Filed in: Columns, Featured, Postproduction

Back to Work: When Getting Back to Work Means Working from Home

August 20, 2020 | By

working from home

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing mostly about a number of film productions that were able to get back up and running with precautions in place, as well as a few television shows.

Today, I’m going to look at how the process of post-production has transformed in order to keep working through the pandemic, mostly by shifting from working at an edit bay or FX workstation to having almost everyone work from home. 

One of the bigger challenges is having on-screen talent setting up their own cameras and lighting, as well as doing their own make-up and hair, because some are better at being self-sufficient than others.  It’s even harder when some of that talent might have to get involved with more technical such as sending footage to the editing and graphics teams. 

As luck would have it, I recently spoke to two post professionals, both Emmy-nominated, whose team had to pivot to working on their shows from their own homes once COVID hit. 

Brendan Taylor heads the visual FX house, Mavericks, in Toronto, and he recently received his fifth Emmy nomination for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. 

“The Ontario government has allowed us to come back to work,” Taylor told me, “We’ve been allowed to come back to work for a while, but we made the decision internally — and I think it was a pretty easy decision to make — that we’re going to stay remote as long as we can. It feels a little bit like Chernobyl here because people went home in March, and we didn’t know how long we were going to be at home for. Now that it’s becoming the new normal, we’re actually embracing the work from home as much as we can, and if this is going to be the way that we’re going to interact with each other, we need to make it a little bit more fun, and we need to put a lot of effort into. A few more people are in the office, but we’re handling it very carefully because as long as we have the ability to keep people at home and keep people safe, then we’re going to do that.”

“Certainly at the start of the lockdown in March, it was a bit overwhelming,” Mike Choi, the Emmy-nominated editor for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah said when I asked him about the transition to a socially-distanced version of the show. “Luckily most of [the editors] had systems at home that we could use, and at that point, you have to think, ‘Okay, we have to completely change every aspect of how we do this show,’ so it’s a lot of thought and adaptability.”

“The big change that happened is when we stepped back and accepted our limitations, we almost embraced the challenges,” Choi continued. “At that point, a lot of opportunities presented themselves, because with a clean slate, you really do think, “What is the show that we want to make? What are we going to do?” That brought up a lot of opportunities for how we change, how we do graphics, how we do sound effects.”

“It’s pretty similar from that respect,” Taylor said about how Mavericks evolved its usual workflow and pipeline for his team to work in separate locations. “We all remote into our workstations here, so it’s the same pipeline. In fact, I was the only person who would come here in March, April, May, and you would see people’s monitors on. You could see them working from home. It’s a weird sort of feeling of being in a ghost room where I could see them working.”

Choi agrees, “Everything from doing motion graphics to color grading, we’re willing to do these things, and we needed to in order to be able to get this fully-edited show out the door. In terms of the way it looks, that was also something that we needed to be flexible to adapt to.”

It sounds like most of the post craftspeople have some sort of home set-up to allow the transition  to home go fairly smoothly, although both Taylor and Choi found things definitely lacking or missing from the home experience.

“I guess the one piece that is really missing is the camaraderie and the mentorship,” Taylor told me. “There are people across the spectrum who work here — some who’ve been working for 25 years in the business, and people who’ve been working here for 25 months. It takes a long time to understand how this all works, and they need mentorship and help.”

“There would definitely be benefits to being in the same place,” Choi confirmed. “The way we were making the show prior to March, we had the team of true pros to put up the show that we’re all familiar with and love.  I feel completely comfortable going back into the studio, making the show we were for the last three years. The way that we’re doing it now, I think we’re finding a way and we’re making it work. Anywhere in between, I think we can all adapt to whatever show we need to make.”

You can read the rest of my interview with Mike Choi here, and the rest of the interview with Taylor will run soon.

Other Tidbits

Remember in our Jurassic World piece on Tuesday when we mentioned that a few members of the crew traveling to Malta were tested positive for the corona virus? Well, the Malta portion of the show is now going to be 2nd unit only, as much to keep its primary cast and crew safe as to stop the spread in Malta. A Universal rep told Variety: “‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ will have a significant presence in Malta with a second unit crew shooting there from the end of August through to September. Working with an abundance of caution as we have done throughout this production, first unit will no longer shoot in Malta to keep our presence on the ground to a minimum. We’d like to thank the Maltese Government and Film Commission for all their support and we look forward to a successful shoot in this beautiful country.”

Another show shooting in an exotic location that had to shut down due to COVID has resumed, as production on the AGC Studios supernatural thriller, Geechee, starring Andrea Riseborough, restarted in the Dominican Republic.

Earlier this week, Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix sequel resumed production in Berlin with star, Keanu Reeves.  Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi movie has also started back up again, filming in Australia.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, The Mandalorian showrunner Dave Filoni said that it would be easier for his show to film a third season under current COVID restrictions, which might be due to their use of green screen and computer VFX to produce the Disney+ series.

Email me at edward@btlnews.com if you want to add to this conversation, and I’ll be back Tuesday with the next “Back to Work” installment.

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