Unusual times call for new ways of working. As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, it is becoming obvious that, to maintain business continuity the Media & Entertainment industry must pivot rapidly towards remote collaborative production. While companies across the industry scramble to put together new workflows, it is worth examining some of the successful businesses that have been working this way for years.
The Finish Line, one of the most successful post production companies working out of the UK, is one of them. The facility uses EditShare’s Flow and QScan tools amongst others to ensure that its staff can work collaboratively wherever they’re based in a truly distributed workflow. Its business has been built from the ground up for pop-up and remote post production with a technology-focused facility that centralizes content without all of the expensive glamour associated with high-end finishing. Investments are made into people and technology. It’s a fascinating set up and a fascinating story, as the workflows that have helped them buck the recent crisis were actually established coming out of the global financial crash of 2008.
A Challenging Start
The Finish Line was founded in 2011 by finishing artist Zeb Chadfield, who spent the period after the 2008 financial crash working frantically to keep afloat in a shrinking industry. The year following the crash was a difficult time for the entire post sector, and the relentless succession of color grades, grades and more grades, 17 hours a day, six-days a week, took their toll on Zeb and eventually led to a nervous breakdown.
“When I came back, I knew I could not keep working this way and thought ‘I’m going to just go and do my own thing and see what happens with it’,” he says.
Doing his own thing involved analyzing previous practices and the entire process of post production, taking it apart and putting it back together again in a shape that was going to be sustainable. Out went the high rents of central London where the UK post community congregates. In came a focus on delivering incredible pictures first and foremost.
“I decided, as a business, that’s where we would spend the money; on training, clientele and equipment, and anything in terms of physical space and unnecessary expenses could be left alone. All these production companies, for the most part, have their own offline facilities and have their own offices with a lot of unused space. So it started out that I would bring in a system and do a job for a client, and it just scaled up from there.”
Flipping the Business Model On Its Head
One of the big keys to The Finish Line’s success however, is not that it has just scaled up — and it has, it has doubled in size every year since and is now one of the largest finishing facility in the country — but how Zeb has managed it. Not wanting to be a hamster on a wheel again, he started by hiring more staff to pick up the workload. Then, he dug deep into the experience that led to his breakdown and his view of the industry to ensure that the working conditions his new staff faced were ones that were going to maximize not just their talent but their enjoyment.
“I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we can look after staff better. We decided to focus on providing solutions that enabled our teams to work remotely, whether that was in London or a different city or country. We searched for ways to make it possible for them to work and still have quality time with their families. We also try to figure out the best ways to manage their time so that they’re not working too much. Last year, most of the post facilities were running 10 or 12-hour workdays as standard. So we took a step further and decided to say, ‘No, we’re only going to quote eight-hour workdays. If you want 24 hours of work done, it will take three days, not two.’”
“It’s more about looking after the talent, because ultimately the talent is going to deliver better work. And they’re happier.”
And, as he is quick to point out, there is no lack of productivity as a result. The Finish Line is currently delivering up to 30 hour-long programs a week to a variety of clients from broadcasters to OTT providers, and there are very few traditional brick and mortar facilities anywhere doing that.
Technology Arrives When We Need It The Most
Of course, this would all have been impossible to do without some key underlying technology. One of the keys to scaling up the distributed workflow of The Finish Line has been the general movement to cloud-based systems. Zeb spent five or six years building his own cloud solutions on Amazon workspaces and implementing different solutions and different versions of software; a long list that includes Telestream® Vantage®, and DaVinci Resolve (which remains The Finish Line’s finishing tool of choice).
“Basically anything that was available, I was testing different processes of running them on virtual machines,” he says.
Then he came across the Flow media management solution.
“I started doing installations with Flow and I realized that it’s designed to enable people to remotely collaborate,” he recalls. “Rather than trying to force something that we usually run as a desktop system into this environment, having something that was actually built for this purpose worked a lot better. And because it had been developed with EditShare hardware for so long, it was a really mature product when it was released as a standalone software application. The alternatives still feel like beta programs even now, whereas we’re utilizing Flow in production environments.”
Flow is mainly used in The Finish Line’s workflow for viewing rushes – running on a production-specific AWS server to both maintain throughput and ensure siloed content security.
“At the moment, we actually set it up on a production-by-production basis for dealing with all of the client rushes. So, for clients where we manage full post, they might be cutting in-house, but we will set up the Flow systems and the automation for all of their ingesting media,” he explains. “It is also helping our clients in terms of the way they deal with media. It means that we can actually look at media that they’re working on. So, if I’ve got an edit, we can send an AF from the Avid® into Flow, and we’re able to then look at that remotely and then use that as part of our process to conform for final post.”
Since clients are able to send new content for an edit in the same way, it’s a very powerful tool for The Finish Line workflow.
Best Practice for Remote Collaboration
For those looking to rapidly establish new remote collaboration workflows, Zeb’s experience of setting up and expanding The Finish Line over the past years means he has a wealth of knowledge on the subject.
Here are his 7 essential tips:
1. Hire the best in the business, irrespective of where they live.
2. Be agnostic – choose the best tool for the job and don’t get tied down.
3. Communication is key. Use software such as Slack to connect your team members.
4. Make sure you create an open environment internally for all staff and maintain complete transparency. Maintain an internal wiki for staff so everyone knows where they stand.
5. Rethink your workflow on a constant basis. Don’t stick with the status quo.
6. Talk to your software companies – they can’t make things better for users if they don’t know your thoughts.
7. Remember the importance of family life. Work to live.
These are tricky times for everyone. While Zeb didn’t set up The Finish Line in the teeth of a pandemic, companies like his show that not only can remote collaboration be done, but it can be done successfully without sacrificing your health, your mental well-being, and your personal life to do it. There is a better way.
“When I had that nervous breakdown I remember sitting there thinking, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a family, and I do not know how I will ever be capable of doing that in this job as it is right now.’ So, it’s good to know the choices I made are working and to be able to sit here and say, ‘Well, you know, now I’ve got a kid and I’ve got a wife and we’ve got a house. We’ve got a good work-life balance.’”
“I just spent six weeks in New Zealand and I was able to remotely collaborate with the team the whole time I was away with no troubles. That was good.”