Compared with other members of the below-the-line community affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the production shutdowns it spurred, post-production artists are uniquely positioned. Relying mostly on computers and an Internet connection to do their jobs, picture editors, sound editors and colorists are able to work remotely, while many other artisans are not.
Still, this reality is tempered by the fact that without new material to edit, their work, too, will dry out.
Tom Jarvis, the Emmy-nominated editor behind The Late Late Show with James Corden, has spoken with a number of his fellow craftsmen in recent days, gaining a sense of how the shutdowns have impacted them.
“There are quite a few who have been lucky, and are able to load up hard drives with media and work from home, or are on shows that are able to continue while working remotely — several will be employed until August,” he said. “But there is also a large group of them who are now suspended or put out of work. It’s really hard for freelancers to find gigs now, and depending on who it is, it’s coming at unfortunate times.”
Johnnie Burn, a sound designer, sound editor and re-recording mixer whose credits include The Favourite and Waves, is in the same position at the moment as many of his peers. The founder of Wave Studios—a post-production house with branches in London, Amsterdam and New York—Burn still has a month or so of work on the books, but with little sense of what will come next. Looking to work on a feature, a TV series (Season 2 of HBO’s Euphoria) and several smaller projects over the course of the next year, Burn had all those jobs taken from him abruptly when the production shutdowns hit.
“Personally, I’m praying and hoping that it will be a short process [to get back to business as usual], but realistically, I don’t believe that it is,” he said. “I did think this could get messy, but wow. It’s sort of gone beyond my imagination, where we’re already at.”
With his offices shut down, Burn had to buy 10 new Mac laptops and “a whole bunch of Sony top-flight headphones” to allow his team to finish the tasks that remain.
Around the same time, general manager Domenic Rom oversaw a much larger work-from-home transition for the team at Goldcrest Post. Located in New York City’s Meatpacking District, the post house had a number of network episodic shows in process when the COVID-19 crisis hit, as well as many projects for streaming services including Netflix, Apple and Amazon. “All of them have deadlines, and some of them were in the middle of production, so we weren’t sure how it was going to affect all of them,” Rom said. “But we knew we needed to be able to continue to service them if something went wrong.”
Proactive in his approach to the crisis, Rom had equipment carted out to team members working across the city. Simultaneously, members of his staff addressed issues pertaining to Internet speed and content security at the residences of employees working from home. “It really was like a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie,” Rom says. “You know, ‘Let’s put on a show.’ ”
From a financial perspective, guiding employees through the work-from-home transition wasn’t too great of an ordeal for Rom. What’s more concerning is all the projects that are now in limbo, and what will happen if the epidemic continues to expand throughout the coming months.
“Everything that was in production, or planning to start, who knows when that’s coming back? That’s the financial hit, and that’s the scary part for the post houses,” Rom said. “How do you hang on?”
“I think we’re going to go through a really, really rough patch, and I don’t think everybody will survive. I’m sure many players will fall,” he added. “Many will hang on by their thumbnails, and hopefully the government comes through with some form of relief.”
Known for such films as Pearl Harbor and World War Z, editor Roger Barton wonders what the work-from-home transition will mean for the future of post-production. One of the co-founders of Evercast, a remote-work solution for editors that launched just two years ago, Barton sees a dramatic shift coming.
“I think the question for all of us to consider, as we feel the landscape changing beneath our feet, is once the coronavirus passes—and it will—what is the paradigm we will return to?” he said. “I’m being told by many people who are struggling with this that they feel things will not return to the same place.”
From Barton’s perspective, the post-production business will face several major challenges should remote work become the way of the future in this field.
“One of the biggest challenges to editing remotely is where the storage lives. There’s two big factors,” he said. “There is, how do I keep the storage safe and secure when the editorial team becomes decentralized? And the other challenge is, how do I collaborate with team members who are now spread all across the globe, or simply across town?”
For now, though, Barton’s focus is on grappling with the influx of demand for the service that Evercast provides, with major studios, ad agencies, media conglomerates and individual freelancers all coming on board as clients. “We just have way more business than we could possibly handle at the moment, and we’re trying to scale, at the same time that we are trying to onboard and support hundreds of potential users,” he said. “We’re a small team and a small startup. No one could have ever anticipated what has been thrust upon us. [But] to know that this technology is now allowing freelance film editors to continue to work, instead of being laid off, it makes me feel great.”
Whether the work-from-home trend sticks, once the epidemic is contained there is a tempered sense of optimism among many in post when they think of the long term. “We’re in the Golden Age of content right now,” Jarvis said. “I feel the industry is strong and will hopefully bounce back quickly, bigger and stronger than before.”