5 Big Ways Technology Has Changed the Workplace on Set (2023)
Recent developments have made the modern workplace on set today vastly different than it used to be. Technological advances have changed production processes in unexpected ways, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’ve written previously about how daily tasks have evolved in recent years due to the use of technology in all areas of the production process. Digital tools that boost efficiency have opened a world of possibilities in our industry, as in many other industries.
The impact of technology on filmmaking is immense, and the influx of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence tools, is changing our work environment forever. The future of work on set will never be the same.
Here are five big ways new technology has changed and will continue to change the workplace on set:
Communication technology has changed the way the industry functions, and that includes working on set. There are numerous ways technology has changed how we communicate, and the use of mobile devices is one of the biggest.
When I entered the industry in the 1980s, there was one set phone on stage for everyone on set to use, sometimes manned by a set p.a., and the actors all had landline phones in their trailers.
Much of my job included relaying messages between the production office, actors, and crew members.
Then came the fax machine. It seemed like one of the great technological advances when faxes were first introduced as workplace technology, and we could have call sheets and other paperwork faxed to us.
Today everyone has their own device, making for more effortless communication and better time management.
Fortunately, we’ve come a long way in terms of technological innovation, and COVID-19 highlighted the importance of technology and online platforms like Zoom in keeping the industry connected during the lockdown. An internet connection became our lifeline for all types of business communications, and the collaboration tools we used are here to stay.
Industry unions have embraced new ways of communicating and technological changes that enhance the employee experience. Online webinars and workshops offered by unions and trade organizations are one of the benefits of technology that have continued in our industry post-pandemic, and there are plenty of them.
Workers outside major production centers now have access to opportunities that didn’t exist before, across all time zones.
It’s allowed remote workers in every location to participate, increasing employee engagement and enabling continuing education opportunities.
While social media often receives some much-deserved criticism, we can use it to promote ourselves and make new contacts. We can also follow industry leaders and groups we may not otherwise be able to access.
Online communication tools have made our workplace activities easier, even though we often take them for granted. Improved communication technology leads to better opportunities for everyone who works in our industry.
2. Digital Production Tools
The use of digital project management tools for all aspects of production will continue to increase as new products are developed and widely adopted. Scriptation, Sync on Set, and Scenechronize are some digital tools available today that help team members do their best work.
Scriptation in particular has become a valuable and popular tool for managing scripts, revisions, and script notations.
The work hours are still long, but these tools increase employee productivity and help streamline the way people work.
When I was a trainee, we learned script breakdown and scheduling by using paper stripboards. They’re a rarity in modern day production.
The right tools for better results in production today are all digital. The right people using those tools is crucial, too.
The use of technology for all aspects of production also means better work, reduced human error, and more sustainability in our industry. That’s a big positive step for everyone.
3. Virtual Production
The modern technology of combining the virtual and physical worlds into what’s known as virtual production is changing filmmaking dramatically. The Mandalorian used virtual production techniques extensively during the pandemic and still does to create the numerous otherworldly sets we see on screen.
One useful aspect of virtual production over green screens on a show like The Mandalorian is there are no reflections from the screen onto the actors, which would have been problematic with the reflective metal suit worn by the character.
While virtual production hasn’t eliminated the use of green screens, more and more shows are foregoing green screens for virtual production techniques. Virtual production can reduce or even eliminate location filming for some projects, saving money and increasing control of the environment.
Amazon Studios recently opened a massive new virtual production stage and established an Amazon Studios Virtual Production Department. Stage 15 utilizes cloud services and is part of a production-in-the-cloud ecosystem. The enormous ASVP volume wall has over 3,000 LED panels and 100 motion capture cameras.
Even small studio spaces are installing large high-resolution LED screens, as I discovered at a recent industry event I attended. The rapid pace at which virtual production has taken off is revolutionizing the industry and will continue to grow in the foreseeable future.
4. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence tools have been around for a while, but the release of ChatGPT a few months ago amazed everyone by demonstrating how far the technology has advanced.
It’s not perfect, but advances in AI are opening new windows into what’s possible for every industry. A visual storytelling medium like filmmaking is no exception.
In the near future, we’ll be seeing more AI tools developed specifically for our industry. Programs like Flawless and Runway are already being widely used.
Generative AI tool Flawless enables what’s known as visual dubbing. Perfectly lipped synced visual translations are now possible using Flawless, which can impact the industry in multiple areas. It uses sound to create what an actor's face would look like saying specific words. Of course, this technology can and has also been used to create deep fakes.
SAG-AFTRA is monitoring the use of AI tools like Flawless closely, as they can alter an actor’s performance in many ways. Actors may find they’re saying words not in the script and that they never agreed to say when they accepted the job.
I suspect we’ll be hearing more about this issue as technology advances, and it may be a point discussed in future union contract talks.
AI in filmmaking will continue to grow with advances in technology.
5. Sustainability on Set
Technology has enabled less paper usage, less fuel usage, and more sustainability on and off set. Recycling and sustainability used to be an afterthought in our industry, but no more.
Now even the DGA has a Sustainability Committee, and we have alternatives to the wasteful practices that have existed for so long in our industry.
The pandemic encouraged everyone to utilize contactless systems for repetitive tasks. That led to increased use of project management software, digital call sheets, and video chats among other things.
The traditional office and the world of work changed in our industry, and increased sustainability and less waste are positive results of that change.
There’s no reason that even the most important tasks and business processes can’t be more environmentally friendly, and technological advances mean the industry is finally progressing on that front.
Anyone who has worked in the film industry for more than a decade has seen vast changes, none bigger than the technological changes in the workplace that have taken place in the past few years.
The right technology has enabled remote employees to be part of the production process with the click of a mouse, and there’s been a dramatic increase in the use of virtual production techniques.
These are positive changes for the film industry and those of us who work in it. We can rest assured that more advances in technology are on the way and will affect how we all work.