We detailed how filmmakers should approach work in the midst of COVID-19 and what it means to stay safe on productions during the pandemic using equipment like PPE kits, but such insights are merely about the practical necessities and day-to-day realities for working professionals in production and post. We pulled together a roundtable discussion with the PVC Experts to get a sense of how such realities will factor into plans for 2021 and the media & entertainment industry as a whole.
As bad as 2020 was for everyone, it was an excellent year for camera releases. The industry saw our first 12K camera in the Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 12K, a significant first step into higher resolutions and acquisitions.
Not to be outdone, Sony, Red, and Canon all released cameras surely to be popular by operators worldwide. The RED Komodo proves to be a filmmaker’s favorite with its raw recording, global shutter, and small size. The fact we have a RED Camera pricing as low as the Komodo is pretty significant to me, and I hope to see RED grow more in this direction.
Canon not only had a busy and productive 2020, but one must include the latter half of 2019 to fully encompass everything Canon has offered filmmakers. I’m talking about the C500 Mark II, C300 Mark III, R5, R6, and C70 are significant additions to Canon’s digital cinema camera’s portfolio. If you cannot find the right Canon for you this year, you will not be looking hard enough.
Sony… Finally released the A7s III! Filmmakers have waited and waited and waited for Sony to update the full-frame mirrorless camera, and it finally did so in the summer of 2020. Sony also rolled out the Sony FX6, which I reviewed and quite liked a lot. The full-frame and absolutely astounding low-light performance from these two Sony cameras will indeed find a home in the kit of many filmmakers.
Sigma also gave us the Sigma FP, a decent mirrorless camera but a far better filmmaker’s director’s viewfinder and streaming camera. First off, the Sigma FP was the first camera with a dedicated USB Webcam output and seemed to land on the camera market at the right time during the time everyone started working from home. The collaboration Sigma affords filmmakers with the FP will find its place on set and in many a director’s kit.
In 2020, we had a lot of cameras announced and released. If I can leave one thought, it is this: the camera is no longer a barrier to your creativity.
While I think it’s easy to look back on a year greatly changed by the pandemic and point to some of the obvious adaptations our industry has made (the rise of remote editing, unemployment for the self-employed) I think one of the biggest changes that affected a lot of the people in our industry was the cancellation of the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas that is the NAB Show. Many companies have folks spending their whole year preparing for this trade show and much of that work was for naught. There were a couple of questionable weeks as companies started dropping out of NAB Show 2020 before NAB itself officially pulled the plug. I thought a lot about the cancellation of the show and not just the big companies and the big booths that wouldn’t happen. There are tons of smaller vendors that bet a lot of that yearly foot traffic to their booth and the subsequent internet coverage that their product or services gets. They didn’t get that this year. People come to NAB not just for the products but also the training and networking, an experience that isn’t as satisfying online. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers who help setup and support NAB Show that in one fell swoop didn’t have that work they had counted on year after year after year. Restaurants and bars and attractions all had a lesser April due to the lack of show-goers milling about town and spending money. Companies tried to adapt by rolling out products virtually and we at PVC tried to help with our NAB At Home coverage and while it was great fun it just wasn’t the same as being there.
Of course, this has been the story all over the world as NAB certainly wasn’t the only trade show canceled in 2020, both for our industry and others. 2021 will see a lot of the same. NAB has already announced the move of NAB 2021 to October 9-13, 2021. While people have been sounding the death knell in person trade shows for years now it’ll be interesting to see how the pandemic changes in person attendance at these events once they begin to happen again. Will attendees stay home? Will companies stop sending their people? Will vendors stop exhibiting? My guess is that October NAB Show 2021 will be the quietest NAB Show ever, if it happens at all. There are still a lot of unknowns going into 2021 and while sporting events seem to be easing back into in-person attendance it’s much easier to safely fit a few thousands people into a giant outdoor stadium than it is to fit a few thousand people into a windowless convention hall. Say nothing of taxis, Ubers, buses, and monorails that pack them in like sardines to get them to the convention center. I wish both grace and peace on those decision makers who have to many the call when and if an event like NAB Show will happen. It can’t be an easy descision and one that must weigh heavily on their hearts and minds.
2020 has been a year like no other and the ripple effects coming about in the last year will fundamentally change the lives of everyone going forward, and we will all need to get used to it.
Production will stay smaller for the next couple of years and should become more diverse. Distributed monitoring via your personal devices onset will further the end of Video Villages found on larger productions. Remote viewing and monitoring are here to stay, people are not going back to offices, why should productions be any different. One place we are seeing real advancement during the pandemic was with Virtual Productions. This hybrid production style marrying the gaming engine technologies with traditional production techniques that will explode in the next 3-5 years as a result of shows built around the effects like Disney’s The Mandolorian or Netflix’s MidnightSky. Virtual Production will borrow extensively from distributed model of video game productions, where camera & lighting, shading, design, and programing meet regularly but only online.
An other big change will be in the loss of some of the bigger trade shows, I foresee these get togethers as smaller, vastly more regional affairs, with less of the impact of NAB or the IBC shows. So that Cinegear in LA and maybe even in Atlanta, the Northwest Lens Summit in Portland and the Filmscape show in Chicago might end up gaining benefit from the lesser attendance that will be found at the “international” trade shows, to alleviate some of the residual fear and isolation from the pandemic. Yet much like the Roaring 20’s sprung up from the ashes of the 1918 pandemic, we might be on course for a run of prosperity for at least the next few years after the vaccinations take hold.
At present I don’t foresee attending any shows in 2021. Even if we get a critical mass of the US population vaccinated by next summer — and that’s not a sure bet by any means — big trade shows and conferences are what viruses evolved to ensure their continued success despite the pesky public-health measures humans came up with to keep ‘em down. I really miss attending both NAB and Cine Gear Expo, but I’d miss breathing even more.
It has been interesting to see most mirrorless-camera makers come out with firmware upgrades and Mac and Windows software allowing their cameras to work as USB webcams. I’m still waiting to see if ARRI follows; I want to see Art Adams give his next Signature Zoom Zoom presentation using an Alexa LF as his webcam. And no, “Signature Zoom Zoom presentation” is not a typo.
Since I manage the Video & Imaging Services group in Corporate Marketing for a large BioTech company, we’ve had to shift all productions and editing to remote for 90% of our projects. We have a team of about 25 people that include video producers, editors, animators, photographers, tech/science writers and designers/art directors all working from home on the west coast. We learned that setting up our internal clients of product marketers and scientists to do home recording took awhile but we were able to manage a process and protocol that is repeatable and consistent for anyone in the company to follow and provide us with content we can edit and use. For a few rare projects that required a producer to shoot video in a lab on-site, safety protocols have enabled us to comply with strict guidelines to keep everyone safe and limit the number of people in a lab or in the studio at any one time. Smaller photo shoots such as the SARS-2 COVID testing kits are usually shipped to my home where I’ve built out a smaller photo studio in my garage and we can remote through Microsoft Teams with the client and art director to sign-off on each shot, or we meet up live on Zoom if it’s more complex.
Since everyone has varying internet connections from their homes that range from super-fast Fiber to stealing the neighbors’ WiFi, we discovered lots of issues trying to get people access through VPN to our servers back at the main campus in the Bay Area. This made it difficult to get videos transferred to the server and downloading on the other end for the art directors and clients to review. We’d often have to use an external service like WeTransfer to move files back and forth and that created a new set of issues and consumed a lot of bandwidth for those that have data restrictions. Since I live in a rural area in the remote Sierra Foothills, I have a microwave dish on a 20ft pole in the top of an oak tree at the top of our hill on the farm, and my up/dn rates are S L O W.
We then turned to Frame.io for a solution that allows the editors to upload a review proof and share with the rest of the team and clients and get instant consolidated feedback from everyone in one place. It’s not only saved us a ton of time but really streamlined our review and comment process eliminating confusion and missed requests and notes from all the team. I posted an article on PVC back in July about their roll-out Web series “Workflow From Home with Frame.io” (https://www.
I think with the challenges during this pandemic for many folks who are either working for a company full-time remotely, or independent producers/editors; it will be extremely important to keep discovering the services & tools to make remote work and file sharing/managing easier for everyone.
In 2020, we saw more affordable microphones which actually look as good as they sound. We thankfully saw a major teleconferencing service embrace proper 48 kHz audio sampling and a similarly named recorder manufacturer begin to segregate mixers and recorders (one step backwards for mankind). All this happened in the same era when many more video cameras are worldcam (even consumer models), be they standalone models or software for smartphones. In 2020, we even saw smartphones capable of recording 10-bit HDR video in most worldcam framerates.
In 2021, I expect to see segregated audio recorder manufacturers begin offer an unlock for their audio sampling frequencies (free or for a nominal fee), just as we did with camera manufacturers in the past with framerates. I also expect 48-kHz Bluetooth to be much more common than today to facilitate more wireless microphones feeding smartphones or tablets.
In my conversations with numerous editors – especially in the last half of this year – the overwhelming change in post-production will be the accelerated acceptance – and technological innovations which enable – remote editing. The catalyst was clearly the need for many productions to have their entire post-production teams working from home. This will probably not cause studios and production companies to help out their below-the-line employees with things like subsidized high-speed internet, but it should. Many editors said that one of the biggest bottle-necks in the post-process during the early days of COVID, was the low-speed connections that the assistant editors were using at home – often shared with roommates. High-end production companies shouldn’t be living off of the services paid for by some of their lowest-paid employees.
Technological innovations and the acceptance of certain practices has often been facilitated by or initiated by some outside force. For example, the wide-spread acceptance of digital cinematography over film was heralded by SAG strikes and the union rules surrounding the use of various types of cameras. There has been no hard push for remote editing in the past. Mostly, I think, because post is still a “team sport.” There is a strong value in having multiple people in the same location for collaboration and creative input. Though some people I spoke with indicated that they found workarounds for the lost of that face-to-face interaction, most said that the major loss to their workflow was simply not being together physically. But, as collaborative methods get worked out, and technical issues – mostly concerning real-time control and playback and latency – are resolved, remote editing will be much more widely accepted after 2020. This will have wide-spread repercussions for our industry. What those repercussions are, specifically, will be something that will play out over the next few years at an accelerated pace.
I live in Frame.io and have fiber at home but still end up shuttling hard drives because of the bottlenecks. The remote model for color grading (for a certain segment of the market) blew apart the rationale for everyone sitting around the same expensive color calibrated display. Now, all of my work is evaluated, marked up and finaled on iPhones or MacBook screens. Everyone just trusts the colorists more, or maybe all content ends up on an iPhone anyway.
The days ahead look like more remote rather than less even when the pandemic is over. And because of that, I have to amplify this from Steve…
Many editors said that one of the biggest bottle-necks in the post-process during the early days of COVID, was the low-speed connections that the assistant editors were using at home – often shared with roommates. High-end production companies shouldn’t be living off of the services paid for by some of their lowest-paid employees.
This totally slayed me both in the clarity of your words but in the chilling prescience of what may come to be. This is the Uber/ Lyft model brought into post via a pandemic. This is an inflection point in our business when a haphazard practice, born during a disaster, becomes the norm. Or we can get together and do something about it.
I can only speak for myself, but this year highlighted some things as an independent filmmaker that were… interesting. I can’t say whether they’re good or bad necessarily but I tend to try to keep moving and not dwell on obstacles too much (at least beyond the task of fixing them). As I’m self-employed, I make sure to have multiple potential revenue streams to ensure that I can pay my rent, feed myself, keep my equipment/education up to date, and maybe get a Bluray or two for fun. Luckily for me, I suppose, my hobby is my job so I don’t tend to “splurge” on anything that won’t advance my career in some way. In any case, here’s how things look for someone like me.
To start, obviously, production was shut down almost entirely. I’m primarily a Cinematographer, although nowadays I get hired to direct a lot more, and I’ve had all of my big shoots pushed indefinitely. That was/is hard and there’s no getting around that. I’m hopeful that those gigs don’t simply drop out entirely and we can get to them in 2021, but when one commercial can pay your rent and feed you for a few months it can be a huge gut punch, especially when you’ve planned or budgeted for it.
In lieu of those in-person gigs, I’ve gotten a lot more editing/coloring jobs. This is where having a good Rolodex really comes in to play, and always doing your best to not burn bridges and keep your clients happy. Last thing you want to do is have a friend recommend you to someone and then you make said friend look bad by having a crappy attitude or under-delivering on a promise, or just being difficult to communicate with. Obviously these aren’t going to be big jobs for Viacom or what have you, but two documentaries and a handful of web content gigs definitely helped me out this year. I’m lucky enough to live in Los Angeles where drive drop-offs are easy and internet speeds are higher than average but even so, having to develop methods of getting notes and sending deliverables quickly and easily for any given client has been crucial. It always is, but obviously more so now than ever. I’ve been doing the classic “Burn-in Timecode/Google Drive” method, but Frame.io is an excellent tool that should not be overlooked (although it can get pricey depending on your level of production). Vimeo also has good review tools if you’re paying for one of their higher-tier accounts. The big thing here is to just smooth out the experience for the client who may not be as technologically savvy as you. You’re likely going to have to come down to their level and walk them through it without being condescending. Act like everyone needs the help they need, ya know? Try to anticipate any problems and solve them ahead of time.
The other thing that’s been big is Live Streaming. I know we’ve talked a lot about it on the ProVideo Podcast, but I think it’s worth bringing up because I don’t see it going away any time soon. At first I think it was a bit of a novelty, at least for clients, as they figured “hey everyone’s at home, we’ve got a captive audience for a few months” (hilarious) “let’s do something with them!” but now I think people have gotten used to that method of interaction and brands/personalities/companies will want to bring a higher level of polish to their streams. Earlier in the year I did one for BJ’s Steakhouse (the Pizzokie people) in their test kitchen, and it went off without a hitch for a few reasons, chief of which being my production capabilities as a freelancer and secondly my technical skills as a straight-up nerd. Brian and I have spoken about it at length, but that little $20 HDMI-to-USB adapter is a godsend for things like this. With a good enough laptop and a hardwired internet connection (do NOT rely on wi-fi) you can basically set up a shoot as you would traditionally, but send the output to Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, or whatever it may be with OBS. Good audio is crucial for live streams, basically overriding image quality as the audience may have a slow connection anyway, so I ran two G3 lavs into my C500 -set to Left and Right channel- and then ran that in to OBS via the HDMI adapter where you can identify those inputs as separate and add audio effects like EQ, Compression, De-noising, etc. Since you’ll never be streaming in 4K you can get away with 1080p output, and from a Full Frame camera that looks extra delicious. OBS is a really powerful free tool that I highly recommend you become acquainted with. Another thing I’ll do is, depending on the show, I’ll design overlays in Photoshop using the client’s branding as a guideline for how it should look which really adds that extra 10-20% of production value. This is particularly helpful if you’re hosting Zoom discussions, as there’s a lot of free real-estate around the talking heads you can use to inform the audience, brand, or even include a chat box if applicable (people love to see their words on-screen, driving engagement and retention).
Touching on Brian’s point, this year saw camera technology really even out in terms of spec across price points and brands. If you asked me today which camera to buy, I’d just say “whichever one you think is coolest” because at this point they all have a similar level of quality. The big thing is to just focus on the hardware you need (SDI? XLR? NDs? Timecode?) and have the spec sheet come second. If you’re shooting 10bit 422, you’re in a great spot. 12bit is incredible. Full Frame/”Large Format” is becoming more accessible as well, which I would take over higher K-counts any day as a larger sensor will give you a more detailed, lower-noise image whereas more K’s just means it’s… bigger… In any case, in 2021 your level of quality will, more than ever, be defined by your skill and not your equipment. Hell, even the iPhone makes a seriously serviceable image. Focus on audio, lighting, and most importantly: Story.
Also, as an aside, as a cinematographer/shooter of any sort, getting really familiar with Resolve is going to be a necessity. You truly don’t have authorship over your image anymore unless you’re the one delivering the show LUT or coloring it yourself, as too many editors now can slap on a (potentially poorly-made) LUT and call it a day. Not to mention the fact that most manufacturer LUTs look like crap, aiming for “technically correct” over aesthetically pleasing. Don’t let someone stomp all over your image based on ill-informed or speed-centric choices! By knowing the toolset to color your image in post, you can more accurately shoot for that target during production resulting in an overall better product.
The big, obvious, thing that 2020 took away from us was the comradery. Being on set with your crew, being in the trenches with your post team, the downtime as well as the up-time, those are all things that personally I looked forward to. It separates our job from many others as we’re problem-solving, building, and creating all at once with people we like while doing something we (hopefully) actually enjoy. What I do hope this year has taught us, however, is how to slow down and value our time, relationships, and health. Going back to a “normal” of 16 hour days at cutthroat rates while being yelled at from all sides would be horrible. Let’s try to collectively set the tone going forward and -while working as fast as we can and maintaining a tight, disciplined schedule- push clients/employers to understand that we’re all human and work to live, not the other way around. Yes, things get in the way, plans change, Murphy will Law, but that’s where Pre-Production and those aforementioned skills and experience come in to play. Advocating for yourself is advocating for all of us. I’m not saying start throwing weight around and bully your clients, telling them the new law of the land, I’m just saying.
The year 2020 prompted a lot of introspection, almost existential doubt, about the industries I’ve worked for and the future of my career. The types of projects that I have worked on the most – events, product launches, conferences, live theatre & festivals – were the hardest hit by the global lockdowns. I have no idea if these sectors of the industry will fully recover. Perhaps companies will discover that events, conferences and lavish product launches don’t justify their expense? When tobacco companies were forced to stop advertising altogether, they discovered their profits increased even though overall sales declined, because the cost of advertising was greater than the sales they created. Perhaps the global covid restrictions will have a similar effect on other industries…
But the biggest impact that 2020 has had on me is the forced re-evaluation of a work-life balance. Many of my articles on the ProVideo Coalition have focussed on the idea that the “difficult” part of a job is not using the hands-on tools (the hardware and software), but in dealing with people and finding a work/life balance. As a self-employed freelancer, any time I’m not working I’m not earning an income. Everyone who is self-employed can attest that there’s always a constant worry about where the next job and the next paycheck will come from, and this relentless pressure can make it difficult to give yourself true “downtime”. Even when you’re not working for a client, there’s always “work” to be done – a showreel or website to update, articles to read or a tutorial to watch, new software to learn, accounts to organise and so on. It can be hard to fully switch-off. But I’m not ashamed to share that there were periods during 2020 where I simply had no work, and no immediate prospects for work, and this enforced downtime enabled me to spend time away from the computer – not just days but weeks. I’ve discovered the benefits of working less, taking longer breaks between projects, and devoting more time to all those things I keep meaning to do around the house.
Even as the global situation improves and the industry recovers, I don’t see myself working as much as I used to, and I’ll be placing a greater priority on downtime and personal projects.