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Thought Leadership

Redefining Creativity and Collaboration during COVID-19

Shawn Clark, VP, Production

April 9, 2021

March 16, 2020 was the day that I told my video studio team to pack up their hard drives, computers and personal belongings— because we’d be working from home for a bit. I figured then that we would see each other again in a few months…little did I know that this would last over a year. 

The first two weeks of COVID-19 rattled the industry and brought everything to a complete standstill. We canceled projects, shut down productions and enacted strict safety protocols. As expected, working remotely forced us to find new ways to collaborate remotely, take care of ourselves and each other and find safe, efficient methods of live production. 

Coming together while working apart. 

Like most businesses, we were forced to rely on Zoom for daily status check-ins to keep our team connected in this new creative landscape.  But for content creators, not being in the same physical space raised some unique creative challenges in the producer-editor relationship. 

According to our Editor, Kevin Fermini, “when it comes to conceptual edits (like documentaries), where emotion and storytelling are paramount, things can get difficult.” For Kevin, there’s no replacement to working with another editor or producer in the same room, experimenting together and feeling out changes as we make them. “It’s almost like being in a movie theater with an audience,” he says. “Sometimes the dynamic of a scene changes when experienced with other people, live and in person.” 

So, to counteract the lack of face-to-face interaction, we ramped up our usage of Frame.io, a video review and collaboration platform, to deliver files and provide feedback. It is a slower process, compared to the over-the-shoulder sessions we were used to, but it has worked surprisingly well. 

Roger Okamoto, our Director of Production, says that it “has been an essential tool for the video team. Even before the shift to remote working, Frame.io facilitated approvals, file transfers and the collaborative process. Because we established an effective system before COVID, we were able to seamlessly adapt to the new working environment.”  

Not only has our team had to find new ways of working together, but communication with clients has also been challenging. It’s difficult to gauge how a client really feels about a project with notes and feedback mainly coming through email and Slack. Are they happy? Are we doing a good job? So, a phrase that my team has adopted is “assume the best.” When an email comes in with edits or there is a Zoom session with a lot of constructive criticism, assume that the person delivering it appreciates your work and has the best intentions, no matter how the message comes across.  

Managing with Empathy 

As we have gotten back into our creative production rhythms, we have found that the most important tool during this crisis has been to summon empathy to manage to each team member’s unique needs and ways of working. 

While Zoom gets the job done, we hadn’t previously appreciated how much you can read someone’s body language in-person to see how they’re doing. In the past, we’d walk into a room, chat and enjoy each other’s company without thinking twice. Now, check-ins are far more infrequent, so it’s hard to know how everybody is truly doing. We have not been able to celebrate the wins. The day no longer includes a celebratory lunch, a happy hour cocktail or even a passing conversation in the hallway. We sometimes isolated both physically and creatively. Sometimes it can be draining. 

Through consistent, proactive outreach, we’ve been able to assess what each team member needs, whether that’s regular check-ins, Zoom calls or the occasional porch-sit—the important thing is making sure we’re as connected as possible and we’re set up to succeed.  

Getting Back On Set Safely                                

After a summer in limbo, clients began reaching back out to us for shoots in August 2020. As the industry slowly re-opened, we were forced to adapt in a number of ways. We knew that we would need to develop an entirely new production process to abide by COVID protocols.  

Luckily, Roger spent the summer doing just that. He notes, “When production work was not very active, I decided that I needed to learn ways to eventually shoot with COVID protocols in place. The GA Film Office had some great resources and published their official guidelines.” 

Already a self-described “public-health nerd”, Roger quickly outlined Hothouse’s new basics for being on set: 

  • Temperature checks at check-in 
  • Mandatory mask-wearing 
  • Maintaining social distancing  
  • Keeping crew size to a minimum 
  • Hand sanitizers available everywhere 
  • Reduced craft service 
  • Recommending constant testing 

Roger not only had to keep his casts and crews safe but also had to adapt to produce high-quality content with these leaner productions. “I had already been working with small budgets pre-COVID, finding ways to get the job done while still maintaining a high standard of quality,” he says, “so transitioning to this new world was pretty seamless from a shooting perspective.” 

Thanks to Roger’s diligence, and the cooperation from everybody on the production team, we have all been able to keep working. What comes next? Whatever it is, we’ll be ready. 

Finding the Wins in Working From Home 

Everyone working in the creative field would agree that the past year has been tough, as the pandemic has forced us to reconsider how we work. And, while our team has faced numerous obstacles, the opportunity to work from home has inspired a new kind of creative energy. 

Writer/Producer/Editor Erin Garai has felt her fair share of challenges but is encouraged that “with a supportive team and management behind me, the transition has been easier. The flexibility has helped me manage my time and mental health well.” 

Roger agrees, “I personally love working remotely. I have a dedicated office at home and can focus on my assignments while being able to step away when needed. I spend more time with my dog, Saki, and get to know my neighborhood more by being able to take walks during breaks.”  

I’m sure Saki feels the same way. 

Kevin has a similar perspective, noting “Contrary to what I thought going into this, working from home has actually been a great experience. The ability to work on my own time, take breaks when needed, and multitask in new ways has allowed me to find new pockets of productivity and enjoyment in my workday.” 

While creative collaboration in a remote world may have its technical limitations, nothing is more important to producing great work than team morale – so I’m grateful that ours remains high. We are  all in this together and hopefully, we will be back in the office this year so we can get back to doing what us storytellers love to do… 

Collaborate together in person. 

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