‘In ad film production, remote monitoring system is the need of the hour’

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Suprotim Day, Chief Films Officer – India, dentsu, shares insight on how advertising film production houses found ways to make things work through online technologies during pandemic

India went through 4 lockdowns and 2 unlocks, and the advertising agencies along with the production houses adapted to the various stages to work out solutions for their clients. Initially, with the complete shutdown of shoots & post-production studios, agencies, studios, and production houses found ways at various stages to make things work through various online technologies readily available.

Besides the shoots and productions that got cancelled due to the lockdowns, there were numerous films that were shot but could not get into post-production due to the lockdown as the post-studios were completely shut.

At first, the creative teams at dentsu used stock footage and edited them to create communication pieces. Using stock music and recording voiceovers on phones along with stock footage was the only way to meet immediate needs at that time. Some voiceover artists had basic recording setups at home. Same with editors and sound engineers. Various experimentations at various levels were done to achieve the best possible results and I remember a voiceover artist mentioning that he recorded the voiceover for one of our films inside his car to get the best sound acoustics.

But what about the films that were shot just before the lockdown and stuck in the hard drives. Although client launches and plans got delayed due to the lockdown, we needed to start planning and be ready here as well and find solutions for work to start. After some tests and trials with the Teradek interface for controlling the post-production studio equipment remotely from the homes of the editors and online artists, the post houses were able to complete slowly the pending jobs. The process was slow and tedious and laborious but we managed to get professional broadcast output for our clients in time for their launches in this manner. What could easily be done earlier in 4 hours was now taking more than 8 to 10 hours. However, two things happened due to the post-production happening remotely at studios now, the shot footage on camera phones could be graded and post-produced on professional broadcast equipment. As a result, the films started looking even better, secondly, the backlog of films started clearing and thus, our clients’ TVCs and digital films went on air.

As Unlock happened and interstate travel was allowed, things changed dramatically as production houses and film crews started venturing outdoor on shoots. Advertising films are now being shot in most of the states following the Covid protocols and guidelines as laid down by the industry bodies and government. Safety of crew and actors is a priority and production houses take them very seriously. Production houses are operating with a minimal crew and using professional broadcast equipment to shoot films. The majority of our clients and agency teams are not travelling to attend shoots yet and are using a remote monitoring system for supervision.

We get the live camera feed on Zoom and communicate directly with the production team in real time on the same platform. All you need is a good WIFI connection at both ends. On location or studios, the production houses use a 4G Bonding device, which has 4 to 5 sim cards and this device takes all the data of the 5 connections and streams it to the server. Using the capture card as camera input, the frame rates don’t get compromised and the camera feed in real time. For simplicity of understanding the camera, the feed goes to a capture streaming card which is connected with a regular laptop to Zoom for all of us to see the live feed.

Dentsu teams in India along with our clients have adapted very well to this system and we have shot quite a few films now post the unlock with outstanding results. As we are shooting all our films in India, where the film crew is present on location and the agency and clients are present on Zoom for immediate feedback, the need for the more advanced QTake software applications have not arisen as yet here.

The key question now is, does the remote real time monitoring work better than actual supervision on set. The answer is as simple as “does food taste better when it is served at the restaurant or when it is delivered at home”.

While the current remote monitoring system is innovative and practical and is absolutely necessary, it needs to be treated only as the need of the hour and not as a long-term solution in the advertising film production business. For me, the remote monitoring system slows down the creative process during a shoot and also in post-production. Creative interactions that were earlier free-flowing and real time between agency, production crew, and post-production studios cannot happen like that on Zoom. Thus, it takes much more time to complete a shoot or post-production. In the future, when things do get back to normal, we have to see how businesses evolve and whether some of the measures incorporated out of necessity due to a Covid world will be part of a non-Covid world. At my end, I would like to see the use of live feed or remote monitoring being used sparingly and only for situations when the agency creative cannot travel due to unforeseen circumstances.

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Supratim Dey

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