to Frame.io. For editing, platforms such as Frame.io, Vimeo, Filestage.io, Wipster and others provide tools for version control, change requests, tracking status and approvals. This can make it easier to communicate with clients, complete revisions faster, and have higher-quality content out the door quickly.

Remote post also works well for VFX studios. For smaller VFX teams, they can upload assets to an off-premises destination, where artists can easily download what they need to their home computer and upload their final shots or elements. Larger studios may have their teams access a VPN to connect remotely to their on-premises workstations and use a remote desktop solution like Teradici.

Take a cue from people who have already implemented remote workflows. Flourishing communities for post professionals to network and join projects already exist, from Blue Collar Post Collective to the Editors Subreddit.

Costs Involved

As far as cost is concerned, there’s a wide range of available pricing. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can find streaming options for anywhere from $250 to $10,000. With such varying price tags, it’s important you know exactly what you’re getting. As you talk to vendors, be sure to ask these questions:

  • What’s included in the quoted price?

  • Additional costs for increased viewership or storage?

  • Additional costs for extra features?

  • Startup costs such as cameras and equipment or one-time fees?

Film and video production has been behind the curve in using remote working technology compared to other industries but that might change in the post-virus world. Workflows that free staff and crews to focus on higher-impact creative tasks will allow production companies to leverage the best talent – wherever they are in the world.

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