Written by Amy DeLouise
Covid has changed production, possibly forever. Today we are facing an interesting convergence of mobile video, online video, archival content, and remote workarounds for production, as well as even more critical cloud and remote workflows for post-production. Even when we “return to normal,” aspects of these workflows and strategies will remain. In this article, I’ll take a look at some innovations and tips for managing the challenge of work-from-wherever-we-are production and post.
Audio Matters Most
Let’s start with getting better audio for online and mobile video recordings. We’ve all be faced with having to conduct an interview over the internet or having to use a clip that our client or talent self-records with a mobile device. Regardless of platform, the priority is audio. Professional soundies will cringe, but there are some affordable options for non-pros. Wired mics avoid interference best, and can come at a fairly low price point. Producer Nicki Sun recommends the Power DeWise wired lav mic which runs at about $40. iPhone video consultant Kim Foley recommends customized solutions to her clients, including the Mosotech Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Mic, which at press time was under $20. (Remember you may need adapters for iPhones.) If you can go up a bit in price, the Rode Smart Lav/Condenser at under $80 is a solid mic. If you need distance from your mobile device or computer, then wireless is the way to go. I’m a fan of the Samson Go Mic Mobile package, which gives you a wireless direct-to-mobile signal for under $200. In the same price range is the Saramonic Blink500, which works with mobile phones, computers and tablets. If you are recording podcaster-style, you can’t get better than the Rode NT-USB podcast mic, which runs about $250. For significantly less, the Blue Snowball gives a decent sound. Avoiding hard surfaces, noisy appliances, and being close to your computer fan will significantly help your sound. Some talent go as far as recording inside a closet or anywhere with dampened sound such as a carpeted hallway. When using VOIP to record an interview producer Walter Biscardi recommends using e-Camm recorder with Skype, and making a backup audio recording direct to his Zoom h4n. When recording online, whether using Skype or Zoom, “it’s always a good idea to make a double ender recording,” advises Rich Harrington, CEO of RHED Pixel. This means hitting record at on both “ends” of the call. The recording you make directly into your computer will be significantly better resolution than the one that gets recorded to the cloud. (Pro Tip for Zoom: Be sure to “Enable HD” in your video settings, and “Optimize for third party editor” in your recording settings, to ensure a better data rate.)
Getting Creative with Remote Production
While networks are using LiveU for their at-home remote anchor feeds, Netflix has announced it is getting back to the set with increased safety protocols. But for many in production, neither of these solutions is workable yet. People like editor-producer Chad Horn of Bard Tales isn’t waiting to see what happens next. He’s crafted a customized, shippable 4K kit, complete with a mirrorless Canon DSLR, lens-mounted ring light, wired lav and a camera mounted shotgun mic as backup. He will even include a beam-splitter prompter if needed. Using Canon software, he can allow remote control of the camera by a DP. And he can stream the shoot to executive producers via Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Facebook Live, so that they can weigh in on the setup. (The rig is sanitized between shipments, if you were wondering.) “Twitch streamers have been using this kind of tech for years, “ explains Horn, “so now we’re using these tools to be sure the footage we’re editing isn’t low quality cellphone video, but actually decent 4K LOG footage with discreet audio channels.” It will be interesting to see if such rigs become more popular, with crews becoming remote expert consultants rather than on-set creatives.
Post Workflow Strategies
In my own work, one of the issues has been ensuring that real-time collaboration continues with my editing teams. For years, we’ve had a remote-team setup in my production company, but have always liked being “in the room” for final edits, audio mixes and color grading. I will not reinvent colorist Robbie Carman’s excellent article on remote set-up using Streambox for synchronous color-grading sessions. Sound designer and mixer Cheryl Ottenritter, of Ott House Audio also uses Streambox when offering remote synchronous client remote mix sessions. Streambox, Cinesync, Evercast, Source Live and Session Link Pro all offer low latency, high quality synchronous reviews of video productions. Evercast also includes pre-Vis options, such as streaming Maya or other animation platforms. A slightly different post-production tool for the work-from-home user is BeBop. This system was designed to help avoid costly individual hardware and software purchases, and allows the user to remotely access a powerful virtual computer in order to create VFX projects, edit media files, animate, process images, or collaborate in real-time.
Other collaboration tools for reviews and feedback that were once “nice to have” are now becoming essential. Frame.io, Vimeo and Wipster all provide frame-accurate client reviews and the ability to share comments back to the team. I’ve been a personal fan of Wipster—that’s my affiliate link in the previous sentence–because I think they’ve been especially responsive to the needs and interests of the post community. Project management software such as Basecamp, Slack, and Teams is even more vital to keep teams and projects organized across different time zones. I’m also becoming a fan of Milanote for sharing storyboards, vision boards, deliverables lists and more at the early phases of a project. Rich Harrington recommends using these kinds of tools, but reserving a Slack channel for quick-turnaround internal discussions that need to happen outside the channels with clients.
Of course, one of the key puzzles should remote production become the norm is security. Just as Zoom sessions have been “bombed” by outsiders, so could your synchronous reviews or remote edit sessions. Many of the solutions providers noted above discuss security in their marketing. The key question when comparing pricing and providers is what level of encryption are you getting? And do the cloud storage back end servers actually store your media files? If so, what kind of redundancy and security is part of this package? I’ll have to leave that for another article.
The Rise of the Archive
Stock footage has always been a valuable tool for storytelling. But now, news and sports organizations are busily digging through their archives, desperate to deliver new content. And there’s no reason why other organizations that deliver content—corporations, associations and nonprofits—can’t do the same. Now more than ever, organizations need to be reviewing their own archives, tagging those old clips, and bringing them on line into their DAMs so their content producers can tap those resources. It’s a great time to be working on an anniversary video production. Or showing your donors how you’ve been there all along, creating impact in the world.
I started my career delivering archival content to feature films, as both art department research for production design and as clips to appear in the films themselves. While the internet has certainly made digging easier, the process of tracking down rights holders can remain elusive. Just because you find an image on Google doesn’t mean you can get the sync rights. And even images you source from a well-known archive like Getty may still require tracking down certain rights holders. Consider national resources like the Smithsonian Digital Archives and the National Archives collection, which often contain historical content that is no longer copyrighted or is federally-created and therefore available to use.
For now, we are all getting used to the new normal of both producing in 2D and effectively living in a 2D world of Zoom calls. Let’s hope that out of the challenges, some creative workarounds will carry us forward in new and positive ways.
Amy DeLouise is a writer and digital creative director getting used to the new work-from-home world of remote production. She blogs about production issues, and has authored a variety of LinkedIn Learning courses and a new book on nonfiction audio from Routledge Press.