“Early adopter” is a term that can be used too casually, but when it comes to startup veteran and Evercast Chief Operating Officer Damien Stolarz, it’s very appropriate. He’s so passionate about working from home that he’s been managing remote teams for the past 20 years.
Stolarz and I sat down to discuss remote work and the future of Evercast.
Can you tell us about your background and how that led you to Evercast?
I was in school during the early days of the internet, which was an exciting time—lots of innovation going on then. But you know, it was really slow, you couldn't stream video in real time. My friends and I started reprogramming video games so we could play them online remotely, using dial-up modems. The trick was to just send the moves, not the full graphics. This evolved into my first startup, an online game development company.
Several years later, I moved from games into streaming media and wrote a couple of textbooks on internet video. Then I spent a decade in the intellectual property space, appraising and licensing tech patents. That gave me a really interesting view of the universe, reading patents on almost every computer technology out there.
Then a few years ago I got the opportunity to join the Evercast team as a tech executive and I was excited to return to real-time streaming, since it’s kind of where I began.
How do you see remote work evolving in a post-Covid world?
Well, since 2002 I’ve worked from home and run remote teams. In my view employees should be able to work and live anywhere, and just get together in person every 6 months or so, to reinforce the shared vision. I’ve managed engineers all over the world. There’s a team in New Delhi I’ve been working with for five years and we’re really good friends. Same with a team in Dublin. It’s not like they’re “offshore,” what even is “offshore”? We’re all on earth, right?
In the entertainment industry, there’s no substituting certain parts of it—obviously you need your talent in person. But some productions have started using green screen scenes, where the talent are on two different ends of the country. What people are doing with remote music recording, we’re starting to do with remote video production. Meaning the trajectory is the ability to film scenes virtually. Right now the speed of light is our only barrier, but it’s really not that limiting; LA to New York is only 70 milliseconds.
Now isn’t it easier to get everyone together? Of course. You do what’s right to make the art, and when that means you need to be in person, then be in person. But more and more, you’re going to find people wanting to work from home. Look at all the talk shows and how they carried on during the pandemic. Covid taught everyone 10 years of acceleration in two years. We learned that sometimes remote is better, that it improves our work/life balance.
In other areas of M&E, such as pre-production or video game development, it’s simple to move the jobs to remote work. We’re seeing increased efficiencies and better products because now more people can give valuable input, without having to be in the same physical location. For example, it used to be that if someone wanted to see how the color grading was progressing for a scene, they’d have to go into a dark room and look at a $40,000 monitor. With Evercast you can sneak off with an iPad Pro and give real time notes to your colorist.
So I see a future where remote technologies and collaboration lead to a better product, for less money, in less time.
Where do you think Evercast fits in?
In our industry Evercast is like gaffer’s tape. It’s this really flexible tool that people use in every workflow imaginable, from table reads to virtual production, set review, editorial, VFX, color grading. We’re not just one point in the pipeline; we’re on your tool belt to be used whenever and however we’re needed.
Evercast is also great for high-security projects. Consider pre-release content for which there can be no leaks. The entire planet got to meet Grogu in The Mandalorian on the same day. You have to be able to trust your tools.
What kind of integrations are happening right now?
The first is hardware. We've got a number of hardware integrations in progress, such as our highly successful collaboration with Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink.
The second is our Desktop app, where we’re integrating with all the media editing suites. So for instance, you could be running your NLE, press a button, and you’re instantly in an Evercast room.
The third and most exciting area is our cloud integrations. You have digital asset managers in the cloud, storing raw assets or proxies. Since we don’t want to get into the storage business, we’re embracing what’s already being done and bringing these assets directly into Evercast rooms.
For me, the most exciting upcoming feature is getting our product to fully understand timecode, including the new standards that the Academy Software Foundation is creating. This way when you create a note or drawing or annotation of any kind, it will be attached to that asset at that timestamp. It’s what we’re building towards, a space that’s a connective environment for all assets.
The cloud integrations sound especially exciting.
Yeah, everything is going to the cloud. Some customers are building on-premises cloud solutions, creating “safe virtual environments” at their studio location. So you have both private and public clouds. And if you access their virtual network from home, your house becomes an extension of the studio through a variety of careful security checks. This eliminates the need for an external cloud service provider.
Have there been any interesting recent outside-the-box uses of Evercast?
Sure, the live concert that was done in Japan…
I wrote the case study on that, haha.
So you know all about it. That inspired producers to use Evercast in numerous live events, including some really large tech companies. We also worked with Dancing with the Stars. We created these “look-in” workflows for multiple cameras that were honestly easier than using a consumer security camera system. It gave stakeholders the ability to look in and see what was happening on set and track the day’s shoot.
We had early customer uptake in video game playthroughs. Now that Unreal Engine has effectively taken over virtual production, we have these ecosystems that are hybridizations of video game tech, live production tech, and our tech of bringing people from different locations into a virtual Evercast room.
Where do you see Evercast as a company a few years from now?
I see us partnered with larger companies and pushing the envelope of video conferencing. Telepresence development right now feels more focused on entertaining backgrounds and emulating an office environment, instead of getting things done. I think there’s an underestimation of the potential of remote conferencing. It’s not limited to media and entertainment—there are so many spaces like life sciences and aerospace and architecture and advertising that aren’t leveraging this powerful technology. So I guess our goal is to bring the highest quality experience to anyone, and help connect them in a way that is transformative.
How do you eliminate the barriers of space and time? How do you get latency down to the absolute minimum? How do you get into a room securely? How do we get to a place where it feels like we’re just sitting in a room together? That’s just some of the technology I’d like to drive towards.