In mid-March, media and entertainment companies across the globe and throughout the industry began to face what China had experienced since January — the realities of the Coronavirus Pandemic social distancing and isolation. Amidst this public health crisis, companies abruptly confronted extreme technical and workflow challenges while continuing to create and distribute content.
During this historic outbreak, Signiant launched “The Pandemic Series,” a collection of articles, interviews, and other content from the industry, for the industry.
As part of the series, Signiant interviewed industry professionals on how they transitioned and maintained remote work, what their challenges and successes were, and what lessons they’ve learned from it. Each one is a snapshot in time from their particular company, industry, geography, and personal perspective.
Kingston, Jamaica | August 1, 2020
SIGNIANT: Tell us about Frame of Reference.
TWAIN RICHARDSON: Frame of Reference is the only post production facility in the English-speaking Caribbean. We’ve been in operation for over nine years, working on documentaries, music videos, commercials, and TV shows. We have been championing the post production industry here in Jamaica.
It’s three of us on staff, and from time to time, we’ll have as many as four freelancers we carry on. I like to keep it small enough where if there’s a certain shift we need to make, we’re not too big where it would take us months to implement any form of change. At any given minute, we can decide, “Okay, we’re going to make a shift from using this software to this software,” and it wouldn’t necessarily stop us from actually carrying out any work.
I’m an owner/operator. What that means is that I also work within the business. I’m the lead colorist here and also do editing, as well.
SIGNIANT: The U.S. and the U.K. transitioned to remote work roughly at the same time. What was it like in Jamaica?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: It was May when the country went on lockdown; pretty much nothing was taking place. There was no production happening. I think our spike happened about a month-and-a-half-ago, and currently, we’re at about 900 cases. So, we got it under control early.
For us, lucky enough, we didn’t stop working when the pandemic started. Of course, there were projects in the pipeline we lost, but we got projects to make up for those
SIGNIANT: What was your transition to working remotely like? Did you close completely?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: Because we aren’t a large facility, making the shift to work from home was a pretty easy transition for us. That was started within a day [of the lockdown], and we were working as if we were still in office. I think the biggest challenge for us was everyone having a decent enough internet access.
SIGNIANT: So, everybody is an island, working on media that’s in their home on drives.
TWAIN RICHARDSON: In their homes, on drives. Yes.
SIGNIANT: How was media getting to everyone?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: There’s just one of us at the office, which is me, and the editors are working from home. So, the media is brought to me, I upload it to our QNAP server, and I send a link to the files. We just open the link and pull the files down.
For instance, we completed a music video a couple of days ago. We created proxy files and sent them to the editor. Once the video was finalized, he just sent us a project file. We did the conform and the master here.
SIGNIANT: So, you’re the hub: everything comes to you, you put the media on your server, and then you send a link from the server to remote editors?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: Yes.
SIGNIANT: Is that the process you had before, or did the pandemic force you to do something new?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: No, that was largely the system we had before.
For the work I do in New York, I use a software called Splashtop to remote into a computer located in New York. We’re able to work as if we’re sitting in front of the computer there. We’ve been doing that form of remote work for a few years with colorist Yohance Brown. We remote into the computer, do the online, the conform, and set up so he can start grading. Or, if we are doing the grade, we’ll remote into the computer, do the online, and bake a ProRes file that we’ll then send to ourselves. We grade it here on our system, on our reference monitors, and send it back to them.
There are a few cases where we were sent the media, did all of the grading, and then sent it back. But for the most part, we remote into computers there and do the online/conform, or there are instances where we were doing commercials where we do the conform, send that media to ourselves, and do the grade here.
SIGNIANT: As an owner, is there any infrastructure or operational change you need to implement as the pandemic continues? Is there anything that you think your business needs to put in place in reaction to the pandemic?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: Outside of the social distancing, and practicing of washing hands, not much really. One of the things that I’ve done is that if someone is coming to drop off media, the very first thing is they go to the restroom and wash their hands. We have sanitizers we use to sanitize the packages, and they have to wear a mask.
Again, there weren’t a lot of clients who were coming to the office before. If a client comes, it’s usually to drop off the media; we’ll do the work; they review on Frame.io; and then [we] send the final files to them. So, it’s not a case where I can say, “Oh, well, then we’re not going to have too many clients in the office.” That wasn’t the case before.
We’re now contemplating, “Is there a need for this physical space, physical office space?” Because, if clients weren’t coming here before, we’re all working from home, and it has been working so seamlessly, then why is there a need for a physical space? I’m considering moving, at least downsizing the size of the office.
SIGNIANT: How was the transition to working remotely for your employees and freelancers?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: It was different. One of the things that they were trying to get used to is not being in the office, not seeing everyone, getting to have those conversations — the water-cooler kind of conversations
But they loved the fact there isn’t a set time where they’d have to be up and get to the office, work from 10:00 to 5:00, and then go home. Now they can get up at 10:00. They can put in a few hours of work. They can take a break, and then if they want to, they can do some work at night. If they want to put in an extra hour in the evening, they could. They’re not tied to the office space, in terms of, “You have to be creative between these hours!” If creativity hits at 12:00 in the night, then, okay, they’re able to jump in and do some work. So, they do like it.
SIGNIANT: Is it harder for you to manage?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: Somewhat, it is. But one of the things I have emphasized over the years is that we all know the role we have to play. We all know there’s a timeframe in which we have to deliver or deadlines we have to meet. So, it wasn’t the case where I was actually over someone’s back, ensuring they’re doing this work, et cetera. Everyone knows that he/she has a deadline for Wednesday; they know they need to meet that deadline; they know that they need to put in X-amount of hours to get the work done.
SIGNIANT: What have been the biggest challenges for you during the last couple of months?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: Honestly, I think one of the biggest challenges is that because the clients know that some of us are working from home now, they think we’re on call 24/7. So, at 11, 12 in the night, they think, “Oh, you should be answering emails or taking calls on things that can wait until the next day.” That has been a challenge that I’ve had since the start of lockdown.
SIGNIANT: While Frame of Reference has implemented remote workflows for a while now, there is a new appreciation in the industry about it. Does that open up markets for you to get new business?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: Yes, it does. This definitely opens up the market for us. We’ve been pushing remote work for a number of years. We’ve been laughed at for trying to do remote work. Now, the only way to work is remote. Now we can say, “Okay, there is talent in Jamaica that can give you the same quality of work as if it was someone in the States.”
Also, it’s more cost-effective to use talent in Jamaica. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like to save money. So, if I’m getting the same great quality of work, then why wouldn’t I use somebody who is working remotely? So yes, it definitely opens the market for us. It levels the playing field a bit, and we’re excited. We’re very excited for it, to see exactly what the future holds, in terms of working remotely.
SIGNIANT: Do you see the pandemic continue to affect the industry and your work?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: For the next year, I think it’s definitely going to be an issue. We’re already seeing it with a lot of people out of work. I know things are starting to open back up, but that’s still trickling in. People are being extremely cautious, which, of course, we need to be. But there’s still a lot of people who might not be able to work in production, because, instead of having a set with 50 people, in order to follow social distancing that might have to be cut to 20 people. So, some people still are going to be out of work. Post is affected, because if we can’t shoot, then we can’t have editing, color, and visual effects. It’s definitely going to affect the industry.
SIGNIANT: As a leader, has your experience during the pandemic changed you in any way? Have you learned anything?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: What I realized is I had to have more empathy. I had to be more understanding. While I’m able to continue championing on, the staff may not be able to. At the end of the day, we’re in the middle of a crisis, and while I can laser-in and focus, it doesn’t mean the staff will be able to.
It takes different thinking. I will say, at the start of the pandemic, it wasn’t something that was at the forefront of my mind. For me, it was, “Okay, let’s just continue working.” But after a few weeks and talking with other friends who have businesses, I learned and adjusted. I adjusted my thinking on how we’ll move forward.
So, it was just having more empathy, having more understanding, actually giving people time off to reset, and to clear the mind. There’s a lot going on in the world outside of work. Again, lucky enough, we were able to still work, but we have staff whose spouses lost their work, and how is it they’re going to be able now to move forward? It’s stepping in and helping where we can to make sure that we’re all doing well.
SIGNIANT: Do you have any advice for your peers?
TWAIN RICHARDSON: We’re in challenging times, we’re in tough times. If you need a day or two to rest, and to reset, and to clear your mind, then please do so. There are a lot of things changing right in front of us, and it’s hard for us to take in. So, take care of your mental health, take care of yourself, and just try to keep pushing on.
It’s hard to say, “Keep pushing on!” when you don’t have any work, you don’t have any income coming in. But you can’t give up. So just try to push on. If there’s any way that I can help, please feel free to reach out. If it’s just somebody to talk to, someone just to have a conversation with, or anyway I can recommend you, or something. I’m here. It’s a tough time. A lot of us just need a listening ear. I’m all ears. I’m all ears.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.