Moonlighting's Philip Key discusses communication principles for a successful remote shoot
South Africa’s Moonlighting Film production Services completed a remote production with London's 1st Ave Machine using conference platform Zoom as a foundation for a "virtual video village" that streamed a live feed from on set cameras to international participants. CEO Philip Key outlines the main communication protocols that enabled a successful and smooth shoot, just as if all participants were on set.
“It is not rocket science, and it can be accomplished, as we did through a Zoom conference call with some added fire power in terms of the video, to counter the quality and resolution that can lack detail” says Key. “We already had part of this in place because we have quite an active sports broadcasting division at Moonlighting. We took part of that technology and put it together with conventional conferencing technology and we made it work very easily and efficiently”.
While the conference system can stream in without delay, the quality is not always as high as is required so the high res stream follows 20 seconds later on a dedicated and secure streaming platform with images controlled by the set VT operator as on a usual shoot.
Any conference platform such as Skype or Microsoft Teams could be viable, but Moonlighting elected Zoom because you can buy a license that allows you to legally penetrate the Chinese firewall, where some key participants were based. Having established strict communication protocols, approvals from the team around the world were performed for each take just as if they were on set.
“The big advantage of using that as the core of our system is that so many people all over the world are very familiar with it, so you don’t need any new skills to join. You just need to possibly make sure they understand the protocols around using the conference system,” Philip continues.
Firstly, Key recommends conducting an in-depth and documented discussion that lays out rules for communication during pre-production. This ensures everyone is working off the same page during the shoot. Straightening out rules around who can mute and unmute microphones, how to signal you have a contribution to make ensures everyone is on the same page, makes balanced communication attainable.
Secondly, having a dedicated conference operator confident in the system is key. “It is very tempting to think I know how to use Zoom, I do it everyday. But we found having a person on set with the Zoom operator carried out a number of roles” says Key. These included making sure that everybody who was going to participate had downloaded Zoom and knew how to operate it. These participants were put into a contact list and prioritised on what basis they could participate. “There needs to be a person who is driving that system, so the client, producer, director and everybody else doesn’t have to worry about their own tech”.
Lastly, imposing quite a discipline on set for rehearsals makes sure that remote participants are properly involved on set. Having a person establishing approvals for each take, and making sure that shooting never started before the virtual village was ready was key to satisfaction for all participants. “We had in our client Nisa from 1st Ave, she was on set and the go-between between what was happening on set and what the remote people were doing. She was so good at keeping that discipline, and that protocol going during rehearsals and the shoot itself. I’d say it’s probably one of the most important aspects to have the authority to manage that aspect, because you have to manage your client basically in the best way possible” says Key.
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