Hollywood tech tricks put film crews back on set


It’s no wonder that Hollywood has been hit hard by Covid-19 pandemic. After all, movie sets typically require hundreds of people from all over the world to work in close proximity to each other. In early spring 2020, production was effectively shut down until further notice. But slowly, quietly, new movies – movies that filmed during the pandemic– have started to surface. How? ‘Or’ What? Filmmakers have found ways to adapt and now have more tools to help them shoot safely.

Not all movies need high tech solutions, of course. Smaller movies, like those from Netflix Malcolm and Marie or the recent Sundance movie How it ends, are able to cope with smaller and quarantined crews. But for bigger, more complicated projects – ones that require visual effects and plenty of extras – the technology fills in the gaps in socially distant filming. Here’s how.

Cloud Busting

One of the most innovative adaptations to date comes from Frame.io. The company is best known for providing web-based tools for teams to browse through dailies and pass notes during the editing process. Today, however, Frame.io unveiled a new service: Camera to Cloud, which allows multiple people to start working on a shot the second the director films it, dramatically reducing the number of people on set and increasing the number of people who can contribute from a safe, socially (very) remote location.

Here’s how it works: let’s say you have an 8K RED camera on the set. Using the Camera to Cloud system, this platform would be connected to a transcoding box, such as a Teradek Cube 755, which takes this 8K video and turns it into a smaller 1080p file that is easier to view / share. This box is also connected to the internet, as is a Sound Devices turntable, which collects audio from all the microphones on the set. As soon as someone shouts “Cut!” the files are being uploaded to the cloud, where anyone who has been granted access can view them.

From there, people like executive producers and VFX supervisors can weigh in with notes in near real time. Better yet, the system allows the film editor to work on the film in tandem, even if they are on the other side of the planet. As soon as the take is complete, the video files (with separate but synchronized audio files) will automatically appear in DaVinci Resolve, Final Cut, Adobe Premiere, or whatever editing software they use. As soon as it’s there, they can drop the last take in the timeline, apply effects and filters (such as removing a green screen), and quickly export it to Frame.io for everyone to see. check and approve it. Back on set, the director can review the new cut and leave notes that will appear directly on the editor’s timeline with single-frame precision.

Files downloaded from the camera can range from 0.5 Mbps (think Zoom quality) to 15 Mbps (Netflix-ish), your choice. The upper end of the scale is usually more than enough for something like network news and could be broadcast immediately. For movies with a tight turnaround time, the downloaded proxy files are of edit quality (and the audio, which is much smaller, is the originals) and can be cut together immediately. When the hard drive with all the full resolution files lands in the edit bay, they can be swapped into editing with the click of a button.

Camera to Cloud was used on a Hollywood production: Songbird. Last summer, the disaster film, which landed on video on demand in December, became the first full production to test the service in beta. In reality, Songbird was the first film to go into production after California’s toughest Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, so it had to do everything possible to minimize the crew, including shooting with the smallest camera of RED (the 8K Komodo) so that the cinematographer can also function as a camera operator. During this time, six or more executives watched the filming from a distance.

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