I think we’ve been hurled way further into the future than anyone in our industry could have imagined.
Last year, our 12-year-old production company, Hayden5, faced ruin. The outset of the pandemic was one hell of an overhead illuminator. Suddenly, we were looking at every last monthly subscription and considering much harder decisions. When business finally came to a screeching halt, we pivoted, innovated, and launched Drop Kits™, contactless video production systems for high quality, remote filming.
They are basically high-end cameras on carts, with an uplink to the internet. Drop Kits helped us get through the pandemic, with filmmakers like Michel Gondry and Emmanuel Lubezki, and on shoots with talent like Katie Couric, David Oyelowo, and Shaq. We also deployed them for TV and commercial productions for Call of Duty, Kellogg’s, DoorDash, History Channel, A&E, and the reunion episode of ‘30 Rock. We even delivered them for a DNC roundtable with Bernie, Beto, Yang, Warren, and Booker. On top of the clout, we generated millions of dollars in new revenue. We went from being viewed as a small shop to a must-have. How we got here is important, but where we’re going will dictate the future of an industry.
After a Wall Street Journal
article came out about our Drop Kits, a retired US Marine put it to me through a friend: “Tell Todd he is following the Marines’ standing orders: adapt, improvise, and overcome.” After choking up in my little Brooklyn apartment, and burning my mouth on my last frozen pandemic pizza, I let that sink in. I realised this was just the beginning, and if we didn’t pivot again, we would again be doomed - because in a year, Drop Kits will be dead. They will be rendered essentially useless, and most of us will forget they ever existed.
So, what really has been the fundamental shift here? What have we learned? How will our industry look when the fog of social distancing has lifted? We’re taking note - and like the Marines, we are already adapting again.
Through the course of deploying over 3,000 Drop Kits since the outset of the pandemic, we realised that the ease of real-time monitoring and communication has been at our fingertips for a long time. The burning desire to visit sets has been a luxury that has for far too long perpetuated overblown budgets, squandered retainer time, and billable hours. I’m looking at you, ad agency creatives. When it comes down to the brass tacks, productions of the future will not only take note of the reduced cost, but also the reduced set footprint, carbon footprint, crafty footprint, you get the picture.
Just like companies may opt for a virtual meeting over the red eye from LA to New York, the video village will face a reckoning, too. Many old director's chairs, impossible to fold up anyway, will stay in the truck. Even the plastic flip chairs for second-class set visitors, that have pinched every PA on a right of passage, will remain folded. Hell, we may even not be setting up a secondary crafty table. That’s because all of those set visitors will now experience the glory of staring at a mostly idle camera feed, from the comfort of their own homes or offices. The days of getting off the wallet for travel and accommodations in order to be able to sit in a chair and watch a screen are over.
are also catching on to the idea of smaller crews and less food trucks. We agree! Small crews have been useful for a while, like our very own legacy ‘Man With A Cam’ service, but there will always be reasons to have big crews. And just like concerts, movie theatres, and crowded school hallways, they too will come back when this is over.
We still get at least a handful of ‘drop kit’ inquiries a day. Our answer is always the same, usually to a disbelieving producer: “Not only do we offer drop kits, but we invented drop kits, and now there is no need for them.” Needless to say, Drop Kits proliferated in our industry and became a household name, largely without any association to its creators (ahem). The term is now thrown around casually, as if it’s been an alternative to in-person filming forever. Perhaps future sets will be left to the tacticians and talent who truly need to physically be there in order to work, and the once-glamorous ritual of gathering around the video village with water bottles and baby carrots, will finally, thankfully, die.
Until then, we’re excited about the latest innovation for the future of production: Crew+™, our new service which will make every crew we deploy, every camera we roll, produce a live view by default, in addition to our full suite of production services. All future Hayden5 clients will be able to visit our sets, complete with two-way communication, with a simple click, and that is how it should be.
Todd Wiseman Jr is a Florida native and avid fisherman. Pre-YouTube prank videos and his high school morning show led him to a path in video. He enjoys wheeling down the Venice Boardwalk as a recent transplant to LA. Todd co-founded production and post company Hayden5 in 2005 with Milos Silber, whom he met in film school at NYU. Today, the company specializes in volume production and post services, handling thousands of productions each year. They are the innovators of the Video Drop Kit™ and have received various commercial awards, including Webby, Telly, and Cannes Lions, as well as an Emmy nomination for their debut Netflix documentary "Long Shot."