From interactive episodes of Black Mirror to Bear Grylls’ latest series, Netflix’s post-production operation and supply chain is responsible for servicing the insatiable appetite for original content that will see it deliver more than 1,000 branded shows this year.
The Netflix supply chain, which underpins its rapid growth, is set to become even more integral to everything from editorial to user experience as it attempts to become the most innovative content creator on the planet.
“Where companies like Netflix are producing content at unprecedented levels of complexity, quality and velocity, we need to rethink what post is as a creative function,” Sean Cooney, Netflix director, Worldwide Post Production tells IBC365.
“We’re at the beginning of experimentation with many different formats and technologies and many new ways an audience can enjoy our content. We want to find ways to express stories that are not constrained in one traditional framework or dictated by the limitations of technology.”
It all points to an early stage integration of post processes that is going to be increasingly necessary for Netflix continued success.
“We are at a pivotal time in our industry where we stand at the end of the era dominated by the impact, legacy and elegance of that hundred plus year old technology called film and the evolution of what we think of as ‘video,’” says, Leon Silverman, director, Post Operations and Creative Services. “What is really interesting about a company like Netflix is that its culture comes as much from Silicon Valley as from Hollywood. It has a deep affinity for creating entertainment and for technology innovation.”
Silverman has spent the past decade at Disney, where he built its in-house editorial, sound and digital media operations team and infrastructure before joining Netflix in February
“The fact is, I wasn’t looking for a new job, but I was looking for “what’s next,” says the veteran who also spent more than a quarter of a century at former Kodak-owned facility Laser Pacific (now part of Technicolor) leaving as president. He was a founder and former president of trade body Hollywood Professional Association where he continues to serve on the organisation’s board of directors.
“Hollywood has always been a meeting place for art and the technical sciences, but these have been siloed and segregated in many parts of the traditional system. In some ways, moving to Netflix is a culmination of everything I have been trying to achieve throughout my career. Its ethos is about the intersection of technology and creativity in order to innovate new forms of storytelling. Netflix has the resources, the vision and the talent to align these goals.”
“One of the challenges is making sure that the talent we work with feel they are creatively supported even while we operate on a such a large scale,” Sean Cooney, Netflix
Pointedly, Silverman adds: “I know how hard it is to get the people, resources and freedom to create innovation in big companies. I’ve worked with many brilliant people in my career, but my Netflix colleagues have a level of intellect and smarts, where they don’t make it about themselves. This culture is all about the freedom and responsibility to drive impactful results.”
Netflix global post operation is in Los Angeles, where it employs the majority of its 275 person staff. Cooney explains that this comprises teams that manage shows from a budgetary, scheduling and creative standpoint together with technical and engineering teams that are advancing imaging and sound and user design “to create next generation immersive entertainment.”
Forty-five post-production staff are currently stationed in international post hubs including London and Amsterdam but with regional content increasingly important to the growth of the company, this number is set to grow and with it the complexity of Netflix’s post-production operation. The aim is to streamline core functions like localisation, QC, asset management and archive while increasing output from Asia, Latin America and Europe.
“Every title must go through that pipeline while on-the-ground management of the craft functions on shows such as editorial and finishing happens remotely and under the management of partners, freelance creatives and third-party vendors,” explains Cooney. “One of the challenges is making sure that the talent we work with feel they are creatively supported even while we operate on a such a large scale. We want to continue to provide a boutique experience even as we expand.”
Those aren’t just platitudes. Netflix does receive positive reviews from showrunners, directors, editors and cinematographers for the creative space it gives them. There’s recognition, too, of the importance of existing relationships with dozens of third-party post houses, freelance artists and tech vendors.
“Netflix has spent a lot of time cultivating deep relationships in the post community but as we get more and more involved in upstream production we want to focus on streamlining handoffs from the creative side of production to content finishing, localisation and delivery to our service,” says Silverman.
The use of the cloud to connect globally located creatives is a part of the discussion but there’s also an emphasis on connecting this ecosystem to the physical spaces where creative work is done. “We have a need to be present where creatives are located - whether that’s New York, Singapore, Brazil, Berlin or Mumbai and we need to take as much friction out of the process as possible,” Cooney says.
While this makes sense from a business point of view, there’s a creative intent too. Bandersnatch, the breakthrough interactive drama from the Black Mirror team, could not have been realised without close collaboration from editorial all the way to user interface design.
“We developed special technology to enable audience interaction but that had to work in concert with our engineering and product teams and with editorial and post teams,” Cooney says. “This involved multiple departments working to create a unique end-to-end experience and figuring out how the branching of storylines can work. It meant the user interface guys talking with [Charlie Brooker] about the script and with every department in between that touches the content.”
Netflix’s investment reportedly includes ‘state tracking’ which logs the choices viewers make as they watch the Bandersnatch episode. New technology also enables the narrative branches to load without any lags and a writing tool called Branch Manager suitable for multiple choice scripts.
“As we see more synthetic content and nonlinear content such as Bandersnatch there’s more than a realisation that post is integral to the greenlight process.” Leon Silverman, Netflix
There are plans to explore other genre including romantic comedy, in nonlinear fashion but next up is live-action interactive factual You vs. Wild. Debuting April 10 and fronted by survival expert Bear Grylls, viewers will apparently have the power to control which decision Grylls makes as he climbs mountains and enters jungles.
There are plans for more nonlinear drama as well as experiments with just about every cutting-edge media and technique from VR to virtual production. “We have teams exploring virtual production just as we are interested in experimenting with every intersection where technology meets creativity to innovate new formats spanning film, TV and immersive media,” Cooney says.
In doing so a new role is envisioned for post, one that collapses the traditional boundaries separating it from production. It’s an idea that has been envisioned for years but Netflix may have the resources and gung-ho attitude to finally make it happen.
“We are at a time now where the very notion of a serial progression from content inception to production to editorial then finish to distribution is anachronistic,” Silverman says. “’Post’ is not ‘after’ anything as much as it has become the underlying fabric of content creation, production and distribution. As we see more synthetic content and nonlinear content such as Bandersnatch there’s more than a realisation that post is integral to the greenlight process.”
He adds, “It would be great to have the ability to rethink, reset, recharge and reinvent large parts of our industry to create better colour, editorial, VFX and finishing pipelines and essentially create a cloud-based creative supply chain connected and integrated fully with the creative and physical places all over the globe where content is made. This will take real work and a lot of dialogue to move our industry forward, but the fact is, if there is any organisation or group of people anywhere that can bring content creators together with creative technology innovation in service of global storytelling, it is Netflix.”