The New Reality: Pt.1 Remote Post-Production

The New Reality: Part One
Remote Post Production

Covid-19 Has Changed Everything For Us All – Especially For The Film and Video Industry. So What Next…

The COVID-19 Pandemic has thrown the entire world into disarray at a time when things were looking very positive for many of us in the film and video post and production industry. Right now, half way through May 2020, we have been locked away for many weeks with little to look forward to but the crashing global economy that will follow. But we have always been a group that has terrific drive, out of the box thinking and a mastery of all things technological… so how do we get existing productions finished and new programs made in this brave new reality?

Obviously, every production is different – but they can all be split into pre-production, asset production and post-production.  This blog deals with the area we concentrate on – post. Essentially this includes editing, moving graphics, audio, music, color grading and mastering. Part Two will talk about the possibilities for asset creation and remote working, while remote pre-production has been an everyday reality for many years now and doesn’t need to be talked about.

With my Producer/Director hat on I think that it is fair to say that once I stopped having to lug around 1″ and Betacam tape reels, I can count the number of programs where I have spent every minute of the post process sitting next to the post specialist on three fingers. On most gigs I’d be there at the start of the project, when creative decisions had to be made; when it was time to review an edit or grade progress several times a day; and as the process came towards an end and the big picture view was needed.  I don’t have time to sit there through every process, for 9 hours a day, every day, for weeks on end and watch tweaks and hours of rendering – and most projects could never sustain that sort of cost.

But now? In this new reality I can’t travel safely, I don’t want to stay in hotels, I don’t want to be in a room full of people, and I certainly don’t want to sit 6 inches from anyone else! But does any Producer, Director or DP actually need to be physically there during the post process?

If I have to record a voiceover with an actor in London I don’t fly there for an hour to do it, I find a reputable and professional sound studio near to the talent, talk with them before the session about the tone and style I want, and then participate on a phone or an internet link where I can hear clearly. They then send me a file of the recording and I listen to it on my own sound system before giving a final okay or taking another run at the recording after passing on a few notes/changes.

Given a choice, of course I’d rather be there in person, and maybe I would get a slightly better result that way – but if I have a good sound engineer/producer and we are on the same page, then I’m quite happy to accept this compromise versus 20 hours on a plane and recording with jet lag. Most people are.

CLAi the film and video production company in San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, Cupertino, Specializing in videography, video editing on Premiere Pro and color correction on DaVinci Resolve for corporate videos and documentary films

This compromise works… but it takes professional guys on the ground, clear interaction and a high quality facility.

I have talent and a professional engineer who are experienced enough to be on the same page as I am creatively, who are able to listen and follow instructions, but still have the confidence to innovate when appropriate. Through the phone or Internet system I am able to hear what is going on fairly clearly, and to interact efficiently by talking or by sending text notes that only the engineer sees.  And then, when I need to be able to hear the recorded audio as if I was in the studio, I receive a file with the recorded voice at full quality – which I double check – and then to complete the session I get a file with the finished audio piece, effects and mix added, ready to drop into my video edit.

To my mind the only real compromises I’m making are in not being able to see the talent, and in not hearing pristine sound during the recording process – on both of these I’m relying on the professionalism and excellence of the engineer and his studio systems.

If I accept this remote solution for an audio studio session, can I also accept it for a more visual edit and/or color grading session… and an answer to the pandemic challenge? The process is essentially the same.

I need to make a solid choice about a professional and experienced editor and colorist. They are probably working outside of a large studio and so I need to be confident in the technical aspects they bring to the table, and to see examples of this. I need to be able to fully brief them and go through the material that I have sent over… which is fine by Facebook, Skype or Zoom – the latter of which allows me to share my monitor/s when appropriate.  I’d rather meet in person but I’m not concerned with this compromise as it is the same as I do with talent and 2nd unit crews all the time.  Then I need to be able to interact with the editor (or colorist) as they are going through the edit process, and see what they are doing relatively clearly. Let’s come back to this. I can do this with a combination Zoom conference for the image on screen and a Facetime or Skype call for the person.

Finally, once a section of the project has been drafted or completed, I need to be able to see it at high quality and have time to think before I comment.  As with the audio example, I can do this with a high quality render being transferred to me over the Internet or a hard drive being overnight FedEx’d.  And I can respond with email notes or a conversation or both, as I would with other parts of a production.

So, in theory, this same process can work – even if it is different and slightly slower.  The big question is how much interactivity and quality is required during the edit or grading process?

The knee jerk reaction is total quality and absolute interactivity all of the time – but that is rarely the requirement on a “normal” project.  With my Editor/Colorist hat on (a better fit than Producer/Director these days) for most sessions the client spends much of their time on the phone, reading email, writing documents and so on, and usually is looking not at my high resolution perfectly balanced screen, but at a big television across the room. Yes, when I need to have guidance, opinion and help I get their attention and we go into details together at the desk – but this is maybe 30% of the time.

Well, I can work with you remotely in post in one of five ways.

The simplest is to start the edit or grade based on your brief and materials provided, chat to be sure we are on the same page, and then start the edit based on this brief/start correcting shots for a day, render the work out and send this to you via a carry hard drive for FedEx 9am delivery the next day. You watch the material at full quality and we email notes/chat again, I make new versions with changes and run on and the process repeats until we are finished. This is, I guess, a reactive process rather than interactive – but it is one I use all of the time with clients who can’t work at the same time as I do, because of location or other job commitments on their end.  There is often some repetition of work, but it is manageable if well thought out.

The second process is primarily for editing, and is software only based… using their remote production capabilities I can edit in, say, Premiere and directly interface with your own computer running Premiere, with an exactly matching asset library, and exchange completed or partial edits with you to review.

This isn’t truly remote interaction, as you don’t see the edit happening in real time, but it does allow for review and even changes on the fly.

The third process actually is interactive, and involves using a basic Zoom conference of my main edit screen with Facetime chat at the same time, to go through an edit or grade as if you were there with me.  The quality of the screen image on your end is not pristine, the color balance may be off a little and it’s a bit clunky but it works and is available at virtually no cost. This works for editing and color grading, and even VFX work, titles and mastering.

The fourth process is primarily for color grading, where a higher quality version of this using a LiveStream or an equivalent service.  For this I send my edit and/or grading screen to an encoder in the studio, which goes through the LiveStream web service and out to a decoder at your end and on to a high quality monitor.  The technical image quality is nearly as good as in person and there is almost no lag, but it is complicated and expensive to make happen – particularly for a long period. However, for one large project or multiple smaller ones this may be a good investment – and, of course, DaVinci Resolve is an editor, color grading platform, audio workstation and VFX creation system so covers all of the post-production hurdles.

The final process is the extreme version – and really a grading option more than editing – but through my DaVinci Resolve system I can control another Resolve system remotely, if it has all of the same software running and an exact media clone available.  The cost is to go to a studio with this matching system and book it, then watch me make the faders fly as the local operator sits there and we chat over a live link! It offers everything including better coffee – but at a significant price.

This choice is our new reality, at least for the forseeable future… and it is already working on many video and film projects perfectly well.  It just needs a little organization, a small paradigm shift and the confidence to step back from touch control and embrace poking with a long stick!

It does also demand custom tailoring a solution that meets your needs as a client, and your individual preferences on a project by project basis – because in my own experience the right solution is a combination that can be expanded or contracted as required day by day, or even hour by hour.  I’m more than happy to chat about any of these solutions and more – and as we won’t need to wear masks this should actually be understandable  🙂

In Part Two on this subject I take a look at the other side of the film and video fence and real world solutions for the production phase of a project…