Season 3 of the Now & Next Podcast: 8 Takeaways from 8 Episodes
It’s been a year in which coming up with creative solutions to pressing problems has taken on a whole new meaning for the screen-based industries. And season 3 of the Now & Next podcast has made it a priority to explore the range of ways in which people in film, TV, games, and digital content creation have been keeping things up and running during the long haul that is Covid-19.
Not surprisingly, we found a number of common threads emerging over the course of the 8 episodes of this season:
- A new community-minded focus taking precedence for everyone from entrepreneurs to industry associations
- An awareness of the ongoing challenges of implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives that go beyond ‘ticks in boxes’
- A deeper understanding of the new demands on digital creatives working from home and for actors and crews working on set during Covid-19
As a handy guide to Season 3 of the podcast we’re offering up these 8 takeaways from 8 episodes.
Takeaway: In a time of crisis helping the industry helps everyone
On this episode we meet a young serial entrepreneur named Alex Kolodkin who, when Covid-19 led to a shutdown of movie and TV sets across Canada, started a new company to help equip the industry with up to date and accurate health and safety information that was vetted by a team of medical professionals and that also provided certification for TV & film professionals. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But there’s a twist. He isn’t charging anything for the services offered by this latest venture, called Safe Sets International. Why is that you ask? Alex explains it this way:
“I felt useless sitting at home while Covid ravaged the industry. There were times where I was just twiddling my thumbs and thinking, I wish I could do something, and the only thing I can do is sit at home…[but] when I see that there's a challenge, my instinct as an entrepreneur is: how can I help? That's where Safe Sets came from. My way of helping is just to get education out there for everybody, and I think it's the simplest thing I could have done.”
Takeaway: Achieving meaningful diversity & inclusion continues to be a challenge in TV & film
“I've been hearing about creating diversity and inclusion since the late '70s. I've sat at more roundtable discussions about increased diversity and inclusion than most people have. And the needle is moving very slowly.” Those are the words of award-winning actor and founder and Executive Director of the ReelWorld Film Festival Tonya Williams.
Tonya joined us on the podcast to talk about both the achievements made and challenges faced over her 20 years with the festival whose focus is to support and showcase the work of Canada’s racially diverse filmmaking and production community. Most recently Tonya launched Access ReelWorld, the most complete database of Black, Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American talent in the Canadian entertainment industry.
Takeaway: Boundary-pushing technology doesn’t have to mean big budgets
What if, instead of bringing all the elements of a live action set together in one place – the actors, crews, props, and locations – filmmakers could build out the production digitally, one layer at a time? That’s the promise of virtual production, the approach to filmmaking we’re exploring in this episode with the Alberta-based production team of Andrew Scholotiuk and Dylan Pearce.
In recent years this style of production has moved from the exclusive domain of mega budget, major studio movies to the more modest budgets of indie and DIY filmmakers. This is because truly cinematic visual effects can now be rendered in real time using iPhones and video game engines like Unity and the Unreal Engine. As Dylan Pearce explains in this episode:
“If you have an iPhone or a camera that utilizes face capture technology, you can start to play with creating your own face capture and digital avatar. You can open up Unreal and use your phone, and then you can start to digitally move around a character's face in real time. There’s also an app that utilizes your phone to fully mo-cap somebody. Now, this might not be Hollywood level grade, but it's a wonderful foundation to learn the platform and to get familiar with it so that when you do have a production, you understand it and you can put your money in the right places for it. I think that's the first step.”
Takeaway: Production can be green even during Covid-19
On this episode we meet Clara George, a pioneer in the greening of film and TV sets. Clara has spent close to three decades working as a producer in film and TV and during this time became increasingly aware of how little things could make a big difference when it came to reducing the environmental impact of production.
Today, being in charge of sustainability initiatives is Clara’s full-time job, and she’s been able to do everything from keeping eco-consciousness on set top of mind, even during Covid-19, to reducing her productions’ overall carbon footprint by shifting from fossil fuels to the clean grid of hydroelectric power. Clara’s current plan is to take these sustainability initiatives put into place on her productions in Vancouver and create a template for the whole industry.
Takeaway: Virtual schmoozing is real, especially in the game industry
Almost every industry says it’s a relationship industry, but the game industry is probably more reliant on in-person networking and trade shows than other media and entertainment sectors. Just ask anyone who has attended events like GDC in San Francisco, E3 in Los Angeles, or GamesCom in Cologne, Germany, and you’ll likely get an earful of stories about these epic gatherings of tens of thousands of people and round the clock socializing.
And then Covid hit in March, and the game industry was one of the first to go into ‘safe mode’. Developers, designers, and project managers grabbed their headphones and computers and quickly moved to working from home. Covid meant those legendary industry events were no longer possible. But then the Canadian game industry responded, with a virtual version of a large-scale networking event that came about as a collaboration between the provincial interactive media associations across the country.
On this episode we’ll hear about how a variety of game studios have been adapting, and how the virtual networking offered by the new Canada Games Online event helped keep the industry’s momentum going by bringing studios together with publishers, investors, and other strategic partners.
Takeaway: Movies can be social, even when we’re home alone
Sometimes it takes a pandemic to take an interesting idea and push it to the next level. That has certainly been the case for Hilary Henegar and Fiona Rayher, the two British Columbia-based entrepreneurs behind Hoovie. The project started as small, in person screenings of ‘conversation sparking’ movies, generally from the film festival circuit. But during Covid, Hoovie has been nudged into its next incarnation, as a technology platform.
On this episode you’ll hear about how Hilary and Fiona have orchestrated the shift from a business model based on backyard and living room screenings to virtual events that aim to cultivate community by bringing a social dimension to the viewing experience as well as providing a new way for filmmakers to reach audiences.
Takeaway: A 20-something from small town Saskatchewan has a few things to teach Disney
Jacob Pratt describes himself as “just a res kid”, a reference to having grown up on the George Gordon First Nation reserve, about 100 km north of Regina. These days that ‘kid’ from Saskatchewan finds himself based in Los Angeles, having recently completed a Masters degree at the University of Southern California, and running Skoden Entertainment, an Indigenous story focused entertainment production company.
His first client? The multinational media and entertainment conglomerate called Disney.
On this episode Jacob explains his journey from the Canadian prairies to the heart of the global entertainment industry, and how he convinced Disney that the best way to break decades of on-screen stereotypes of Indigenous peoples was to work with him and his company. As Jacob puts it: “How can we reverse or eliminate those stereotypes? The number one answer for me was: Use the same medium that created and reinforced those stereotypes to reverse them.”
Episode 8: When going to work means never leaving home
Takeaway: The shift to work from home mode may not be as simple as it seems
We’ve all heard the saying ‘be careful what you wish for’. Well this year it’s taken on a new meaning, as millions of people no longer have to wonder about how great working from home is, or perhaps isn’t. On this episode of the podcast we meet Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan and Jim Munroe, two long time game arts and industry professionals whose current project is conducting research and reporting on what the shift to working from home has been like for people in the game industry.
Marie and Jim are currently putting the finishing touches on the report, and its title, “Isolation Nation”, provides a hint at some of the findings. Not surprisingly, many are feeling anxious and alone and are having to learn new skills, such as being their own boss and finding ways to keep their morale up without the usual office socializing and team building events.
Marie describes the research project this way: “People are really isolated right now, and I say that's more the case for people making games, especially small studios. Life is easier when people can solve problems together. So the goal of this project is to gather knowledge from people making games all over Canada, in small studios, in larger studios, or people working alone. And then gather that knowledge together into one resource so that people can share the things that they’re struggling with, and how they’re getting past them.”