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Adapting to New Normals: Remote and Virtual Aspects of TV Production

The COVID-19 pandemic upended traditional television production, forcing crews to abruptly shift to remote collaboration and virtual processes. What started as temporary measures to keep productions running has evolved into more lasting integrations of remote production. Even as on-set activities resume, many virtual aspects developed during shutdowns are becoming best practices for the industry. Adapting workflows to maximize remote contributions has enabled TV creators to work safer and smarter. Here are some of the key innovations in remote and virtual production being embraced in the new normal:

  • Remote Writers Rooms

The traditional image of TV writers jammed around a table pitching stories and jokes has been swapped for fully remote writers rooms. Shows have transitioned writers rooms to video calls and virtual whiteboarding apps to break stories and develop scripts collaboratively. Writers can independently draft outlines and scripts remotely through shared document editors like Google Docs. Showrunners are also staggering writers room hours across time zones to accommodate team members in different locations. While in-person chemistry is irreplaceable, the remote setup provides more flexibility for scheduling and keeps productions running if writers fall ill.

Popular video chat apps like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and WebEx provide easy to use video conferencing platforms for virtual writers rooms. By sharing screens and using whiteboard features, writers can visually brainstorm together. The chat function also enables writers to send quick jokes or ideas during the discussion. Shows are getting creative setting up remote writers rooms to maintain the camaraderie and banter of an in-person experience.

Some writers rooms are adopting a hybrid approach by bringing local writers together in physical conference rooms with proper social distancing while remote writers dial in. This allows for some in-person interaction while including writers unable to travel safely. The hybrid writers room maximizes flexibility depending on the comfort levels and locations of the staff.

Whether going fully remote or implementing a hybrid approach, the virtual writers room enables television writing teams to keep developing shows while avoiding transmission risks that come with prolonged close contact indoors. And it provides more family-friendly flexibility for writers juggling caretaking responsibilities at home. While the technology has some limitations, shows have proven effective writers rooms can be run remotely.

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  • Virtual Table Reads

Table reads where the cast gathers to bring the script to life for the first time is moving online. Production are getting creative adapting the communal experience to video conference platforms, having actors join a virtual table read from their individual remote locations. While digital table reads can’t replicate being live together, they do allow productions to keep advancing while maintaining safety protocols. Cast members appreciate being able to participate from the comfort of home.

To recreate the energy and flow of an in-person table read, shows are using teleconferencing tools like Zoom built-in audio transcription features. This automatically labels each speaker so everyone knows who is reading which role. Directors also request actors use virtual backgrounds that put them in the same “room” together to increase cohesion. Productions are sending actors professional microphones to optimize audio quality from remote locations during the read through.

Some productions are taking advantage of the flexibility of virtual table reads to include special guests that may not be able to attend an in-person read. For animated projects or those casting A-list talent with busy schedules, virtual table reads make it easy to involve notable actors that help build buzz early for the project. The innovative adaptations of virtual table reads provide opportunities impossible with traditional in-person events.

While virtual coordination takes more advance planning, table reads are a creative element of development productions have been able to shift online. Allowing casts to stay safely distanced while still participating in the pivotal first reading is a major milestone toward resuming regular production activity. The industry has demonstrated virtual table reads as an effective interim workflow.

  • Virtual Production Design

Much of the production design process of creating sets and locations has transitioned to virtual workflows. Digital 3D renderings and VR previsualization allow set designers, directors, and department heads to scout sets and make design tweaks remotely before physical construction. This virtual design process compress pre-production timelines substantially while enabling remote collaboration. Construction can begin sooner on fully vetted designs.

Advanced virtual production tools like Epic’s Unreal Engine are gaining popularity by allowing for “virtual video scouting.” Designers can create incredibly photo-real 3D environments that replicate the full-scale set. Directors and creatives can digitally walk through the set to evaluate lighting, camera angles, set decoration and blocking. Virtual scouting provides far more flexibility to assess options and make changes early when they are most cost-effective.

Some productions taking it a step further by using real-time rendering and LED walls to create “virtual sets” on soundstages. This allows productions to shoot against virtual backgrounds that look like realistic locations and sets but can adapt in real-time. It provides greater versatility as well as safety – actors can be blocked with proper spacing while still appearing in intricate settings. Virtual production design enables more creative possibilities while supporting remote collaboration during development.

  • Remote Casting and Auditions

To select talent while maintaining social isolation, casting directors have nimbly pivoted to remote tools. Casting systems like EcoCast and Cast It Talent enable self-tape audition submissions and remote live auditions by video chat. Productions are increasingly relying on virtual first round auditions to narrow candidate pools before in-person callbacks. For small roles, remote auditions and callbacks are often sufficient to cast talent without any need to meet face-to-face. Casting processes are blending the best of in-person and remote.

Many actors have invested in professional grade lighting and sound equipment to optimize their home setups for high-quality virtual auditions. Casting platforms make it easy for talent to submit polished self-tapes on their own timetables. Productions can review a larger and more diverse talent pool through these digital casting workflows.

For remote live auditions and callbacks, productions utilize enterprise systems like Zoom Auditions and Casting Networks Virtual Studio to conduct sessions that mirror the structure of in-person auditions. Casting directors, producers, directors and other stakeholders can watch auditions together and provide real-time feedback. These virtual casting tools enable TV projects to keep moving through the critical casting phase and build acclaimed ensembles.

Blending virtual and limited in-person auditions gives productions more options to find the perfect talent while minimizing coronavirus exposure risks. Remote auditions are likely here to stay as productions have seen the benefits and flexibility provided by virtual casting workflows.

  • Virtual RED Camera Workflow

While principal photography requires in-person camera crews, the RED cinema camera system has a built-in remote production workflow called REMO that productions are utilizing more. REMO enables designated crew to control settings, start/stop recording, and monitor footage from a RED camera remotely through a tablet app. This allows the director of photography more flexibility to visually check shots from any location.

Using REMO, DPs can adjust ISO, shutter speed, lens settings, and more without needing to physically touch the camera. They can also pull up live views, start and stop rolling, and mark takes for review. This virtual control of the sophisticated RED camera systems enables DPs and camera ops to work faster and safer.

The REMO workflow also reduces foot traffic to the camera area on set, minimizing potential coronavirus exposure. Fewer crew members need to congregate around the camera. The virtual monitoring and control benefit cast safety as well since camera adjustments don’t disrupt the blocked scene as much.

While production still requires in-person camera crews, innovations like RED’s REMO integration demonstrate how productions can incorporate remote collaboration even for specialized on-set tasks. Virtual camera control boosts productivity and safety. As crews return to set during COVID recovery, expect productions to maximize remote camera capabilities.

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  • Integrated Cloud Editing

A major pain point of shutdowns was remote editors lacking access to footage on local hard drives. New integrated cloud editing platforms like BeBop Technology’s Cloud Editing solution allow remote editors to securely access media files on the cloud and collaborate on edits in real-time. Machine learning also auto-generates scripts and edit decision lists based on uploaded media. Cloud-based editing tools support the remote post-production process.

Other popular solutions like also offer robust cloud editing features right within the video review and approval platform editors were already using. Built-in integration with NLE systems like Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro allows editors to directly access shared cloud media and collaborate on timelines with real-time syncing.

For assistant editors, cloud-enabled media organization systems like shottracker provide powerful remote capabilities for metadata management, transcription, footage tagging and logging. Assistants can work more independently to prep and organize media for editors.

Network connectivity permitting, integrated cloud editing enables post-production to happen just as efficiently with editors working across any geography. It provides a seamless extension of existing creative tools into the cloud. Simple sharing of large media files is the biggest advantage over makeshift at-home configurations.

  • Decentralized Assistant Editing

Typically assistant editors work closely with lead editors in centralized edit bays. But assistant editors are now performing media management, transcoding, timeline assembly and organizing remotely from their home setups. Lead editors can focus on the story cut while assistants handle technical preprocessing and organization. Productions are coordinating editing teams across locations.

To support these decentralized workflows, post facilities have configured remote access to media servers and asset management systems. This allows assistants to securely access footage and materials from anywhere with an internet connection. Shared cloud editing platforms also enable assistants to sync sequence revisions and organize bins accessible to lead editors.

For some productions, assistants are still working on-site at edit facilities while editors work from home. With remote access and cloud collaboration, they can work together smoothly. The decentralized assistant editing model maximizes productivity for the whole post team. While tight-knit in-person editing teams create special creative energy, the flexibility of dispersed support roles enables post-production to thrive even under social distancing constraints.

  • Collaborative Music Supervision

Music supervisors traditionally worked in-person with composers, songwriters, and recording artists to create custom music or licensing existing songs. Remote collaboration tools are enabling music teams to virtually review and provide notes on music cues, participate in recording sessions, and clear licensing paperwork. Digital workflows like Aimir’s Mirrativ facilitate real-time remote music reviews and approvals.

Music collaboration platforms like Stewart’s X-Session enable artists to record music together online. Musicians can play live while hearing and seeing each other in sync, or record parts independently. This remote recording process lets music supervisors and creators have input in a virtual music session.

For licensing popular songs, tools like SongFinch simplify organzing references, sharing creative briefs, and managing approvals. Music supervisors can work closely with creatives to find the perfect songs then handle licensing logistics digitally.

Remote collaboration has opened new possibilities for music supervision. Productions save time and money on travel while gaining access to a global pool of composers and musicians. Maintaining creative alignment with productions while producing music is far more flexible in today’s connected virtual landscape.

  • Distributed Post Workflows

Specialized post-production work like visual effects, color grading, sound mixing and scoring is happening in distributed models. Media files are shared via the cloud and sessions are conducted by video chat with remote system control. Technicians can work from home systems mirroring the studio environment while collaborating live with creatives through virtual sessions. Disperse post teams stay efficient and connected.

For example, colorists use systems like Pomfort Livegrade Air to control the settings on in-house racks located in post facilities thousands of miles away. Sound mixers leverage’s Scene application to remotely control on-site mixing consoles. And composers use SourceConnect to stream studio recording sessions with live musicians direct to anyone worldwide.

Distributed post creates ultimate flexibility for both creatives and technicians. It enables a wider pool of talent by removing geographic barriers. People can contribute their specialized skills from anywhere. And it adds capacity – multiple colorists can work in parallel on a large project with consistent results. Distributed workflows keep post productive and on schedule even under travel restrictions.

  • Remote Multi-Cam Control Rooms

Live TV productions like news, sports and late night shows have configured at home control rooms for directors, technical directors and producers. They use broadcast systems like LiveX to remotely switch between cameras and graphics, cue audio, and manage the fast-paced live program action from safety. This allows critical control room members to participate without on-site exposure risks.

Systems like Singular provide specialized real-time graphics and channel playout capabilities for at-home control rooms. Directors can call shots and cut between cameras while seeing the full program feed with graphics integrated at home. Reliable, low-latency solutions give directors and TDs the capability to drive a full multi-cam production remotely.

While certain live events may require some control room staff on venue, productions are maximizing at home operations for all support roles. Only essential on-site personnel need to attend events. Keeping these critical creative decisions decentralized and remote allows live TV to resume safely and dependably.

  • AR/VR Preproduction Exploration

Emerging augmented and virtual reality tools allow creators to visually immerse themselves in set designs, scout remote locations, and explore scenes virtually during pre-production. Instead of traditional tech scouts, VR tools like VRScout allow producers and directors to digitally walk through locations and sets long before physical builds. AR/VR empowers productions to evaluate creative options faster.

For previsualization, productions are leveraging VR animation tools like AnimVR and Storyboards VR. Creative teams can visualize camera angles and blocking by stepping into a VR scene with digital stand-ins. This enables iterations and adjustments early before costly set construction or on-location shoots. Imagine a director scouting sunset lighting in VR or determining scene coverage options.

In augmented reality, tools like Set Scouter overlay set designs in specific locations while creatives walk through the physical space. AR visualizations appear embedded in the real environment to assess fit. Set designers also use Microsoft Hololens to project holographic mockups that can be manipulated on the fly. Blending AR/VR with physical scouting enables innovative preproduction exploration.

The immersive quality of these emerging technologies provides invaluable perspective during creative development. Even as in-person collaboration resumes, AR/VR continues improving preproduction from any place. These virtualization tools save budgets and expand possibilities.

Why work with C&I Studios?

C&I Studios offers studios, production crews, post-production teams and other production services in the US and abroad. Our experienced professionals provide reliable solutions for media productions of any scale with safety as our highest priority. We are proud to be a leader in adapting remote and virtual aspects of TV production so that you can produce quality content without limitations. Our team is dedicated to your success and helping you produce content that stands out from the rest.

From concept through finish, C&I Studios is ready to help you create extraordinary stories with virtual production support. Contact us today to find out how we can make your next project a reality. Let us show you how our remote and virtual production capabilities can elevate your story’s potential!

Contact us today to explore the possibilities for your next production! You can find more information about our services and how we’re adapting to new normals on our website. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

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