When the stay at home order in California took effect, we had about 35 episodes of television and four feature films that were in various stages of picture and sound editorial. Naturally, everyone hoped they would get finished, but there was no clear path for exactly how that would be accomplished.
The biggest challenges were for the picture and video departments — at our various studio and network clients. They had the technology to work remotely, but were not necessarily set up to do so. Thus began an impressive mad scramble for these departments to make that happen.
Thankfully, the transition for us at King Soundworks was pretty seamless. Most of our sound editors have worked from home for many years as a way to reduce time lost to traffic and to reduce carbon pollution. As a result, we already had protocols and extremely stringent security measures in place to protect our media.
I live about an hour (1.5 with traffic) outside of Los Angeles in a small town called Santa Paula, and had already built a mix room at my house in the late ’90s. I did a big chunk of the sound design and pre-mixing for Michael Mann’s movie The Insider (“Best Sound” Oscar nomination) remotely in 1999, the final mix was then done at one of the theatrical mix stages at one of the major movie studios. I then proceeded to follow the same pattern for Micheal’s next movie
Ali, starring Will Smith. Other movies such as
Friday Night Lights,
Saving Mr. Banks and
The Founder were done in the same manner.
When it was time to do the TV series version of Friday Night Lights, I wanted to do this as a one-man mix, which I did at my home studio. I built a small duplicate mix stage adjacent to the
Friday Night Lights writers’ offices and would hop on my motorcycle from Santa Paula down to Santa Monica with a hard drive in my backpack and spend a few hours with producer Jeff Henry and showrunner Jason Katims to do notes. This worked so well we did the same thing for the series
Over the last few years, I had reduced working remotely because it is quite frankly lonely. It is also very demanding to do an entire episode by yourself, and it is nice to have that second set of ears to bounce around ideas. It will be interesting to see where this settles after we relax the social distancing measures. I mentioned some of the positives earlier: less stress on the worker caused by commuting, especially if you need to slog into Hollywood; better for the environment; and better for traffic. It can also be more productive: it didn’t matter at what hour I got a thought or idea, I could just walk into my studio and work on it.
My gut tells me we won’t return to the way things were, but we won’t remain in this state either. I foresee a hybrid, one where more people work remotely but still will take the option to go into the office for critical items. Spotting sessions and meetings can take place via Zoom or Skype. I think we may see fewer people attending mix playbacks and reviews. A benefit of this would be to allow for more time to be spent on substantive creative discussions and notes rather than attending to the minor, inconsequential ones. I foresee processes becoming simpler.
The technology available that has allowed us to work remotely is impressive, but what I find even more impressive is the Herculean effort our industry has taken to join together, tolerate the snafu and work as a solid, cohesive team to get these shows on the air (or streaming). I’ve always had a lot of respect for all of my colleagues in the post world, but now I’m also really proud of them, or more aware of how proud I am of them might be a better way to put it. At the time of this writing, it looks like we’re going to get all of these episodes and films completed.
Gregory King is the founder of King Soundworks (www.kingsoundworks.com)
with studios in Van Nuys and Burbank, CA. Current projects include Cosmos: Possible Worlds (pictured, above), Away (Netflix), Charmed (CW), In the Dark (CBS) and Tacoma FD (TruTV). Current features are Fatale, starring Hilary Swank, and The Little Things (Warner Bros.).