Like much of the rest of the world, live action production has largely come to an absolute halt in the US as social distancing rules and sensibilities inhibit the ability to be out shooting and in the company of crew. Production companies and their directors are coming up with all manner of savvy ways to make productions happen - remote directing is unsurprisingly experiencing somewhat of a moment. But brands and agencies are also looking for alternatives to live-action productions, such as CGI-heavy work, animation and the use of stock footage. And while post production companies have moved in recent years to launch beefed-up production facilities, production companies have been slower to move to set up in-house post production capabilities.
The production companies with extensive post capabilities, however, have benefitted from the opportunity of having a safe and steady revenue stream to fall back on during these uncertain times for all aspects of production, but particularly live action. Three of those companies in the US are Aris, Greenpoint Pictures, and Stept. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with the teams at each of them to find out more about their setups and the kind of work that’s been keeping them busy during lockdown - but also why they can’t wait to get back shooting again.
LBB> Tell me about your company's post capabilities? When did you set them up and what initially inspired that move?
Aris> At Aris, our post capabilities range from full service offline and online editorial with our roster of editors to motion graphics and certain VFX abilities. Initially, we started strictly as a production shop, but my previous experience as a television producer and a commercial editor inspired us to add an integrated post offering to our clients. In TV, production and post-production are tied together not only for production efficiency but creative efficiency, so it felt natural to me to offer that through-line and continuity. I also understood the post-workflow from my own editing experience.
We added post about two years into our time as a company, with the goal of bringing that workflow to the commercial world. Innovating that process, especially as the turnaround times seem to get shorter, and the number of assets seems to get larger, made a lot of sense, especially taking into account our clients’ social and digital deliverable requests.
Stept> Stept Studios’ post division houses 20 full-time staff across edit, visual effects, sound design, mix, and colour. In addition, our facilities include edit/sound/colour suites. The founding partners at Stept always liked editing their own content, so as the company grew, post remained a big focus. Our team believes post is where a film really comes to life!
Greenpoint> Greenpoint Pictures as a company started with edit. It was built in a corner of a loft apartment deep in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (hence our name) nearly 15 years ago. As filmmakers, we saw a lot of value in having the ability to completely execute projects in-house. Managing the post process not only allowed us to retain a certain creative continuity but it also gave us the ability to work on tighter deadlines. It has been a really valuable aspect of our business since we began.
LBB> How does that section of your business work? Do you just service the post on your own productions or do you work with external projects too?
Aris> Initially, we built our post side to service our own productions. But as we began to do that, we began seeing more requests for external post projects as well. What started as an internal offering has taken on a life of its own. We’re really thankful for that now, in this current situation, where editorial and post solutions are such a priority for our clients.
Stept> Our post team manages the post on almost all our productions unless an agency partner has a specific request. Over the past couple of years, the post division has taken on a life of its own, and we now often bid on post-specific work now independently of our productions. These jobs come not only from agencies and brands but also other production companies and independent filmmakers.
Greenpoint> As storytellers, we’ve always relished the opportunity to edit the work we produce. The job never ends after the shoot for us. Our directors know the footage so well from the process of shooting it that it’s their natural impulse to be thinking and plotting about how it all will come together. So it’s nice to be able to have them go fresh from a shoot into an editing suite, to bring their vision into that space.
Most of our edit work is paired with a job we produce, however, over the last couple of years we have seen more external post projects come through our doors. We honestly believe our editors are some of the best in business, so it is gratifying to see our clients discover that too and be excited to work with us.
LBB> Post houses often have a production department these days but I feel like the shift for production companies to have full post facilities has been slower. Would you agree with that? Why do you think that's the case?
Aris> I would agree, and I think one of the possible reasons is that post workflows and media management can often be technically complex. A post house can sometimes quickly bring on a line producer to kickstart production. While I don’t want to oversimplify that and take away from what everyone, including us, does on the production side, setting up a post-production infrastructure can simply take more time and permanent resources with edit systems, bays, networked servers, etc. Since it’s more capital intensive in the long term, there's also more risk, so that might be another hesitation, along with the technical side.
Stept> I think a lot of production companies want to maintain a lean full-time staff. Post takes a big investment in personal and infrastructure, which is an intimidating barrier to entry. Post can also be a much longer project cycle, a one day shoot can result in six weeks of post. Some production partners may just want to get in and get out.
Greenpoint> It’s hard to say since we started our company with post-production. Coming from a DIY background, we have always felt the impulse to service everything under one roof. There’s a fluidity in the workflow when a production company can see a project through delivery. It’s a point of pride that we’ve been doing it this way for such a long time.
LBB> How has having post capabilities helped you navigate the times that we're in?
Aris> There have been a lot of requests for reusing assets that we’ve already shot for clients. There have also been requests to use stock footage, and just a general push to creatively use existing assets for creating new content. It’s been a blessing in disguise in terms of keeping client flow.
Stept> We are really thankful we have such a strong post offering. This has allowed us to stay relevant at a time when live-action production has come to a halt. These days will be a catalyst for us to invest more in our post-production efforts.
Greenpoint> Well, it’s clearly an extraordinary time for all of us, and the workflow looks quite different from normal. That said, the shift to a focus on post-centric projects has felt natural to us and is a tremendous asset. Our post team has been working nonstop since quarantine began, fully remotely and comfortably from their homes. We have several spots airing on TV right now that were finished in just these past few weeks.
LBB> What shifts in the amount and type of work that you're doing are you seeing?
Aris> We’ve transitioned to nearly 100% of our work being post-production related. That goes from using existing footage and UGC to animation and motion graphics.
Stept> We have been a part of a few select remote productions, but almost everything we are seeing is based around animation or stock assets. It's been a great opportunity to revisit our archive and repurpose our licensable assets internally. We have been able to also keep our CGI artists busy with product-oriented ads they are making fully in a digital world.
Greenpoint> Beginning on March 13th, the start of our NYC quarantine, GP Post started getting calls to revise or repurpose spots that we had previously directed and edited. We already had four projects in-house on that date. The long and short of it is, most of our post-work is now revising or reimaging something that was conceived before the lockdown began.
LBB> Can you give some examples?
Aris> We currently have an agency client that wants to take strategic UGC and cut that into a digital campaign for a client. We have another client who wants to take existing footage we produced in the past and combine it with stock to edit together an anthem video.
Stept> We were bidding on a commercial right as Covid hit. When everything shut down the client quickly pivoted to an all-stock-footage approach. It achieved their goal, which was great, but it is always tough to establish a cohesive aesthetic when working with stock. We still miss shooting!
Greenpoint> Since the Olympics postponed until 2021, some of our clients have come to us to re-edit work that we’ve shot to fit the times. Most of the new work we come across requires re-edits with found or repurposed footage. We’ve also noticed delivery timelines have compressed quite a bit which requires us to be smart with scheduling and have our pool of finishing partners at the ready.
LBB> On top of post-production, what other ways are you working at the moment? Are there any productions going on? Or any other intriguing revenue streams?
Aris> We’ve gotten inquiries for both live streaming and animation. So those are both becoming more common in the near term. Additionally, we actually just completed our first feature documentary, which is in the acquisition process. So it was great to really master that post production workflow as well.
Stept> While things are slower, we have been focusing on the development of our bigger projects like feature docs and episodic content for streamers. This is keeping the creative and post teams busy with pitch decks and sizzle reels. In between, we are also picking up tabletop shoots that can be executed in our studio with small teams.
Greenpoint> The Hudson Dusters are shooting three spots for a major brand this week. The agency needed a production partner who felt comfortable shooting remotely and who could create something amazing while following the restrictions that are in place. We combined casting with our DP search and produced the shoot with professional equipment operated by top-level DPs. Agency attended the shoot over video chat, and were able to collaborate directly with the directors, DP, and talent. It'll be a four-day journey. We see this as the first phase of bringing back shoots. The excitement and energy everyone has put forth are unforgettable. It feels great to be a part of a shoot again, and we can't wait to tell everyone about it, because remote shooting really does work and the film can look good too.
All of our directors have been finding ways to create remotely, whether for clients or for personal projects. They see the importance of staying relevant and not allowing the current circumstances to hold them back from creating. For example, EJ is presently working on a documentary story following a long haul trucker as he crisscrosses the Western US during Covid restrictions. EJ has regularly scheduled Zoom calls with his subject, and he's instructed him to execute certain shots along the way.
Ghost+Cow are also currently working on a comedy-driven piece. I can’t say much about it other than I can’t wait to see it. We’ll have a lot more work to share in the coming months and we’re excited about that.
Jesse Heath is working on a music video with some friends. Renee Mao is planning an interview series with her creative mentors. She'll be debuting it on her social channels. The Roos Brothers are scheming a personal project and Lauren Sick is busy pitching on some new brand work, right now.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Aris> Production is our core competency, so we hope that things come back online relatively soon not only for us but also for our peers who have been struggling in the production space. That being said, explorations with clients into new creative avenues have also been wonderful. It’s really pushed everyone in the industry in new creative directions, and it’s great to start to see new innovations and creative methods across the industry from everyone. In a way, it’s been a difficult period but strangely exciting at the same time.
Stept> With the industry-wide disruption from the virus, everyone in production and post will need to be more innovative than ever. I hope this can be a catalyst to break down some of the antiquated systems that divide departments and services so much. We have always found the best results come from when production and post work teams have the opportunity to work closely together to make great films. I hope we get to see more of that moving forward!
Greenpoint> The production community wants nothing more than to get back to the craft they know and love. It’s been a huge adjustment to rethink and reshape how we can create content in this landscape. For now, embracing a DIY approach has been key for us. Being able to adapt to technology that we used to only use on occasion - like video chats - has added valuable new tools to our process. We can still make content, it’s just different for the time being.
It’s been an emotional experience to navigate this moment together. Our culture is all about the creativity of our talented community, so we are very much looking forward to getting to the other side of this moment. In the meantime, we are here and happy to be doing the work we are fortunate enough to be doing. Call us anytime to get to know us better or to catch up if it’s been a while.