TORONTO — Ashley Shields-Muir and Connor Jessup founded the independent film production compnany Big & Quiet Pictures back in 2014, with the goal of making personal, director-driven films with people they like. In addition, Shields-Muir also works as a production manager and line producer in Toronto and throughout the country, with recently credits in projects for Searchlight Pictures, Blumhouse and Netflix.
As production manager on The Craft: Legacy, she was faced with re-shooting the film’s final scenes during lockdown. Here, she talks about overcoming these unexpected challenges and how production was able to employ a remote workflow.
How were you able to shift the way you worked during the COVID lockdown?
“We actually filmed the majority of The Craft: Legacy in 2019, so before the pandemic started. However in the summer of 2020, we were called upon to do a pretty substantial re-shoot. At that time, I was in Winnipeg shooting another feature film, and it just so happened that the actress needed for the re-shoot, Michelle Monaghan, was also in the same area. Given the circumstances, with travel restrictions and quarantining, as well as our own schedule on-set in Winnipeg, we couldn’t relocate in order to do the re-shoot. Additionally we couldn’t bring Zoe Lister-Jones (the writer-director) in from Los Angeles. It was key to Blumhouse that Zoe directed this re-shoot, as it involved some major changes to the ending of the film. That’s when we decided to call Brandon Cooper at First Mile Technologies to help support this production, and they suggested we use Dejero’s EnGo mobile transmitters to support the collaborative remote way of working.”
What were some of the challenges you encountered during the shutdown?
“We had many challenges during the shutdown. The crew were literally scattered across North America. The producer and director were in Los Angeles, the main unit DP was in New York City. The original dept heads on the main unit were back in Toronto, and the line producer and myself were in Winnipeg. With travel restrictions in place, we simply couldn’t get everyone onto the same set. We had to figure out how best to get everyone collaborating as though they were all on-set together without everyone physically being in one place.
“Once we learned that we could create a remote workflow, our next concern was connectivity. We had already experienced some internet issues in Winnipeg while we were filming our main production, as internet dropout can be a real issue in the province. But Brandon assured us that the technology between First Mile and Dejero’s mobile transmitters would be successful, and I trusted him.”
Tell us about the set up that you employed?
“First Mile set up an innovative remote workflow for us. It was something we had never tried before. Without First Mile’s support and the Dejero EnGo transmitter at our disposal, the entire process, from shooting and directing to editing and reviewing, would have taken 10 times longer, and may not have even been possible. The EnGo transmitted realtime feeds from the set into First Mile’s Frame Web RTC viewing platform, which enabled all of our then home-based creatives to remotely view high resolution video feeds from set with ultra-low latency within a simple browser. We used iPads and Zoom to connect director Zoe Lister-Jones, so that she could not only give direction to the actors, but the production crew too – for setting lights, the dolly, flags, checking costumes, etc.
“The First Mile Frame gave Zoe and the rest of the creatives a window into exactly what was being shot, with incredible video quality and reliability. All of this gave us a real sense of collaboration, even though we were all working remotely. From a production manager/producer perspective, I instantly started to recognize how valuable this system could be, not only in a pandemic, where travelling for work was being avoided, but also from the perspective of how we’ll be working in two or three years’ time. It doesn’t always make organizational, or financial sense for three producers to travel to the set or for second unit directors from all over the country to travel to one location. With this technology in place, the main unit director could essentially reshoot from wherever they happened to be. If we also consider climate change and reducing carbon footprints when shooting a film, this way of working can also be hugely beneficial to the environment.
Would you recommend this workflow to other production companies?
“Collaborating with the First Mile team made us realize that this technology is such a flexible and affordable tool. It can be adjusted, moulded and formed to work on any size of project – which is really important to me as someone who also works in the indie community. It can be used just as easily by production companies with big budgets, as those smaller independents. I would recommend this solution to big established directors, just as much as I would to film school students. It is an effective tool that enables collaboration through remote working.
“For us, it was an integral tool during the pandemic – in the immediate sense, it was really convenient and it made our already challenging jobs much easier to perform. We felt like we were doing the movie and the creative team justice as they were as close to the ground as they could possibly be in the circumstances, but it also has endless possibilities in the future.”
What was The Craft: Legacy shooting with on-set?
“We shot on the Arri Alexa Mini camera - anamorphic - on Panavision lenses. The DP, Hillary Fyfe Spera, wanted to shoot a mix of some older and newer glass. Panavision sent us a camera body and several of the same replica lenses that we used on main unit in Toronto,out to Winnipeg. Our camera team in Winnipeg spent a prep-day working with the camera package and the First Mile/Dejero technology to make sure that it was integrated into the workflow. First Mile provided us with tech support on the prep day to ensure that any possible bugs were worked out immediately. Our DIT on the Winnipeg shoot took point on the tech on the ground on the day.”
What have you been working on lately and are still employing a remote workflow?
“Most recently, I have worked as a production manager on 2nd Unit for Netflix’s Locke & Key, Netflix’s Wedding Season, The Craft: Legacy, The Invisible Man, and Ready or Not. I hope to continue to work with Brandon and First Mile Technologies.”