Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

PSN: International Shoots Can Work In Spite of Restricted Travel

Production Services
Madrid, Spain
Production Service Network sheds a light on immersive technologies and global production alternatives amid Coronavirus outbreak

With the recent Coronavirus outbreak around the world causing a temporary halt to productions, using remote production could be the solution for projects requiring travel, helping companies stay on top of new and upcoming projects by making use of local teams and talent on the ground in different countries.

Michael Moffett, founding director at PSN, shares how the creative industries are employing immersive technologies and local talent, making it possible to continue with business as usual.

Q> Remote production isn’t necessarily new to PSN. Partners have even pioneered it to meet the demands of feature film producers. Can you tell me how it works?

Michael> Rushes viewing certainly doesn’t occur at the end of the day: the live connection between the director and the film set is two-way in real time. The team at PSN Thailand serviced The 5th Wave feature film with shots directed remotely via a Skype connection on an iPad. 

Equally cheap and easy options like Facetime and Whatsapp are also readily available these days. 

But since that experience a few years ago, the PSN Thailand team has improved on the user experience with more sophisticated 'virtual presence' solutions that have low latency. They can now incorporate a robotically-mobile HD camera with pan, tilt and zoom on set, as well as Qtake Monitor that pushes browsing, playback and collaborative metadata editing to the cloud.

Still, the process of remote directing is pretty brutal, and is really only suitable to the more superficial parts of direction. A director’s important choices are matured and made over a period of weeks prior to shooting, and these decisions are a result of continuous interaction.

Determining what can be reasonably accomplished remotely is increasingly a consideration. There are shots of great importance that are easy to achieve. For example, PSN France and a major SVOD are presently discussing the filming of establishing shots in Paris. Still references the streamer has already sent will guide our work on the ground and aboard a drone. On the other hand, there are shots that are so complex that they require days of rehearsal. These latter would not lend themselves to remote production.

The singular nature of each project, and each director, makes this a decision best taken on a case-by-case basis. Ferras Fayyad shot most all of his Oscar-nominated feature documentary, The Cave remotely. He called on our PSN UK team for a segment filmed in London. This added responsibility sits well with our team after having worked across Facetime and Whatsapp with documentary filmmaker Alex Winter to film scenes in the UK for Deep Web, Trust Machine and The Panama Papers.

Q> In a hypothetical situation, say an agency has a script that requires a shoot overseas and is considering re-writing so they don't need to send their team and director... how could they work with PSN to keep the production on track?

Michael> That situation is a very real one our Partners have been navigating with US and UK-based producers as travel bans have restricted movement on either side of the Atlantic.  

The most radical departure from our traditional production service company role has been production houses requesting we present local director options. The way in which the local director works alone or in tandem with a director unable to travel to set is studied with care.

Another approach our UK Partners have had success with is bringing on board a local DoP that the director has a relationship with or at least one they feel is a good fit. Then engage the local DoP in early production stages so the DoP becomes a natural extension on set of the remote director.

There’s always a way to make it work in collaboration. That’s why prep is still conducted as usual for overseas production. There’s a daily liaise between all parties, notes on location photos, live-link casting and wardrobe sessions and HoD video conferencing. The stakeholders unable to travel in are then live-linked during the shoot.   

The circumstances driving this industry shift are exceptional.  But the industry-wide impact of their cost-effectiveness will mark a before and after for overseas film production.  Imagine how well a multi-country TVC campaign like this one for McDonald’s commercial is suited to remote film production.

Just one producer flew into London from Cairo to work alongside the local DoP and crew put to the task with our PSN UK Partner. Director, agency and client were on set through live feed.

Travel restrictions at home created an the need for our PSN China team to provide solutions for a TVC shoot that wrapped in early March. Brand and agency in China were unable to travel to New Zealand. PSN China employed its own live-stream system to overcome poor image quality and latency experienced on previous generation technologies. At user-friendly costs, this live-stream connected professional-grade video to all devices in near real time. 

Though the Chinese production house did choose to fly in one EP from Malaysia and a Director from Japan, all brand and agency watched from home on their own devices.

Q> On a practical level, how would a client need to adapt to accommodate a remote production?

Michael> In the case of a live-link production, time difference availability is the main factor, particularly if you have the client/agency and director in different parts of the world. 

Another adaptation is more akin to 2nd unit filming where PSN Partners have filmed solo, executing segments of films for clients like Disney, Cisco, Expo2020 and Domino’s Pizza without any remote connection on location.

PSN Australia recently produced an internal video featuring Domino’s employees in action down under and in Europe. Their director helmed the shoot in Australia but never travelled nor connected via live-link during remote filming.  Instead, she presented the Aussie shoot as a 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 if the film called for more nuanced acting, it could come up short of expectations.

When executing remotely without director or agency/client on set, anticipation is an operative word. 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 provided an elaborate bible outlining content parameters (style, length & tech specs) as well as a script of questions that were shaped in advance with the entrepreneur. The answers were cut together to form the narrative.  

At the foundation of such collaborations is a trust in our PSN Partners’ expertise. 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. Their mission was to showcase the brands’ commitment to the environment and animals in its production of “Tonik Wool”. Three shooting days, five farmhouses and a few hours less sleep were worth it!

Q> Longer term, might this be a solution to the industry struggling to keep its carbon footprint down?

Michael> Production executed remotely by trusted local partners will be A solution for some projects or parts of projects. Precautions against the pandemic raise awareness about that. But it is a deliberate decision that is as dependent on the brief as all the players. 

Whether the challenges to filming abroad are caused by health concerns, limited budgets or otherwise, PSN’s boots on the ground in 50 countries are empowering their clients with proven production alternatives. I don’t think we’re anywhere near an industry-wide consensus to make remote production THE solution for all projects requiring travel. But a generation raised on immersive technologies will be better suited to build upon the baby steps we’re taking now.

Work from Production Service Network PSN