Embracing Change

What will production be like when it restarts and what will the industry look like after over three months of lockdown. Jon Fry, Sales Director at CVP, gives his thoughts.

We like to take a glass half full approach at CVP. We can’t pretend it’s been an easy three months for everyone — we had to furlough about a third of our staff — but the rest of us have been using the time to pull apart what we do, examine it carefully, and put it back in sometimes new shapes. As a result we’ve put together some of the tools and facilities that we’ve been talking about for years but never quite got round to making because we’ve always been too busy.

I don’t think anyone can financially look back on 2020 so far and say it’s been a good year, but in many ways we’re now a better company than we were 12 weeks ago. We’ve all been working towards the time when the industry starts opening up again, and it’s going to be fascinating to see what has changed as other companies have gone through the same process of examination and evaluation we have.

As the old saying goes no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and when your enemy is an airborne virus it’s difficult to second guess quite what the shape of production will look like. But it’s probably safe to say that the old days of everyone crowded around a production monitor need to be consigned to history, at least for a while. On set more people are going to need their own monitors and there is going to have to be more wireless kit on hand to make sure people can maintain social distancing. There’s a good opportunity for less production staff to be on set too but be connected in to it in this manner, and it’s going to be one of those interesting djinn in a bottle moments; once different departments get used to this way of working it may be difficult to get them to go back to how it was before.

We also hear talk of at least one production planning to mount a camera that sits over the top of the set and lets one person coordinate all the crew moves around it to make sure no-one bumps into each other.

Virtual production is also something a lot of people are looking at. Say you want to shoot a sunset scene on a beach; getting your entire production out on location to do that was an expensive logistical operation at the best of times. Under Covid-19 conditions it’s nigh on impossible. What virtual production lets you do is send a crew out to shoot it then use something like Unreal Engine to load it into a 3D scene and play that on LED screens in front of which you put your actors. It even gives you the correct lighting conditions.

Hollywood used to use this sort of system before greenscreen, but it was limited by shortcomings in projector technology. It’s really exciting to see it back, and for actors, directors, and cinematographers to be able to see in realtime the digital environments they are interacting with. Following the success of shows like The Mandalorian that used this method, it was always something that was going to steadily creep into the industry for genre shows. It will probably be adopted quicker and much more widely as a result of the pandemic.

So, where are we now? It’s early stages yet, but from the email traffic and phone calls we’re getting the hire companies are opening their doors once more and starting to spec out jobs. They’re mainly smaller productions and commercials at the moment, but there’s more to come. A lot of care is being taken regarding sanitising the kit, a lot of reading is being done about new best practices for working on set, with even talk of putting kit in working bubbles much like the ones our kids are facing as they go back to school.

We can’t eliminate risk, but we can minimise it. And this is an important point because, as it stands, Covid-19 is not an insurable risk. Not being able to get production insurance is a big challenge and perhaps one where the government might yet have to step in in the role of an underwriter if they really want to kickstart our part of the economy back into high gear.

But helping build that momentum is something that we can’t just leave to governments or the market. It’s going to take a while for the revenue streams to wake from their sluggish torpor and one of the challenges to us as a reseller is to help find ways to stimulate the market.

We’re currently working with our suppliers to identify schemes that can help people, whether that be interest holidays, refinancing, or the ability to quote equipment that they don’t yet own on a job. Banks don’t want to lend money at the moment, so if we can play a part in giving people the opportunity to trade for three to six months perhaps before they have to start making payments, that could be the differentiator between a company or an individual staying in business or going out of it. We’re looking into anything and everything at the moment

One of the things that the past three months has brought home to us is our interconnectedness as an industry. Nothing about 2020 has been normal so far and we don’t expect it to become so soon, but if we’re clever with our application of technology to the problems of easing lockdown and can support each other through the process, then we will hopefully be able to end the year on a high. Glass half full as always.