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The Future of Film and Television Production

Virtual stages, remote production offices, and other advances in technology drive the evolution of entertainment
January 4, 2022
Pixomondo virtual stage

Technology is rapidly accelerating, impacting a wide variety of industries. The entertainment industry has been no exception. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen several existing and developing technological trends suddenly become turbo-charged – including streaming company expansion and content consumption, remote work technology, virtual production sound stages, and more. Innovation won’t slow, which begs the question: what will the future of production and production finance look like?

Entertainment Partners recently organized a panel at the American Film Market 2021 Online convention to explore just that concept, because the tech-driven changes the industry underwent during the pandemic are not going to be temporary. “I don’t think it’s a boom or bust,” said Tom Ara, an entertainment transactions lawyer at DLA Piper, during the AFM discussion. “It’s an evolution.” That evolution will be to the benefit of celebrating storytellers, said Glenn Gainor, Head of Physical Production, Amazon Original Movies at Amazon Studios in the same discussion. “Finally, I think we're in a place where technology is allowing the empowerment of stories to be told, many of those stories that couldn't have been told otherwise… it’s a celebration for storytellers."

Here’s a look at several examples of what that evolution and celebration may look like, along with insights shared by the esteemed panelists who participated in our AFM 2021 presentation.

The Work-From-Home Revolution Isn’t Going Away

The pandemic changed not just how we work but how we communicate for work. Video chat services have become necessary and ubiquitous in every industry to enable remote collaboration – including production and production finance. Cinematographers prepared shoots with camera operators over Zoom, directors consulted with editors via Skype, production accounting teams spread across the globe, navigating multiple time zones and sharing of sensitive budget and PII information thanks to secure technologies powered by Entertainment Partner.

In the future, working together online may subside as the pandemic does, but remote work is likely to become a more permanent option offered by employers. As it does, we’re going to possibly see a mirror of the hybrid models that are already taking hold in post-production: work split between in-person and home, utilizing localized filmmaking tools and those in the cloud.

We're in a place where technology is allowing the empowerment of stories to be told, many of those stories that couldn't have been told otherwise… it’s a celebration for storytellers.

The future of production isn’t just about technology and new financial perks. There will be human advantages as well. Remote capabilities turn the whole world – not just industry hubs – into one giant talent pool. As the industry experiences labor shortages – especially in production finance – and has a need for more DEI, the opportunity to bring in workers from anywhere in the world will be a game-changer.

That will have an additional benefit as well, says Amazon’s Gainor. “The traditional theatrical motion picture model had to adhere to maximizing as many theatrical screens as possible, and it had some challenges. Today we're at a precipice (i.e., with streaming and other technologies) where those are able to tell more stories like never before. And as we all lean into the disciplines of diversity, equity and inclusion, we're going to see more fantastic stories from different perspectives and points of view”

Prepare for More Advanced Remote Filmmaking

Remote technology hasn’t just impacted how production communicates. It has impacted how productions work, with a possible future in which a video production can be directed by a creative team in multiple locations. For example, technologies like Solo Cinebot and OpenReel have made it possible to operate robotic cameras remotely. Remote directing has also become possible with solutions like QTake, which can allow individuals to watch a live stream of what’s being shot on set, or Evercast, which has seen editors remotely screen share cuts with their directors.

Granted, most A-list directors in the industry are likely to still remain on set. But for smaller productions – especially commercial ones – these are valuable resources that won’t just offer future productions reductions in travel time, costs, and more, but introduce an entirely new way of producing in parallel with traditional methods.

The Continued Rise of Virtual Productions

Before the pandemic, virtual productions (VP) were becoming a promising new way of shooting. Thanks to their remote and COVID-safety compatibility, they have converted many in the last year. Involving sound stages with LED walls on all sides, and game engine technology (Unity, Unreal) that renders digital landscapes onto them, virtual productions can make it appear as if actors (along with props and set dressing) are on locations that don’t exist. What’s more, they do so in a way that’s more cost effective than green screen and CGI, since when the camera moves, the environments on the LED walls do too.

There are additional financial benefits as well. Because VP stages can automate cinematography with pre-sets for camera angles and lighting, production time (and therefore costs) can be reduced. The cost of location shooting can be reduced – or eliminated – as time goes by. “As we build up our libraries of various sets that we built for any of the stages, those turn into opportunities to do virtual tech scouts,” says Chris Cox, a VP producer at Pixomondo. If a sci-fi movie needs scenes set on Mars, they no longer have to scout real-life desert locations. They can simply scout existing VP environments.

We have the chance after COVID to step back and revaluate filmmaking as a whole and say, ‘How do we want to reboot this? What is the best path forward?’

Virtual production also can spring up in non-traditional industry centers that offer enticing incentives, while boosting local economies. “There's less restriction on where the hubs can be, now that anyone can be anywhere with virtual production,” says Cox.. For example, Jennifer Loren, Director of the Cherokee National Film Office, says their VP sound stages in the Oklahoma area have seen a positive reception because of that. “We have seen a huge influx of projects that maybe once were not interested in coming to the center of the United States for film production,” she says.

VP sound stages also provide a much-needed alternative for productions at a time when shooting stages are limited. “There’s just a shortage of space,” says DLA Piper’s Ara, who has helped clients acquire over a million square feet of studio space over the last year. “We're all in a place where we're seriously competing for resources,” says Yolanda Cochran, SVP of live action production at Nickelodeon.

That competition has the potential to subside, although to what extent remains to be seen. The question of degree of impact applies to all of these new developments for the industry. But the sense that some of this still has to be figured out is what makes the future so thrilling. “It's a really exciting time,” says Edward Hanrahan, director of virtual production at William F. White International. “We have the chance after COVID to step back and revaluate filmmaking as a whole and say, ‘How do we want to reboot this? What is the best path forward?’” We can’t wait to find out what the answers will be.

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