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Turning Digital Disruption Into Creative Opportunities At Produced By 2017

By: Marjorie Galas

Kicking off the ninth annual Produced By Conference, the Producers Guild of America’s forum for producers engaged in creating content for film, television and new media, was a panel entitled “Turning Digital Disruption into Creative Opportunities.”  Moderated by Carolyn Giardina, tech editor at The Hollywood Reporter, the panel featured Ian Bryce, Principle of Ian Bryce Productions (post services on “Saving Private Ryan”, “Transformers” franchise), Bob Eicholtz, CTO, Technicolor Production Services, Glenn Kennel, President and CEO, ARRI Inc., Lori McCreary, President, PGA (producer on “Invictus”, “Madame Secretary”) and Daryn Okada, director of photography (“Mean Girls”, “Scandal”).  To the amusement of her panelists, Giardina informed the crowd that covering every element encompassed in the session’s broad, “digital disruption” would take well over their hour and a half allotment.  Instead, guide the discussion through a couple of top side effects that have emerged from technical advancements, including storage, crew needs and equipment complications.

Fresh off the completion of a new “Transformers” movie less than a day ago, Bryce commenced the discussion by heralding the pluses of digital production.  These include greater flexibility on set where more footage can be shot much faster and with less light and money.  The downside is the massive amount of digital information that needs to be stored: tent pole movies require a petabyte, or a thousand terabytes, of storage.   While the speed of shipping files from different devices has improved last minute changes and post services spread across countries can create a “bottleneck” of information, resulting in lost time.  Eichonltz noted larger tech companies, such as Google and Microsoft, have to become part of the production equation in order to achieve a solid workflow and resolve any data backlogs.

McCreary noted she recently shot 4K in Africa, something that was completely unheard of just a few years ago due to the country’s inadequate infrastructure.  Stating it was “great to shoot with digital cameras”, the influx of data resulting in an expanded her crew, adding more assistant editors to log material and more DITs to wrangle the data.  Part of their solution was to obtain four video cards for each camera to relieve the stress of performing successful downloads.

“By the time we were done with the fourth, the first card was just unloaded,” said McCreary.  “With this wealth of footage, we found we also needed more assistant editors to get to the tapes faster.”

Okada added he uses a timing theater to understand exactly how long it takes to unload data from a shoot.  Working on a character-based shoot that might require longer takes with actors, he likes to gage how long it would physically take the crew to unload it.

“You never want a card not to be erased because of the time pressure caused confusion,” said Okada.

Kennel noted that, while it is true that digital cameras are constantly upgraded and require less light, lighting is still a necessary and important function on any set.  Innovations in LED have helped the lighting crew save time and money through such inventions as lighting controls.

“LEDs have lower power (needs) and produce less heat.  There is less generator power needed to operator them,” said Kennel.  “You don’t need to gel them, you use a controller.  This leads to new production effectiveness.”

Okada agreed that LEDs are a great asset.  In addition to leading less crew, power and air conditioning, LED lights have enabled him to capture tight shots that regular lights would not fit in.  During a recent episode of “Scandal”, Okada and his team were able to place lights in inconceivable angles on an airplane fuselage and wing. Despite the benefits of LEDs, Okada warned the quality of light they deliver to the naked eye is not always the same as what the camera captures.

The panel also touched on many additional highlights, ranging from the suggestion of creating partnerships with Google and Microsoft to resolve storage issues to the needs of security in transferring and storing files.  McCreary recalled an experience where twenty years of data was held hostage for a large random when an employee fell hostage to a phishing scheme that originated on Facebook.

We need a task force to mandate needs and create standards,” said McCreary.  “One hack gets everything.”