Using web tools to collaborate between creatives.

Wisdom from the masses

Wisdom from the masses – In depth on using web tools to collaborate between creatives.

A few weeks ago there was a short but interesting thread on CML-pro (The Cinematographer’s Mailing List) about how to collaborate with other creatives on a production team using web-based tools. The original poster wanted a solution – a “group scrapbook” – that would allow a small pre-production team to share images, photos and notes. Expanding on the idea a little further, it would be good to be able to communicate across the group, share schedules, comments and video.

There were basically six good solutions presented by members of the list:

? Google Sites – basically a free on-line website creator.

? Celtx – free software that links to free shared web storage specifically for film and TV productions.

? BackPackIt – subscription-based team collaboration website

? BaseCamp – subscription-based team collaboration website

? Picassa Web – on-line photo sharing

? .mac account with iWeb – simple website creation with annual subscription for serving.

I examined each of these concepts for a project I’m beginning. There are pros and cons to each approach and I figure that you might benefit from all of my legwork.


Google Sites

This is a free service through Google that lets you build a web page fairly easily that is populated mostly by Google apps (widgets). These apps can be pretty handy, and include an app called Google Docs, which allows you to upload and share word processing and presentation files including images and video. I also populated my “Start Page” with weather widgets for the locations, a notetaking widget, a calendar widget, a countdown widget, to do widgets, and stickynotes, as well as timezone clocks for various people on the production team. Also widgets for creating and filling out forms and saving weblinks to share.

This “Start Page” can be shared and is password protected.

My impression of this solution is that it’s great because it’s free, but it doesn’t really suit itself to production or creative collaboration. It just feels a little generic.

To check it out yourself, visit:

www.google.com/sites/overview.html


Celtx

This is free downloadable software (Mac or PC) that is built around a script writing word processor. You can create storyboards, index cards, production schedules, and add photos. Once you’ve downloaded the software and created a production project, you can upload it to the Celtx (pronounced KELL-tix) website and share it with as many people as you want. Access can be either public or password encoded.

I was completely amazed by this product. I kept wondering “Why is this free?” It’s like a free version of FinalDraft! I kept waiting for the catch. I thought, “OK the software is free, but then they’ll hit you for a subscription to share the project data, which can only be done through their website.” But no! The sharing and serving is free too. There’s even production scheduling included that’s linked to the script. You can create and share multiple documents on the web with your team.

I think the drawback of CelTx compared to some of the other solutions is that it doesn’t feel very collaborative. I haven’t used it in a collaborative setting, so I could be wrong, but it seems like one person pushes data out to a bunch of other people who can then view it, edit it and add to it but there isn’t a lot here to foster collaboration. It’s not a completely one-way street, but it seems like a fairly rigid, non-customizable environment. That said, I think this is a very impressive tool for film and TV production. The centerpiece of CelTx definitely seems to be “the script.” If you’re looking for more of a visual method of collaborating, then this might not be for you, but it’s definitely a specialized solution for production, as opposed to the generic “project-based” solutions aimed at general business users.

Check it out at:

www.celtx.com


BackPackIt and BaseCamp

These two tools – created by the same company – are like the Google Sites solution on steroids. They provide very nice customizing options and lots of solutions for sharing files, saving histories of revisions, creating to do lists, calendars, making notes, email notifications, and message boards to foster collaboration and communication. There’s even time tracking built in!

All in all, this is one of the friendlier solutions, meaning that it seems pretty foolproof and easy to set up and implement. The big drawback here is money. I suppose if you can get this into your budget, the money doesn’t matter, but hosting your own website would be cheaper (though not easier). BackPackIt and BaseCamp are essentially the same web application paid for with two different subscription models from what I could tell.

BackPackIt costs $24/month for 6 users, $49/month for 15 users and $99/month for 40 users. BaseCamp has unlimited users but charges by the number of active projects. At $24/month for 15 active projects this would seem the better way to go as long as you didn’t have more than 15 films in some phase of production at the same time. In addition to the cost, this is definitely not a “tailored” production application like CelTx, but the ease of sharing files and communicating with other team members is definitely a very useful thing.

Check them both out at:
www.backpackit.com
www.basecamphq.com/
www.37signals.com (This is the parent company. They do other cool stuff, too.)


Picassa Web Albums

This is a free web album hosting solution from Google. This really only fits the most basic needs of the original request: create a “group scrapbook.” With a free Google account, you can upload images to a central album that can be viewed by anyone you invite to see your album. This is cheap and easy. That’s about it. You get about a gig of free storage. There’s really no way to collaborate here. It’s just a method for a group of people to see the same images and videos.

Check it out here:

http://picasaweb.google.com/home


iWeb and .mac account

I’ve had a .mac account for several years and I’ve actually used iWeb many times to get feedback from clients on various edits of trailers I’ve cut. Since I’m about 600 miles from my nearest client, I tend to do a lot of web-based client approval and interaction. But that’s not really what the original poster was looking for. (Of course, as we here at PVC are all friends of Frank Capria, we’d recommend Xprove for client approvals anyway!) To get back on tangent, can you do creative collaboration with others through a .mac account using iPhoto and Web Galleries or iWeb? Absolutely. This is a great solution if you already own a .mac account and iLife ’08. If you don’t, then I wouldn’t really promote this as a valid solution. For “group scrapbooking” it’s a very easy collaborative method using iPhoto. There are numerous ways that multiple people can share images with the central scrapbook or album. With iWeb, creating web pages with notes and blogs and photos and videos is incredibly easy. I wouldn’t give it high marks for ease of collaboration though. This is more of a “pushed” solution, with one person disseminating images, files and ideas to a group. It is possible for others to edit and blog comments and add to the discussion, but iWeb and .mac weren’t really designed for that purpose, so it would be doable, but a bit of a kludge.

This is also not a free solution by any means. An annual subscription is about $100 and iLife ’08 is about $80. The cool thing is that the .mac account is good for so many other things. It includes 10gigs of storage and I use Apple’s BackUp software to back my important files up to my .mac account every night. Even if I had a fire or flood or had my computer stolen, I could have all of yesterday’s editing and other files back in my hands in minutes.

Check out .mac and iLife ’08 here:
www.apple.com/dotmac/idisk.html
www.apple.com/ilife/


Conclusion

For me, I was most impressed with CelTx. It is definitely aimed squarely at the production community instead of being a one-size-fits-all business solution. And you can’t beat “free.” Fostering a creative collaborative environment may not be it’s strong suit, but possibly as you spend more time using it, you would find ways to supplement its strong points with other collaborative methods.

Of course, as a .mac user already, I am inclined toward that solution since I know it and it is Mac friendly (obviously) and we all know how “creatives” love their Macs.


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Steve Hullfish

Steve Hullfish has been producing and editing award-winning television since the mid-1980s. He has written six books, and edited four theatrical feature films (including two Number One New Movies in the US). He has lectured at NAB, DVExpo and the Master Editor seminars. He has edited on Avid since 1992 and was named to Avid’s first group of Master Editors. His client list includes: Universal Studios, Sony Pictures, NBC, PBS, Turner Networks, The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Investigative Reports” and “Cold Cases” with Bill Kurtis for A&E, Jim Henson Home Entertainment, Major League Soccer, The Chicago Cubs, Wilson Sporting Goods and Exxon/Mobil.

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