EXCLUSIVE: Production Service Network MD's work tips during COVID-19

Michael Moffett, MD of Production Service Network, provides valuable advice and insights, including: "Shoot footage of metropolises without the people for future projects"

By Chris Evans 23 Mar 2020

EXCLUSIVE: Production Service Network MD's work tips during COVID-19
Red camera used in the PSN live streaming test

Michael Moffett, managing director of Production Service Network explains to KFTV about what production service providers can and are doing in these difficult times, including remote film production and shooting empty streets for future works....

What are your thoughts on the impact of coronavirus on film, TV and commercial production at the moment? Is this likely to be a ‘hiatus’ or will it have more of a long-term impact?

Our industry will regroup and get back to work once safe conditions can be secured on set.  We understand the need to halt production temporarily in many countries and ramp up slowly to ensure compliance with all needed hygiene measures in place.

 A hiatus to generating revenues is the best we can hope for. Meanwhile, we’re particularly mindful of the knock-on effect this will have on the local crew.  We applaud stop-gap measures taken by production service companies these past weeks – such as paid leave to keep infected crew at home - and government plans to mitigate the loss of employment earnings resulting from the shutdowns. The actualization of these proposals will largely determine how wide and deep this disruption will impact our industry beyond 2020.

On a brighter note, we can imagine a more sustainable and cost-effective approach to commercial film production abroad blossoming from the virus-scorched earth. One in which client and agency stakeholders travel less as they grow comfortable with virtual presence on set.

How are production service providers coping? What should they be doing in these difficult times?

It is a time to stay confident in the future and transmit that vision to employees, freelancers and suppliers alike as we prepare for post-pandemic demand. 

Honing technical knowledge of locally available ways to achieve two-way live feed for remote film production is time well spent.  Also wise is to improve familiarity with local DoP and Directors that may be instrumental in executing it.

Another novel idea, when and where feasible, is to film footage of major metropolises or other usually crowded locations without the people. I can see that working its way into a few future projects.

What support and information are you (at PSN) providing?

PSN and its partners are dedicated to problem solving for projects filming abroad. That’s why we’re raising the profile of remote film production by sharing remote work our partners have already executed with success.  No better way to get production houses, agencies and brands accustomed to a virtual presence on set that can reshape the industry’s approach to production overseas.

Mindful of remote film production as an option worth consideration, we’re reviewing briefs with producers as always to determine where they can best be accomplished. Feasibility in different countries is changing every day.  Shoot Calendar is now a third “C” that has become as important as the ever-present objective to balance the Creative needs with acceptable Costs.

How does remote film production work in practice? Who is doing it already and where?

Employing a two-way live-feed from the set is the most talked about way to execute remote film production of live-action. The two-way image stream provides a virtual presence for brand, agency, producer and even director on location.  Familiar apps have already been used by PSN partners to film scenes directed remotely. 

PSN Thailand connected to Skype using an iPad for scenes of The 5th Wave feature film. Director Ferras Fayyad used What'sApp to direct our PSN UK team during London scenes for his 2020 Oscar-nominated documentary, The Cave

Our UK team also employed WhatsApp to connect Good People director, Ali Ali, as well as Leo Burnett Dubai, for the filming of scenes last year in this McDonald’s commercial.  Ali worked virtually with trusted DoP, Mark Bliss, to execute filming in the UK and Mexico. Those scenes established a look and style that met with client and agency approval while serving as a model for vignettes filmed in other countries without the director on set.

PSN China stepped up the game earlier this month to address client concerns about latency. For a commercial shoot in New Zealand taking place amidst the pandemic lockdown, the team built a private video-grade wireless network allowing agency and client in China to synchronize and stream live HD video on their devices.

Coronavirus Boost to Remote Film Production

PSN China live-feed from New Zealand to agency and client in China

The technology is less of a hurdle than the industry-wide mindset toward adopting it. QTAKE Monitor 2 and QTAKE Server bring browsing, playback and collaborative metadata editing to any number of iOS devices anywhere in the world using a cloud-based server. An HD camera with pan, tilt and zoom can also be robotically mobile on set. 

What other creative, alternative measures are productions taking?

Determining where remote film production is achievable without supervision through a live feed is a further measure that stands to gain momentum in a post-pandemic world. PSN Partners have recently shot segments of films for clients like Disney, Cisco, Expo2020, and Domino’s Pizza without any virtual connection on location. 

Director Siobhan Mulready helmed a recent shoot with PSN Australia but never travelled nor connected via live-link during remote filming. This was for an internal “hype” video that featured Domino’s employees in action down under and in Europe.  The Aussie shoot she completed served as the model to be replicated by PSN Netherlands in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Berlin. The approach worked well because the ‘videoclip’ brief called to capture similar shots in each country.  But our local partner would be the first to raise concern had the film called for more nuanced acting.

The decision to shoot remotely or not, and how to go about it, is ideally an integral part of the conversation from idea development. PSN brings local ground truth to that dialogue.

Anticipation is an operative word when executing remotely without director or agency/client on set. Havas London reached out to PSN China in 2016 to execute a film that formed a part of a global Chivas campaign profiling entrepreneurs.

The producer at Havas London prepared an elaborate bible outlining content parameters (style, length & tech specs) as well as a script of questions that were prepped in advance with the entrepreneur. The responses were edited together to form the narrative. 

Trust in PSN partner expertise is at the foundation of such collaborations. Consider this commercial film for the luxury fabric firm Dormeuil.  Agency Air Paris called on our PSN Argentina team to capture the footage in Patagonia without previous scouting or a script.  Showcasing the brand’s commitment to the environment and animals in its production of “Tonik Wool” was their mission.  Three shooting days, five farmhouses, and a few hours less sleep were worth the results.

Where do you see the landscape in a couple of months’ time? Will there be a sudden mad rush of projects being filmed again around the world?

I’m hopeful that local crews will have safely resumed live-action filming in a couple of months’ time.  But while there may very well be pent-up demand to shoot abroad, I fear practical execution of it will still be troubled by a lasting impact of the pandemic on global world travel and commerce. Clients, agency, producers and directors will travel less, at least for a while. The abruptness of the shutdown in much of the world will stand in stark contrast to the gradual ramping back up of filming overseas.

So as business resumes in a post-pandemic world, I anticipate that commercial projects re-written to shoot at home will be replaced by a new wave of projects conceived within workable parameters of remote film production. That’s a significant shift of mindset. But it would be a practical agency response to meet the expectations of global brands.  Lifestyle commercials with no dialogue that take full advantage of locations worldwide are one example of TVC work well-suited to execution under virtual direction or supervision.

Feature and TV series projects already shooting abroad when the shutdown occurred are using the present pause to decide whether it is better to prolong delayed filming, pivot toward a feasible alternative at home or resume filming in a new world order. Extraordinary decisions for extraordinary times.

Box-out: How PSN Czech Republic did a live streaming test last week with a Los Angeles based production house....

We provide a premium virtual village with Live Streaming Production Sets to offshore clients. We use Https low latency h264 streaming through a private Datacloud based on nanocosmos technology. We can also arrange the sound and visual overview of the shooting set and live communication back and forth with the director.

Put more simply, we are able to stream the HD live picture from the camera, VTR playback in real time by sending the client, agency or director just one link which can be opened in any computer, telephone, iPad etc. We are also able to set up more links from the set and cameras to overview the set with intercom voice communication etc. This can be done on a studio set or on location. We can also set up the same not just for the shoot but also for the casting and location scout. This link can be opened on as many devices needed and everybody can see the same image at the same time. 

Homepage image of the streaming device box used in the Czech-LA shoot

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