Transforming the Entertainment Production Lifecycle

January 19, 2017

By Cast & Crew Tech

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of the Media & Entertainment Journal.

Consider: Countless moving pieces characterize the kick-off of a new production. Imagine onboarding 500 to 1,000 crew members. After a job offer is formally made to the employee, large piles of start paperwork need to be filled out by the worker and then sent off into a maze of approvals before landing at the payroll company for processing. This all assumes the paperwork was properly filled out by the employee who more often than not writes in his or her own title and rates.

It is no wonder that most Production Assistants (PAs) appear to be so overwhelmed.

Inconvenience isn’t the only problem.

Not fully knowing or understanding your employer can be another issue.

Almost a decade ago, IDC published a white paper asserting that U.S. and U.K. employees cost businesses $37 billion annually because they do not fully understand company policies, business processes, job function or a combination of the three. Moreover, the paper noted, by ignoring the issue, companies put themselves at risk for compliance, public safety and legal problems.

While these existing paper-focused practices may have all the hallmarks of a hamster getting nowhere fast, they nonetheless have been the reality of the industry for decades and decades.

Now, however, the industry is driving digital enhancements — and advanced solution delivery — that are being empowered by cloud technology. These new technologies not only represent stunning changes in the way support functions are carried out across the entertainment production finance lifecycle, they are creating additional business value for studios, production companies and independents alike. And there’s more to come.

“Although cloud is widely recognized as a technology game changer, its potential for driving business innovation remains virtually untapped,” write Saul Berman, Lynn Kesterson-Townes, Anthony Marshall and Rohini Srivathsa in The Power of Cloud from the IBM Institute for Business Value. “Indeed, cloud has the power to fundamentally shift competitive landscapes by providing a new platform for creating and delivering business value.”

In the entertainment industry, this fundamental shift is manifesting itself in intriguing solution-focused partnerships between traditional paper-heavy companies such as payroll processors and the studios themselves. In the process, the previously low- and no-tech processing companies are transforming themselves into technology companies reinventing an industry.

Powered (and empowered) by the cloud and software tool kits (STKs), they are overlaying the traditional production lifecycle with new tools that deliver a multiplicity of new features and advantages, including:

  • Greater speed and agility
  • Improved flexibility, scalability and mobility
  • “Pay-as-needed” capability and capacity
  • Security
  • Quicker-to-market characteristics
  • Greater adaptability
  • Economies of scale
  • Economic savings from the elimination of data center maintenance and reduced downtime
  • Immediate global deployment

Disruptive digital technology

To be sure, cloud-based technology can impact companies and deliver value in multiple ways. While the IBM team notes three — optimization, innovation and disruption — current advancements in the entertainment production lifecycle clearly are focused on the latter:  disruption.

To understand the phenomenon, it is essential to get past the notion that disruption, by necessity, must be correlated with widespread negative experiences. What we know — and what a growing percentage of people have come to learn over the past decade or so — is that the negative aspects of disruption are limited to a small group (incumbent businesses and customers and support organizations) and not the wider group of stakeholders.

“A disruptive technology flies under the radar, opening new markets, products, and services at returns that are initially unattractive to the incumbents,” writes Alex Krikos, Principal at Technology Management Services. “In a disruptive framework, cloud computing offers greater scalability, utility-based pricing, and ubiquity among applications, consumers, and potentially among cloud computing vendors.”

One problem, of course, is that companies sometimes can be their own worst enemies.

“Innovation fails because organizations unwittingly strip the disruptive potential from new ideas before they even see the light of day,” writes Clayton Christensen, who first coined the term “disruptive technology” decades ago, in The Innovator’s Solution.

But, with disruption as the goal, cloud-based solutions are turning this particular industry on its head.

An industry facelift

Cloud-based services will deliver an entirely new experience for entertainment companies and the crews they employ as the new digital world is simpler, faster, more powerful and more efficient. In many cases, service providers (i.e., the companies providing payroll and residuals processing, workers’ compensation insurance and other services) are working hand-in-hand with clients to develop a more-productive and flexible way for companies to manage these critical functions.

Asset-light, highly mobile and flexible, cloud technology enables disruptive new approaches that leverage current technologies and platforms with the intent to eliminate the obstacles that formerly created issues for users.

For the entertainment industry, cloud technology is facilitating the development and implementation of powerful and transformative digital solutions in multiple critical areas, including onboarding, timecards, scheduling, budgeting, asset management and multiple post-production tasks, including residuals.

In the critical area of employee on-boarding and start paperwork, for instance, digitization not only shifts on-boarding to digital from paper forms, it enables efficient crew starts for any type of project, provides flexible and customizable approval flows and gives producers immediate visibility into on-board data.

Likewise, electronic timecards not only are the important front end to much-desired hours-to-gross (HTG) advancements, they also open new channels for employees to input and approve time worked and foster efficiency and accuracy.

Asset management provides countless interesting possibilities, made possible in large part from the metadata found in screenwriting software. The metadata in the script open the door to a seamless production purchasing system–a virtual warehouse for tracking production assets from purchase through production, and beyond.

The car, the evening gown, the suit of armor … whatever. The metadata tells you how much it cost, from whom you acquired it, what scenes it appeared in (and what time and what day) and where it was shipped after you wrapped. Production departments can easily tag costumes, props and equipment on their smart phones with integrated QR and barcode tracking. And crew can attach asset QR codes, snapshots and locations into script breakdowns, schedules and invoices.

Cloud technologies also can create additional business value for studios and production companies.

Moving forward

The immediate changes in the industry are clearly understood. On-boarding, timecards, scheduling, budgeting–even asset management–have been areas of interest for years. Adoption, therefore, will be widespread and both providers and users of the new digital tools will have a shared understanding of the value of these new cloud-enabled services.

As we move forward, however, the possibilities are endless and data and information will be the consistent themes. From a business-management standpoint, approaches to security, disaster recovery and data storage will all be viewed from a new perspective.

The task of managing entertainment production will change markedly as both financial and creative types will be able to tap into the big data and get answers to specific inquiries about costs that will help in building budgets and schedules. “What-ifs” can be answered and potential scenarios can be built.

“Cloud computing is rapidly entering an entirely new phase–one destined to prove far more transformative and disruptive than the initial phase of cloud deployment,” writes Sean Hackett of 451 Research. “Cloud is driving a comprehensive transformation of digital assets in organizations of all stripes.”

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