Virtual production in the remote age: Evercast at Infinity Fest 2021

Infinity Festival Hollywood is an annual event that unites Hollywood’s finest storytellers with Silicon Valley’s revolutionizing technologies. Under the theme of “Story Enabled by Technology,” the program hosts an array of panels, keynotes, and showcases from industry-leaders that bridge the latest in tech with entertainment media. 

This year’s festival took place from November 2-4, and was a hybrid experience of both in-person and virtual events, featuring an exhibition hall, innovation labs, a fine art gallery and more—each with an emerging-tech focus. 

The future of work

Evercast was honored to host the festival’s “The Future of Work” panel, moderated by our Head of Innovation JP Castel. The discussion invited filmmakers and technologists to examine the future of remote production, and how new technologies could open the doors to more diverse perspectives, groundbreaking solutions, and a more even playing field. 

Panelists included AJ Catoline, an Emmy-winning editor on Ted Lasso; Brian Eichman, the Senior Director of Solution Architecture and Product Development at Coresite; Mike Szumlinski, the Chief Commercial Officer at Iconik; and Talia Marino, the VP of Product at Cast and Crew.

Where we were before

A remote world is something that we have long been heading towards, but the pandemic acted as the impetus for what was previously thought to be a decade-long shift.  According to Coresite’s Brian Eichman, before COVID-19 even hit, the wheels were already turning for a large-scale transition into cloud technologies. Decentralization was already taking root in entertainment media: the rise of video streaming distribution channels, the prevalence of cloud gaming via rented machines, blockchain research to secure virtual organizations, and so forth. The unexpected pandemic restrictions are merely what tipped the iceberg, pushing us to fully utilize tools that were a long time coming.

Although entertainment and technology have long been closely married, the industry tends to take its time in moving on from legacy tools and protocols. It wasn’t until people could no longer physically go into their offices that workflow was truly put into perspective. Iconik’s Mike Szumlinski pointed out that previously, companies would hold all their data in silos that were only accessible on-site, making it difficult to add team members and sync assets. With, assistant editors are now able to transfer and sync low-res proxies—that means less back-and-forth lugging of hard drives. 

That was the situation that editor AJ Catoline faced on the first season of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso, which hit post-production amid pandemic shutdowns. According to Catoline, the entire show was downloaded onto hard drives to salvage the post workflow in a pre-lockdown rush. Through a mixture of Google, Zoom, and Evercast, Ted Lasso’s team made it through the woods and nabbed 7 Emmys.

Scaling to the pandemic

The onset of the pandemic forced society to shift our workflow paradigm from literal to critical—rather than asking “what protocols should we have” in a very traditional sense, instead we ask “what foundations do we need to function?” Out of this contemplation arose the answer: connectivity. 

On the panel, Eichman shared how his data center and colocation company had to rapidly scale business as the demand for internet connectivity rose. Many studios relied on their services to better distribute their content, and companies moved their core infrastructure into Coresite’s building to support remote production.

Saving Ted Lasso’s post-production

Arguably the hottest television show on streaming these days, Ted Lasso had smoothly entered post-production on the Warner Brothers lot until the nation locked down. Catoline recounted how the team had to figure out new workflows on the fly and bank on home internet connections. 

While it seemed like a scramble at first, they discovered that remote editing was not just a competent substitute, but a genuine solution for lots of previously unaddressed challenges. Remote work allowed editors to work comfortably and regain a sense of quality time. “When you’re in an office...the producer is sort of behind you...but now, when you’re over’re face to face with your producer or collaborator and it’s much more intimate in many ways,” Catoline remarked. He also explained, “Editors have been able to spend more time at home with their families and provide a better work-life balance, but I also know a lot of editors who are like digital nomads—they’re following the internet wherever it can take them. They’re getting cabins in the mountains and remoting into the studio.”

Addressing technical challenges

Asset management is often where postproduction hits a logistical nightmare. With players like Coresite and Evercast connecting collaborators, how are we connecting the people to the raw files? Panelist Mike Szumlinski explains how’s cloud media management provides storage gateways that allow useful low-res sharing for creatives who don’t need the original hi-res formats. Long-story-short: more media gets out to more people to work at faster speeds, eliminating clunky hard drive exchanges and the risk of losing money and time on storage that lack redundancy. Also, when original raw data is needed, users are able to synchronize local folders across multiple systems in what Iconik’s is coining the “Hybrid Cloud,” lessening the storage needed in the cloud. 

On the note of security challenges, Eichman elaborated on how in this new remote workflow, security still always begins at the physical layer (the core machine at a data center and the device of the employee logging in), and then beyond that, it’s mostly being mindful of maintaining the right certifications in data privacy. Furthermore, moving editorial machines and local storage completely to a data center with remote access allows more security control and flexibility for both the studio and creative. 

From left to right: AJ Catoline, Brian Eichman, Mike Szumlinski, Talia Marino, and JP Castel

Changes in pre-production

While the future of work may seem more intuitive for post-production, what does the future hold for pre-production? Panelist Talia Marino explains how Cast & Crew used to ship physical Chromebooks onto sets for onboarding paperwork, which was the first step of digital onboarding.. Now,Cast & Crew has streamlined digital onboarding further with digital timekeeping and digital asset management. Not only does this free people from physically coming into offices and onto sets, but also democratizes who productions are able to hire. 

Democratization, diversity, and an even playing field

Workflows that initially arose to address the literal challenges of remote collaboration may actually be our solution to the industry’s greater critical issues. Not only does remote collaboration open the door for diverse voices to join productions, but these modern companies and products are also built and scaled to be accessible to independents in addition to larger companies. Lots of legacy products were priced and scaled strictly for B2B purposes, but the technologists of today are looking to empower smaller creatives. 

On leveling the playing field, Szumlinski explained, “Our whole core focus when we built our product was to democratize [post production], and stop the barriers to entry that happened in traditional media systems—if anyone has ever worked with one, they tend to be pretty expensive.” Before the pandemic even happened, Iconiks launched with the intent to allow smaller productions to grow. With a large rolodex of huge companies with hundreds of collaborators, Iconiks also supports smaller customers like a single YouTuber looking to contract out editing for their second channel. And now they can hire that editor anywhere in the world. “It’s the same platform—it’s the same one that the big guys use, same one that the small guys use,” says Szumlinski. 

One of the most important things the world has gained out of the past couple of years isn’t necessarily new technologies, but the accessibility of technologies. Marino described, “People who no longer need the infrastructures that major studios provide—anybody can access it. The cloud has been up there... It’s really opening up the world to a bunch of content creators that maybe didn’t have access before unless they were involved with a major production.”

Painting an image of the future

The carefully assembled panel itself was a statement of what the future of work looks like: If a producer wanted to hire an editor like AJ onto a production, they could onboard and pay them remotely using Cast & Crew, securely share footage and dailies over Iconik, collaborate face-to-face on Evercast, and then power their tools through a secure, powerful cloud machine at Coresite. The circle of how these incredibly different companies fit together to serve a single production is a testament to how content creation will proceed in a remote world. 

While the entertainment industry has traditionally been regionally-locked for a lot of post-production work, now the door is beginning to open, granting creatives more flexibility and work-life balance. This is also causing democratization of talent, lessening the barrier to entry to the film industry, and highlighting more diverse and unique voices. 

From the perspective of both actual creatives on the ground and the technologists supporting them, a hybrid model of remote production certainly seems to be the next era in this industry, given our connectivity’s speed and security can keep up. Rather than settling for what has always been done, we’re strategizing on how to make already-developing technologies work better for us.

In both empowering creatives and in her own workplace, Talia sees these modern trends as a boon to the industry: “I can now fit my work into my life as opposed to life into my work.” While these workflows were initially put into place out of necessity, now they’re here to stay because of the flexibility, efficiency, and democratization they offer. Professionals who have worked for decades in the industry such as Ted Lasso’s AJ Catoline are welcoming the transition to remote work, citing that they may never go back and are excited to keep editing from home in future seasons. Even as health protocols may give us the option to return to office spaces, it’s clear that our expectations, standards, and the very nature of how we view work will never be the same.

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