Hollywood Production Turns to Cloud and Remote Services Amid Coronavirus Crisis

"It is proving to be of even greater importance considering the circumstances," says MTI Film CEO Larry Chernoff.
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As Hollywood shutters its physical sets and backlots amid the global coronavirus pandemic, postproduction companies are turning to cloud-based and other remote production capabilities to help filmmakers continue their work and collaborate with their team while self-quarantined at home.

Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound confirmed that they are continuing to service projects using remote capabilities. While the companies haven't cited specific projects, ILM's upcoming work includes Disney's Jungle Cruise, Universal's Jurassic World: Dominion and season two of Jon Favreau's Disney+ series The Mandalorian. Skywalker's upcoming slate includes Disney/Pixar's Soul and The Mandalorian.

Deluxe's postproduction company EFILM hasn't gone dark, either. It sent a message to clients, saying, "We have implemented the necessary safety and security measures to continue working on your projects remotely. We are committed to providing innovative remote solutions wherever possible." Its upcoming credits including Jungle Cruise and Sony's Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

Los Angeles-headquartered MTI Film has already set up remote streaming for a number of customers to enable their employees to work from their homes, says CEO Larry Chernoff. "The streaming devices are low latency and low bit rate, providing real time interaction between the artist and customer," he explains. "While it doesn't satisfy every aspect of high-quality postproduction, it does provide a suitable experience for editorial decision making. Thankfully, MTI Film has had this technology for a number of years where it has proven to be of significant help in remote viewing. It is proving to be of even greater importance considering the circumstances dictated by the current COVID-19 pandemic."

But there are still issues that are preventing some remote work. The Visual Effects Society on Monday released a statement urging employers to allow employees to work remotely during the crisis, and separately a VFX artists' petition to Motion Picture Association chairman and CEO Charles H. Rivkin sent a similar message. In both cases, security and non-disclosure agreements were cited as the holdup for keeping more work from continuing to proceed.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic began, production capabilities via the cloud and other remote services, which enable everything from reviewing footage to editing, color grading and sound postproduction, had been steadily accelerating as production has become more global.

Hollywood could soon see even more development and use of such workflows. Some loosely liken this situation to 2011, when the earthquake and tsunami in Japan led to the suspension of operations at various Sony manufacturing plants, prompting a global tape shortage. This increased demand for, and in the end accelerated, the film and TV production industry's move away from tape and toward tapeless, digital file-based production.

Several tech companies recently announced short-term initiatives that could potentially steer more production houses toward remote services.

Last week, Frame.io — a developer of a cloud-based collaborative production platform used by companies such as HBO and Vice — announced that through the end of March, it would offer customers 2TB free extra storage capacity for the next 90 days. It also is offering health care organizations, educational institutions and non-profits its enterprise-level service for 90 days without charge.

Avid president and CEO Jeff Rosica also sent customers a message last week, offering free 90-day licenses on its creative applications — including its flagship Media Composer editing software and Pro Tools audio postproduction system — to “qualified customers” to enable more picture and sound editors to start to work from home, whatever the workflow.

File transfer tech firm Signiant — whose clients include NBC Universal and VFX house Digital Domain — has alerted customers that through May 31, it would effectively offer "unlimited users" by "waiving any Media Shuttle active user overage fees that would normally result from utilization that exceeds the customer's subscription tier."

Sohonet — whose network services studios and companies such as NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures and Scanline VF — has responded to the crisis by saying it would work to upgrade the capabilities of ClearView Flex Go, its entry-level, real-time remote collaboration tool, to enable "more viewers, higher-quality streaming and access to Apple TV." It also announced a discount on monthly charges for new purchases of the professional version of ClearView Flex.