Film Making Process Needs to Catch Up with New Technological Capabilities
– Tim Sarnoff

10 September 2014

A Conversation with Tim Sarnoff and Nathan Wappet

In the film and television industry, digitization has been a disruptive technology that has finally become de facto. But the industry still hasn’t developed industry-wide production conventions capable of leveraging all that digital technology has to offer. Instead, there is a complex web of one-to-one processes that lack automation, intelligence, efficiencies and visibility.

In this Q&A, Technicolor’s Tim Sarnoff, President, Production Services, and Nathan Wappet, Chief Operating Officer, Production Services, discuss the challenges the industry faces, and the work Technicolor has begun to create an open and standard framework that will enable production teams across the industry to share data, workflows and communication throughout the filmmaking process.

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A Conversation with Tim Sarnoff and Nathan Wappet

In the film and television industry, digitization has been a disruptive technology that has finally become de facto. But the industry still hasn’t developed industry-wide production conventions capable of leveraging all that digital technology has to offer. Instead, there is a complex web of one-to-one processes that lack automation, intelligence, efficiencies and visibility.

In this Q&A, Technicolor’s Tim Sarnoff, President, Production Services, and Nathan Wappet, Chief Operating Officer, Production Services, discuss the challenges the industry faces, and the work Technicolor has begun to create an open and standard framework that will enable production teams across the industry to share data, workflows and communication throughout the filmmaking process.

Digitization has brought about massive change in the film and television industry. Are there areas though that haven’t yet capitalized on the technology? Why?

Tim: The industry of filmmaking has been undergoing serious transformation and change every year for the last 100 years. It is an industry of invention. The most impactful invention and transition in the recent era has been digitization. While it has sped up the process and made it non-linear, digitization has created other complexities. At the same time, digitization has significantly enhanced how productions are viewed, creating much more immersive and augmented experiences.

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But the processes involved in making a film, such as planning and post production, have not evolved very much and are now up against significant stress points. To be blunt, traditional processes no longer work efficiently. In many ways they are an analog remnant in a digital world. These aging ways of doing things are characterized by a series of one-to-one stand-alone activities that aren’t automated or integrated; there’s no visibility into them, and they have become very inefficient.

One would think that by this stage, common processes and procedures for managing workflow would have emerged to make things more efficient. But they haven’t.

Part of the reason is because each production is so unique. Every movie or original series has its own special way of being created. To take an analogy from the auto manufacturing industry, high production value projects – like major films – are more like building a racing car, than a mass-produced vehicle. Each element is bespoke. Everything you are doing is subject to the tolerance levels of a particular project and the particular needs of its creative teams.

Sure there are stock engines, stock bodies, stock tires that are used in race cars, but then you individualize that stock car. You have a driver, and if a particular driver is better at the curves than in the straightaways, you need a different type of tire and a different type of suspension.

Really, the same is true for major entertainment projects. Each director and each genre combine with hundreds of other factors to create unique production requirements.

However, we are now getting to the stage where the complexity is reaching levels, and contributing to costs and delays that may be caused by lack of standardization on issues that have little to do with the creative process. It is prompting a growing number of people in the industry to wonder if it is necessary to reinvent the wheel. The industry wants to see if there is a way to create a system that works more robustly for all the types of film and television projects.

Is demand growing for a way to ease these complexities?

Nathan: Yes, I think so. I think the industry is ready to talk about a more modularized approach. There’s a lot of frustration around how things are done and how we make it simpler. Of course, if it were simple to make it simple, it would have been done already. But it is not an easy thing to do.

Up until this point, you could—with a very good production manager—manage everything on a whiteboard. It has been a very manual process. But now there are literally hundreds of different formats that you have to worry about while at the same time creating a master version of the production. Today, it is impossible to manage projects effectively on a single white board — or even a roomful of white boards.

You need computers and a way to combine all these electronic white boards into an overall system. You need a virtual production manager that knows where everything is. So all we are really trying to do at this point is not to add more data but to make it more relational, so that you can access what you need when you need to have it.

Tim: The average movie is created in five different time zones. There is hardly even a time when all members of a team are in the same room. In many cases some are asleep during the times when the others are in “the room,” where ever that place happens to be according to the time of day. There’s no longer a single crew at a location that’s on a particular project. There are multiple crews on multiple projects across multiple geographical locations. Usually, the majority of the team members work for different companies—and they are all trying to combine work into a single project discussion and everything is happening simultaneously. That change is because of digital. That wasn’t possible 10 or 15 years ago in a more linear ecosystem.

So is there solution to the conundrum?

Nathan: Technicolor is making a significant investment to kick- start the formation of a system, or a framework, that will provide an integrated and industry standard infrastructure that everyone can use. We already have a roadmap of all the necessary elements, and at the end of the day, this framework should save everyone money and time.

Tim: The idea is to centralize resources and process in a secure manner. This way, everyone can access the data they need. We can all benefit from – and take full advantage of – digital production. It is something the industry has not yet been able to do because we’ve been treating digital production as an extension of the old physical production – in which there is only one place and one user for each custom made thing that is created rather than one place and millions of potential users for that same customized piece of production.

This affects the entire community of interest:

  • Studios will benefit because they are all spending more and more money on production every year.
  • It affects the production companies because they are realizing that they are becoming less and less efficient every year.
  • It affects the creatives because they can’t get to the end- result that they wish to achieve in a fluid manner. They often have pending dependencies that keep key people from moving on to the next step. It also, frankly, hampers the creative ability to focus on that which is – in fact – creative, because they are distracted by the noise that comes from manual administrative and outdated technical practices.

Adoption of a platform or framework that lays the foundation for engaged collaboration in this data and bandwidth intensive environment will reduce the amount of confusion, delays and misunderstandings that occur all too often the way things are done today.

There will be fewer retakes required. It will improve communication. Everybody will be working off the same published data. Such a system has the potential to cut a material amount of operational costs from major productions. Just as importantly, it can significantly reduce production timelines and introduce new levels of transparency.

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