Tenacity, resiliency and ingenuity were the hallmarks of the post world during the pandemic. They're its future, too.
Posted on May 11, 2021
Anyone who's tuned in to an AICP Town Hall or one of its Post Council meetups knows that life in the post-pandemic world will impose some very different conditions on post production companies and their owners, producers, artists and supporting staff than it will on production companies and ad agencies.
To get a deeper understanding of where leaders in the industry see things going, Simian reached out to a group of post production EPs, Managing Directors and Managing Partners. We posed a number of wide-ranging questions about 'da future' and boy, did they have answers.
Taking part in this Q&A were (pictured above, from left to right) LaRue Anderson, Managing Partner of Apache; David Brixton, Managing Partner, Whitehouse Post; Annie Sparrows, Managing Partner & EP, SisterBoss; Kristin Redman, Managing Director & EP of Hudson; Craig Duncan, President & Managing Director, Cutters Studios; and Yvette Cobarrubias, Managing Partner & EP at Cosmo Street..
On one of our recent Agency Heads of Production roundtables, a New York-based HoP said the approach to post production will be forever altered, with agency people spending less time at post houses. What do you think life in your facilities will be like post-pandemic?
Craig Duncan, Cutters: I think it's going to be a hybrid model going forward for sure. I'm not sure exactly what it’s going to look like, but I definitely think people will be working through a combination of remote and in-studio forever. I can't see a time where we won’t have offices and places for creative collaboration. But I know my talent sees great benefit in not having to commute every day and not having to sit around the studio waiting for a tweak or a revision. I’m a firm believer that flexibility will be the new currency in this industry. We’re embracing that change, and I sincerely hope it helps create a better quality of life and more of a work/life balance for our staff.
LaRue Anderson, Apache: Our life has been forever altered, so of course the workflow will be as well. People have moved out of the normal hubs like New York, L.A. and Chicago to wide open spaces in Oregon and Montana. Remote work, in one form or another, is here to stay! We have proven in the last 14 months that you don't need to sit in the same space for 10 hours a day to get things accomplished. My producers and I are actually more productive working remote.
David Brixton, Whitehouse: It’s not a straightforward answer. Pre-pandemic, we were already seeing agencies putting their teams on multiple projects, and not wanting them out of the office as much anymore. Even travel from agencies in smaller markets was being reduced, so they could keep their creatives at home. Combine this with the fact that working remotely has largely been successful for everyone concerned, it could well be that we see fewer attended sessions post-pandemic. Alternatively, many agencies have downsized their physical space over the last year. As the pandemic recedes, they’ll not be able to accommodate all of their staff back at the office. We could see that in some instances, creatives may want to hang out in post suites, with creative vendors acting as a new hub. We will have to wait and see!
Kristin Redman, Hudson: Well, we can do more work unsupervised. Juggling projects is much easier without clients in the facility. But I also think life will include clients returning to our facilities more that their own offices. Post houses have always been an escape for clients. I think that’ll continue to be the case as things open up and people feel more comfortable in group situations.
Yvette Cobarrubias, Cosmo Street: I think there’ll be a transition period. Once allowed, clients will come back in for the novelty and the experience. However, I do believe many of the lessons learned this past year will settle into a more inventive and efficient way of collaborating. We now know that, while nothing beats in-person creative teamwork, we also know that sometimes you don't need to sit in the room for eight hours a day, five days straight, to get the good bits. Some of that can be achieved in other ways, and it can be freeing for an artist to take advantage of these different approaches – and for clients, too. Personally, I think it could even make it better.
Annie Sparrows, SisterBoss: I’d agree with the production heads, and wonder if there is even a possibility that people will come back for in-person post work. So many of us have these big, built-out facilities - we had just signed a new lease in 2019 - and it does feel strange to have a footprint like that with nobody to appreciate it but us. We’ve put all of these Covid safety policies in place so that we’re ready for people if and when they do return, but I won’t be surprised if things, at least for audio post, stay as they are now.
How has your business held up over the past year? What trends surprised you the most about the way things have played out?
Annie Sparrows: We actually did okay despite pandemic shutdowns, and were able to keep all but one of us on staff with help of the PPP Loan and a decent first and last quarter. We also had an incredible year in 2019, so that set us up to be able to weather the downturn in work during the mid-months of 2020. The most surprising thing to me was how quickly people were thinking on their feet to figure out how to keep working and how creative everyone got in their solutions! Before the pandemic, I would say we had our clients ‘remoting in’ maybe five percent of the time, and now it is ALL unattended work with Zoom VO direction and approvals. It's very different, but it's working well and the creatives were incredibly gracious as we figured everything out in those early months.
Craig Duncan: Our business has actually gone really well throughout, both creatively and financially. We’ve been very fortunate that several of our clients continued to find ways to produce work during the pandemic. I was amazed at how quickly everyone figured out solutions and workarounds. It’s a true testament to the tenacity and ingenuity of this industry, and a real exercise in problem solving. And everyone came through with flying colors.
LaRue Anderson: Since we work with Directors and DPs all over the world, we’ve been hosting remote color sessions for years. When the mandate to transition to remote work happened, we were able to pivot seamlessly, but as a vendor at the end of a long pipeline, we ultimately depend on production for footage. I was surprised with how resilient production was. People came up with new ways to shoot and new technology, and production kept rolling even though no one could be on set. Another realization I had as a business owner was that I don't need as many people in the office at one time anymore, even when restrictions lift. I’d been toying with a four-day work week for a few years, and now I’m convinced that two to three in-office workdays with the rest remote is the way to go.
David Brixton: We’re fortunate enough to have a diverse group of companies – Cap Gun, Scholar and Carbon, in addition to Whitehouse Post – so overall we’ve done very well during the pandemic. Obviously, the first three months were a little tricky, figuring out WFH and getting all our staff the tools they needed to operate remotely…I think I was most surprised by our collective ingenuity, and resilience, and also by how quickly the industry dropped the work/ home balance and went to an always-on, 24-7 working expectation. It took us a while to adjust and redefine boundaries.
Kristin Redman: We’ve been steady and have fared well. Our core clients kept us going, and we’ve been surprised at how hands-off some clients are being. Clearly, it’s all about trust.
Yvette Cobarrubias: Business has been surprisingly steady, and actually robust. We’re all so grateful that we’ve been able to adapt quickly, adjust to new working norms, stay connected to each other and clients, all while maintaining and honing our creative abilities. In fact, we’ve produced some of our most beautiful work during this time. In truth, I’m not surprised by the resiliency and excellence of our team. Their tenacity and ability to roll with it, yet still create these powerful, funny or heartwarming pieces of work under the umbrella of fear and the unknown, that’s something I’m still in awe of.
How have your artists been handling the lack of in-person contact? What are they most looking forward to when it's safe to be together again?
Yvette Cobarrubias: Most of our artists already had some sort of home set up before the shutdown. For those who didn’t, we got them going quickly. Interestingly enough, the people whom I expected to resist or struggle the most, did not. However, almost every one of them still misses the true creative collaboration that can only come from being in person, things like reading visual cues and body language, or the ease of communication without a Zoom delay. Fortunately, other ways of finding this connection with each other have emerged, but I’d say they’re eager to be back in an environment with internal support just a shout away and the creative fluidity that only really presents itself when you get a room full of creatives bouncing ideas off of one another.
Annie Sparrows: Some of our audio artists by nature work better in an ‘unattended – post for review’ environment, while others really thrive on the in-person banter and collaboration. Overall though, they're just happy to have the opportunity to continue working and have been really good at being thankful instead of focusing on the limitations of working over Zoom or email.
Craig Duncan: Most of our staff has adjusted incredibly well to collaborating through video conferencing. It may not be perfect, but it's the only game in town, and our folks have found a way to thrive within it. I honestly don't think we’ve missed a beat. But everyone misses the same things: the casual conversations, the beers in the West Lounge, client lunches, happy hours, etc. Those things will come back. I’m feeling a renewed sense of optimism now that the vaccine is getting out there. I'm sure we’re looking forward to coming together when it's safe and having one hell of a party.
LaRue Anderson: The craft of color doesn't actually need to be an in-person collaboration. With the acceptance of Zoom and Skype for communication in sessions, our artists feel like they’re in the same room with the creatives. We have real-time streaming with the sessions via the Sohonet Clearview, and our clients can join a live session with the click of a link with no lag and true color viewing. All of our artists of course miss seeing everyone’s faces, and the in person camaraderie, and I think you will find that across all disciplines. We are an industry of extroverts after all.
David Brixton: The experiences have been varied across our different disciplines and between our colleagues and clients. We’ve all used various forms of video conferencing and project sharing software, with Zoom of course becoming the buzzword. As much as we all have some level of “Zoom fatigue,” to be honest, it’s been very effective and allows for interactive sessions and creative collaboration, even when directing remotely! I think most people are looking forward to human contact and all of the immediacy that it brings for collaboration and bonding. Team building, company culture, and training younger employees will all improve when we can get back together in person.
Kristin Redman: Approvals have been the most frustrating for our artists. If clients are present, it’s fast and easy to show and refine details of a cut, a super placement or audio edits, etc. Posting and reposting revisions is time consuming and mind numbing!
Speaking of togetherness, what kind of indication are you getting from agency folks about when they’ll be comfortable returning to post suites?
Kristin Redman: Right now, everyone is very careful and respectful. For us, it’s been limited numbers and limited time for in person sessions. There is no way to know when things will go back the way they were…maybe never.
Yvette Cobarrubias: This is the question of the day, isn’t it? We miss each other! We’ve gotten so many different answers, and all of them with disclaimers. I would say the overall feeling is ‘fall-ish,’ yet we’ve had some clients come in already. Others have said ‘see you in 2022.’ So I suppose the answer is, I don't know.
Annie Sparrows: As of now it seems like the uncertainty of where this pandemic is going because of variant strains of the virus, along with a predicted surge, are keeping most of our clients from wanting to share air with others, despite our studio size and layout being really conducive to social distancing. But we DID have our first client-attended session in almost a year just a few weeks ago, so maybe that's an indicator? To be honest, the timeline for whatever ‘normal’ will become seems really up in the air. And I bet some teams may not go back to in-person mixing, so they can utilize the time for other things. Some creatives even preferred to work that way BEFORE the pandemic, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise either way.
Craig Duncan: I’m hearing all sorts of things. After Labor Day, beginning of 2022...I don't think anyone knows. I do know we’ll be ready to come back when our clients are ready, and when our employees feel safe to return.
LaRue Anderson: From what I hear on the street, many brands and agencies are not allowing their teams to come back to the office until late 2021 or early 2022. Everyone is watching the news and the vaccine roll out, and we’re all trying to gauge when it’s safe to return to normal procedures. Once everyone has reopened, it will be wonderful to see our creative partners in person again.
David Brixton: It varies. I’ve heard from agencies that don’t expect to be back in their offices until 2022, while others are readying themselves for a September return. Some have said that they won’t allow their employees to attend sessions at vendors, and others have already asked us to attend sessions in our offices. Throughout the pandemic, everyone’s feelings have evolved month to month, and this will be no different. We will continue to be adaptable and will adjust to the needs of our clients.
Have you hired people over Zoom? If so, for what roles? Artists? Producers? Coordinators? And what’s that process been like for you?
David Brixton: Yes, we’ve hired people in all roles over Zoom during the pandemic. The process itself is actually fine. It’s intimate, focused, and productive. The harder bit comes after the hire, trying to introduce them to the team and culture, and to train and bond with them has been tougher remotely.
Kristin Redman: We haven’t made any hires at all, but we have utilized freelancers more than ever. Unfortunately, we had to let several people go at the beginning of the pandemic, and those talented and proven people have become our go-to freelancers.
Yvette Cobarrubias: Yes! We’ve hired several producers, assistants, a VFX supervisor and an editor, all via Zoom! We have several people who’ve never set foot in any of our offices or met any of us in person. It's odd to say that, however, because it's been completely fine and in some ways fun. We can now show the new people how a bunch of like-minded, hardworking, creative weirdos found each other across the country, instead of just the one office!
Annie Sparrows: We haven't, but I know artists and producers who have. They enjoyed the convenience of it and control of their environment during the interviews. I suspect hiring will continue to happen over Zoom, especially for early rounds of interviews, and more and more positions won't require you to live in a certain city.
Craig Duncan: We’ve hired an editor, several assistant editors, some engineering folks, Flame artists and a few more. Like everyone else has said, it's gone really well. Training has its challenges, for sure. But we're figuring it out day by day.
LaRue Anderson: I haven’t made any new hires this year. I’ve had a few meet and greets over Zoom and I have to say I feel deep empathy for people who are looking for work and interviewing remotely. I‘m sure it’s hard to look into a camera when meeting someone for the first time and trying to tell them about yourself in the span of a few minutes. When I speak live on Zoom screenings or in forums, I kind of zone out sometimes. It’s hard to make eye contact when you don’t know who’s out there. I think decision makers really had to retrain the way they interview people and read faces this past year.
Post companies often describe themselves as being like family. So how’s yours holding up? What have you been doing to keep people’s moods and morale high?
LaRue Anderson: We are indeed family. We spend so much time together in the trenches of high-stakes projects that we form bonds like no other. At Apache, we created a safe place for people to work, a place where nothing is impossible; it’s a space of openness and inclusion. For all of these reasons our staff has felt heard and hopefully supported in this tough year. I am so very grateful that the industry I love, and to which I’ve invested so much time, has carried us through this pandemic, these viruses of Covid and viruses of hate. As long as we have footage, we can help our filmmaker friends who are creating content that’s meaningful and that will create change. Can we do better? Can we be more inclusive? The answer is always yes.
David Brixton: Our colleagues and clients are like an extended family to us. We’ve been doing most of the things other companies are doing: virtual office cocktail hours, screening parties, quiz nights, and a solid favorite, drag queen bingo, that included clients! We’ve also treated clients by sending dinner packages from top nationwide restaurants when normally we would have had wrap dinners together. These things are all great, but they can never match the experience of in-person human interaction.
Kristin Redman: I’d have to say that today, after all of this, the Hudson family is smaller, smarter and nimbler than ever before!
Yvette Cobarrubias: My Cosmo family is ridiculously brilliant. The amount of grit and grace they’ve displayed over the last year is mind blowing. Certainly there have been struggles and exhaustion and more tears than I can count (many of them mine), but there’s also been so much laughter, so much care for each other and of course so many practical jokes. From Zooms, happy hours, creative classes to trivia nights and some safe in-person beach meetups, we’ve tried to keep the fun in all of it, and I think we’ve been successful. What brings me so much pride is to watch each person's dedication to their craft, be it in the vault, producing, assisting, editing or whatever, and overcoming obstacles and most importantly supporting each other. This chosen family has been my beacon of light through the pandemic, social unrest and personal challenges, and I could not possibly be more grateful for the beautiful people I get to work with.
Annie Sparrows: We have been, for the most part, all working from different locations for the past year, so there isn't the same opportunity for connection internally that there used to be. However, it’s been a boost for everyone to get to spend more time with their families and pets at home, and for our staff that has been key to keeping people's spirits up!
Craig Duncan: We’ve tried a plethora of virtual activities to try and maintain the culture of our company. Some have worked out and they still survive, some have fizzled out. Virtual happy hours were a thing for a bit. We’ve done virtual magic shows, virtual wine and beer tastings, virtual cooking shows, the list goes on. But the main thing we have continued to do is make sure that the staff is kept up to date on what’s going on with the company and the industry. We’ve tried to provide a platform for every employee to have their voices heard on a regular basis. Lots of small group Zooms and one-on-one Zooms. We have a wonderful management team at Cutters Studios. I am so proud of the way all of our leaders have stepped up and reached out to make sure everyone is doing okay.