How We Pivoted In The Pandemic
Three years after the pandemic hit the US, we're looking back at some of the ways we completely re-imagined our approach to production. We're not talking about all the masking and testing – this is about all the ways we adapted our process for the better and still use some of those techniques today. Building DIY camera robots to make a zero contact studio. Shooting with iPhones across the country while never leaving our living room. Zooming in a director from overseas to an otherwise in-person crew. Harnessing Frame.io's camera to cloud technology to
Zero-Contact Robot Studio for MassMutual
Like everyone, we had to figure out how to pivot our production process as quickly as possible when COVID first came to the US. We started with our studio, a space we could easily control, and using Kessler and DJI gear we built a remote control set up for our camera, aka the ROBOT. With a cinematographer controlling everything – camera position, zoom, exposure, focus and record – from behind the window of the second floor, talent could enter a completely empty studio and come in contact with absolutely no one. By the time we put it to use for MassMutual in the summer of 2020, we could test for COVID and allow for just a few socially distanced crew in the studio. But for the close-up shots on unmasked talent, having the ability for the remote controlled camera to get well within six feet of talent was a huge advantage. Huge shoutout to Colby Todisco for putting all the pieces together and Shannon Palmer for putting the robot to work.
Remotely controlling the camera was half the battle. To have a truly zero contact studio, we also needed to figure out how to control our lights remotely. Our studio has a large gantry system mounted in the ceiling from the days when it was used for ship building, and with a few cables and motors, we were able to suspend and reposition a large light bank anywhere we wanted in the studio. Stepping back and controlling everything – even the position of our lights and camera – from behind a glass wall was a huge advantage during COVID, and has continued to be a critical part of the technology in the studio for every stage production since.
Shot on iPhone for Peloton
Director’s cut for a spot we made for Peloton with Nina Meredith that we haven’t previously released, but are super proud of. With crew in LA, NY and Boston, and cast in Texas, Virginia and Georgia, we’re lucky we were even able to make sense of the call sheets with multiple time zones. It was a huge honor to tell the stories of the Mocha Spin Docs a group of female physicians of color who ride together every morning. They displayed incredible patience and enthusiasm for the process, and we are so grateful to them for sharing their story.
Hybrid Remote for World Gold Council
Excerpts from The Golden Thread, a series about the role that gold plays in science, technology, health and art around the world. Produced by our friends at Progress Film Co in the UK with the help of crews on the ground in each country, including yours truly in the US. We shot this back in 2021 just as the vaccine became widely available and life started to return to normal, although international travel was still very restricted. Our team faced some wild challenges on this one – extreme heat in Boston, tornadoes in Baltimore, extreme flooding in Philadelphia, and lost luggage in Chicago. And despite facing crew size restrictions in many locations and supporting the technology to make our director to join remotely from the UK, we love how the final product came out and are grateful to be a part of this project. Huge shoutout to Drew Levin, Jordan Berry, and Riley McClenaghan for working incredibly hard to make the US production possible!
It's pretty wild to look back at all of this and realize that in many ways, our post-pandemic process has been heavily influenced by all of this. The studio is still rigged with the remotes for controlling our camera and lights from the second floor. We still conduct pre-interviews with people remotely, but with technology that records quality we can use in the final edit. And the frame.io Camera to Cloud technology we used for remote editors and cinematographers we now use on every set even if we're all in the same place, not because it sends takes to crew or client far away, but because it is the fastest way to upload proxies while still recording. And when recording pre-interviews with talent, we use studio-quality gear so that audio can be used in the final cut, even though we recorded it remotely before production started.
The pandemic was challenging and painful in many ways, but we only made it through because of the incredibly talented collaborators – both crew and client – who worked with us through it. Thank you to everyone who joined us in figuring this stuff out together. We can't wait to see your maskless, smiling face on set again soon.