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Talents & Skills

In industry, there is something called “disruption.” Some companies go down because of disruption, and some companies thrive in disruption. It is called their AQ adaptability quotient. How well they adapt to disruption or change in their sector of an industry.

Going back to normal will not happen. Normal is only relative to the present and the past. You need to keep a focus on tomorrow. Think about what might be “normal” in the future and find your purpose in that normal.

The big question is, how do I know what will happen in the future. The answer is simple, you will never know exactly what the future will bring. In Dec 2019, none of us could have predicted COVID’s devastating effect on the industry. But by the end of 2020, most of us eventually dug our way out by relying on skills we were developing for the future. Never realizing the future was going to happen all at once.

In broadcast, transmitting from remote locations has been a thing for decades. What was changing was how we communicated and transmitted from those remote locations. For years to interact live from a remote location, you would send a production truck (microwave or satellite) to the scene. Internet video telecommunication became a thing as the internet became more sophisticated and robust. Remember the first time you Skype’d with someone. It was cool, but definitely not ready for primetime.

Skype let the genie out of the bottle. Every broadcast control room was outfitted with integrators that good that a SKYP signal and feed it into their live broadcast show. The low-level quality was accepted because it opened up location access to talking heads all over the globe without the need for a sat / microwave truck and a crew. (If you ever wonder what new tech will be embraced? Follow the money.)

Commercially, internet video conference calling has been a thing for years. Face Timing or Zooming with your grandma was taking hold with the masses, making the acceptance of low-res video quality the norm.

Now in walks the pandemic isolation creating even greater demand for at-home entertainment and news. The catch was that the studios, music, and broadcast were also shut down in isolation. No acceptable solution could include “NOT producing content,” failing to keep the entertainment flowing in the traditional paths; cable/fiber, internet streams, and satellite radio. The scramble was on to figure out how to keep the media flowing without using a studio and control room.

What evolved was the ingenious use of blending technology. Technology not initially built for this purpose or not fully integrated into mainstream professional content. Some of this tech was borrowed from the Gaming industry that had been streaming live interactive content for years. Some were taken from broadcast networks that had previously closed many of their independent control rooms and had moved to all originating signals being fed to one master control in one city in the US. Believe it or not, a lot of the tech came from CCTV (closed circuit television), also known as security camera systems.

There was no one source of these breakthroughs. Large and small-scale production folks collaborated to find workarounds that made sense. Honestly, smaller-scale production folks made quicker and more efficient progress than the larger ones. They say, “It takes a long time to turn a battleship, but a speed boat can turn on a dime.”, or something like that.

By the end of 2020, live video broadcast production companies were popping up everywhere. They figured out how to have a director in Kansas, a Graphics person in upstate NY, audio in Montana, and camera operators remote-controlling cameras in LA. Not only did they perfect this “virtual production system,” they were doing it for half the previous cost. (follow the money)

This tech created a new system with new operators and changed the game completely. Music was being recorded remotely, our court system became remote, weddings and everything that today is “normal” was only a forward-thinking vision of a few techies. It reminded me of the documentaries I’ve seen of how the entire country came together at the start of WWII to invent and build the necessary technology needed for that time.

Since my world crosses over into all sectors of the entertainment production industries, I was getting calls from all over with clever ideas that needed a unique approach to keeping their productions afloat.

As I’ve said many times before, I do my best creative thinking and workarounds while in the middle of the storm. The 2020 pandemic was obviously the most significant storm I’ve ever seen. I also preach there are no small gigs. Something can be learned from all of them, which was a substantial part of the lessons learned during this time.

Although I’d been busy collaborating with dozens of people and finding our way through the darkness, here are two different situations that forced me to apply my old talents in a new way while learning new techniques and building out my network.

Broadway at an upstate NY Drive-In.

Without going deep into the backstory, which is a mind blower, friends of mine who had the launch of their Broadway musical derailed because of the Broadway theater shut down during COVID. Since no one knew how long this would last, the composer and creator of the show, Lords Lane, her producer Melissa Jones, and director JoAnn Hunter decided they needed to keep the show’s energy going. They collectively landed on showcasing several of the show’s songs. Remember, this was at the height of the shutdown with all the restrictions of distancing etc. So traditional sites we out. They found an open Drive-In in upstate NY. They staged the singers on the bed of pickup trucks in a semi-circle. They got sound and lighting from Broadway vendors, and my production company captured the historic event. BTW all of this was done pro bono. The event and subsequent video were amazing.

Streaming the high holidays at a Jewish temple.

On the other side of the extreme was being asked to join a complement of production professionals now becoming virtual production professionals to stream the Jewish ceremonies for their congregation during the high holidays. Besides Rabi, Cantor, the Music Director, and two of us on the production side, no one else was allowed in. Having never been in a temple prior, I knew what I was seeing wasn’t normal. Cat 5 Ethernet Cables were snaking around the entire floor of the sanctuary. We had iPads on stands positioned strategically to capture the Rabi and Cantor. They had rebuilt the choir singing, which we rolled in at the appropriate place. Controlling all the tech was a remote systems op. Once again, everything worked perfectly. The congregation got to enjoy and worship during their holidays, and we learned a ton about virtual live production.   

This new virtual production has created a new industry. People who had ideas but were limited by the overhead of studios, production gear, and operators can now produce and showcase unlimited programming. A perfect example is video podcasts and YouTube content explosions.

Looking back, no one saw this dynamic shift happening. We knew the tech was moving in that direction but assumed it was 5 to 10 years away. No one predicted it would happen in less than 6 months.

Most industries’ ability to adjust and keep moving was based on our collective willingness to think “out of the box,” as they say. Find completely new ways to execute traditional production. Creatives are instinctively innovators and problem solvers; those traits will always keep them looking for a better and more innovative way to create. This is why I say keep your focus on the future while you create in the present to ensure you’ll have a career tomorrow.  

Fast track your entertainment production career