Sony Pictures, BBC, BSC, ASC and the DPP gives their verdicts on Covid impact and views on virtual production to training


Bill Baggelaar

Bill Baggelaar, EVP & GM, Sony Innovation Studios / EVP & CTO, Technology Development, Sony Pictures Entertainment 

“The pandemic has driven us personally and professionally to focus on the most important issue; keeping our families, friends and co-workers safe and healthy, while trying to continue to progress our business. It has also brought to the forefront many technologies that the industry has been working on for a while now, like virtual production, cloud production workflows and remote collaboration tools.  

Sony has embraced a strategy of three Rs: Real-Time, Reality and Remote. For two of those Rs (remote and real-time), Sony Innovation Studios is working on technologies that capture the real world bringing it into virtual production environments on a stage anywhere in the world. LED stage installations have expanded around the world during the pandemic, which makes virtual production poised to expand significantly in 2021 and beyond.  

This supercharged growth is due to the control over the environment, time and location; as well as having the ability to provide a safe environment by bringing the set to the talent where they are located, rather than flying talent and crew around the world for a production shoot. Reducing our carbon footprint with virtual production was originally a primary benefit that has now become ancillary to the imperatives of providing a safe environment.  

Cloud-based production workflows are also going to expand significantly in 2021. During the pandemic we see the value of being able to keep artists in their current, safer locations while we bring the systems and data to them in the cloud. While we are now just scratching the surface of cloud-based editorial and VFX processes, the foundation is being laid for much of the long-term ideas that we presented in the MovieLabs 2030 vision white paper. I am excited by the potential for these two technologies to have lasting impact on our industry.” 

Tim Sargeant, Head of Product, Video+ Live BBC

Tim Sargeant

Tim Sargeant, Head of Product, Video+ Live, BBC 

“In 2020 the need to work remotely has accelerated the pace of change more than we’ve seen before in our careers. A gentle amble to the cloud has become a frantic scramble.  Workflow simplification and flexibility are orders of the day.  

We’ll spend most of 2021 consolidating, simplifying and then scaling all the new stuff. For big organisations like the BBC, production workflows in the cloud will begin to mature. Cost pressures across the whole sector will drive towards simpler, more commodity solutions. And, because remote working is here to stay, we’ll see greater alignment between enterprise collaboration technologies and production workflows to help creators plan, create and publish content.” 

Mark Eley

Mark Eley

Mike Eley BSC, President, British Society of Cinematographers 
“I was involved, albeit in a small way, in contributing to the Film and High-End TV Drama Production Guidance guidance that the BFI and BFC put together to help get the industry back to work under Covid. The drive and ambition of the industry to make the case to get back to work safely is to be commended but I didn’t think then that much of it would survive contact with reality.  

Arguably it is more to the benefit of large studio pictures which either have a high degree of VFX and/or have the budget to ensure all the protocols are followed with comprehensive test, track and trace. The small or mid-budget films are not rushing back.  

Film-workers should be respected in the rush back to work. Overall, crew are vulnerable and as much thought and planning should be put to keeping people safe as it is keeping projects up and running. Whether for health and safety or any other reason a sea-change is due whereby the welfare of crew is nearer the top of the list of concerns. I’m not saying productions are deliberately trying to ride roughshod over crew but there is a mentality that the completion of the call-sheet is the number one goal. 

The experience of going to the cinema needs to improve. In particular, there needs to be a greater care for the image. Consequently, the way films are displayed in cinemas will be the next thing to make a quantum leap. Projection will be superseded by LED panels which offer far higher brightness and resolution. But just because you have the capability to capture and display extreme resolution or illumination doesn’t mean you need to go there.  All the DP ever wants is the choice of palette to help tell the story. I have feared for the future of cinema but, ultimately, the desire for a collective experience of having stories told in a dark room is too embedded in our cultural life to disappear. 

Disney or Netflix could buy cinema chains, possibly saving some theatres from going out of business. This would be a throw-back to the early days of Hollywood when studios owned the primary means of distribution and were banned from doing so in 1948. It’s a sign of how theatrical is valued by Netflix and others streaming platforms that their prestigious feature titles are given a release in theatres. 

Virtual sets are a fascinating innovation but I think they are quite limited at this stage. The technology is not yet accessible to all budgets. The films I personally enjoy watching and shooting are the ones that reflect more of my experience of shooting documentaries when I can take audiences into real spaces with real people. It is the things that you don’t plan that make a film special. I’m not sure that virtual production is able at this moment to connect an audience to people or worlds as intimately.” 

Mark Harrison_DPP

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison, CEO, DPP 

“The easiest prediction to make about 2021 is that it will make 2020 seem oddly straightforward. Stand by for people – sometime around late Spring 2021 – observing ‘well at least in 2020 we knew where we were: working remotely!’  

The reason 2021 will be so confusing and stressful is that it will see a collision of circumstances. First, Covid will constrain behaviours for enough of the year to ensure that most companies will be operating on greatly reduced budgets. Second, Covid will end early enough in the year to trigger an extraordinary burst of creative energy and consumer spending.  

This switchback in social and economic conditions will have hugely complex impacts on the media industry. Internet native services and their suppliers could be in for another strong year. Meanwhile companies with more legacy could emerge determined to reposition, but burdened by budgetary austerity and organisational restructures. It will be a great time to be in production – except for being constantly asked to do more for even less. This could be a year of catastrophic evolution – that’s to say, a time when the industry leaps forward, but with many falling by the wayside in the process. 

Among all this change chaos, I predict we’ll see a far stronger and more enthusiastic return to in-person working than most are currently anticipating. People long for the company of others – and the more cautious will feel left out, and quickly waver. Meanwhile social normalisation will come too late for most trade shows to function normally – and that will trigger some new approaches to building business connections (hint: it won’t be via vendor webinars).  

And finally, the one welcome victim of Covid will be conference panels about whether we should transition to the Cloud. Along with VR and Quibi, they will be so pre-Covid.” 

amy vincent

Amy Vincent

ASC Future Practices Committee Co-Chairs Amy Vincent, ASC and Craig Kief, ASC 

“With great crisis always comes great innovation. Cinematographers are creative problem solvers, resilient under challenging working conditions, and passionate about their craft. The adoption of Covid-19 safety protocols has been implemented smoothly, and our crews have become accustomed to the routines after a fairly short amount of time. 

The pandemic will leave us with technological and procedural changes that will enhance filmmakers’ ability to collaborate and communicate far into the future. The ability to do much of our work remotely has streamlined the way we work in prep, as well as in postproduction. Virtual location scouting, monitoring camera feeds over iPads on set or in in another city, cameras operated from small remote heads, and remote lighting controls will be an essential part of the cinematographer’s toolkit going forward. 

As always, cinematographers and their vendors will continue to have a close and devoted relationship into 2021, as protocols, schedules, and budgets fluctuate. The economics of the pandemic have hit hard, yet we will rise together to meet the demands of our industry.  

The pressure to create new content has grown dramatically during the stay-at-home orders, as viewers reach the end of their streaming queues. We anticipate content creation to reach new highs in 2021. We hope the competition for viewers will drive studios to create compelling series and films they can achieve with story, talent, and imagery. 

We look to our producers to provide us with adequate time and resources required to maintain the artistry that will support the bold and brilliant stories which will emerge from this year of uncertainty. With diversity and inclusion initiatives running strong, we also need to maintain our commitment to training, education, and mentorship to serve the growing need for crew.”