The present and future of post production business and technology

Why are most production workflows inefficient?

In my experience few productions – be they film or television – are well planned from a workflow perspective. It seems that people do what’s apparently cheapest, or what they have done in the past. This is both dangerous – because the production workflow hasn’t been tested – and inefficient.

In a perfect world (oh *that* again!) the workflow would be thoroughly tested: shoot with the proposed camera, test the digital lab if involved; test the edit all the way through to the actual output of the project. Once the proposed workflow is tested it can be checked for improved efficiency at every step. Perhaps there are software solutions for automating parts of the process that require only small changes to the process to be extremely valuable. Perhaps there are alternatives that would save a lot of time and money if they were known about.

Instead of tested and efficient workflows, people tend to do “what they’ve done before”. When there are large amounts of money at stake on a film or TV series it’s understandable that people opt for the tried and true, even if it’s not particularly efficient because “it will work”.

Part of the problem is that people simply do not test their workflows. I’ve been involved with “film projects” (both direct to DVD and back out to cinematic release) where the workflow for post was not set until shooting had started. In one example the shoot format wasn’t known until less than a week before shooting started.

Maybe there was a time when you could simply rely on “what went before” for a workflow, but with the proliferation of formats and distribution outputs, there are more choices than ever to be made.

Which brings me to the other part of the problem. Most people making workflow decisions are producers, with input from their chosen editor. Chances are, unfortunately, that neither group are very likely to truly understand the technology that underpins the workflow – or even why the workflow “works”. They know enough of what they need to know to get by but my experience has been that most working producers and editors do not actively invest time into learning the technology and improving their own value.

And when they’re not working, they’re working on getting more work. Again, not surprising.

But somewhere along the way, we need producers to research and listen to advisors (like myself) who do understand the workflow and do have a working knowledge of changing technology that can be make a particular project much more efficient to produce, but I have no idea how to connect those producers with the people who can help.

We’ve seen, in just a little under two years, how technology can improve workflows, just with our relatively minor contributions:

Rent a couple of LockIt boxes (or equivalent) on set and save days and days synchronizing audio and video from dual system shoots;

Log your documentary material in a specific way, and take weeks off post production finding the stories in the material (Producers can even do a pre-edit);

Understand how to build a spreadsheet of your titles and how to make a Motion Template and automate the production of titles (and changes to same).

If you know you can recut a self contained file into it’s scene components, how does that change color correction for your project;

Import music with full metadata.

These are all examples of currently-available software tools from my company and others that are working to make post production more efficiently. I wrote more about this in my Filling in the NLE Gaps for DV Magazine.

My question though, is how do we encourage producers to “look around and see what’s available” and open up their workflows to a little modern technology. To this end, Intelligent Assistance is looking to work closely with a limited group of producers in 2010 to find ways to streamline, automate and make-more-robust postproduction workflows. So, if you’re a producer and want to save time and money in post, email me or post in the comments.

If you’ve got ideas on how encourage producers move toward more metadata-based workflows? How do we get the message out?




13 responses to “Why are most production workflows inefficient?”

  1. mark raudonis


    I agree with you 100%.

    Many producers only know enough “buzz words” to make dangerous decisions. DaVinci. Flame. Red. They may not know what those things are, but they want them… whether it’s appropriate or not. When in doubt, go with the “brand name”. For obvious reasons, the post workflow in the advertising world, embraces this kind of “brand” loyalty. (Perhaps not so much for brand name recognition as for high end hourly rate markups!)

    In the last year we have completely changed our post workflow… twice! It’s tough to keep up with the pace of change in this corner of our industry. But sticking with the tried and true is, in my opinion, not an option anymore. There’s simply too much advantage to be gained by using some of the new programs, technology and workflows that are now available.

    How do you encourage producers to “look around”? Perhaps you should start “branding” your process. You can call it the “Big Brain Process”.

    Good luck!


    1. I’m not sure that we have *a* process (yet). As for producers, I want to say “do some research” but I know that’s pointless. I’m a little at a loss here.

      We suspect that if we (Greg and I) spent any amount of time in a production environment we’d find ways we could create workflow software to help. Two more pieces in the work; one of which makes FCP media as bulletproof as Media Composer media. That would be nine pieces of workflow software developed in less than 2 years. Most as the result of a request and most far more powerful than that original request. Our expectation is that we could do a whole lot more.


  2. Philip,

    You are 100 percent correct in everything you’ve written above. My wife and I own our own production company, and we came up as a “crew of two” (to steal a title coined by they guys from Duality.) We wrote, shot, directed, edited, and created the graphics ourselves on numerous short films and reality TV pilots. Now that we do shows like Beauty and the Geek (which we ran for 3 Ball productions) and Scream Queens (our own show at VH1) that hands-on experience has become invaluable.

    When we tired of losing the “tech” battles at production companies who didn’t understand that tech decisions had huge creative impacts, we started our own company.

    Early on, I was the “tech guy” who studied every technological breakthrough to come down the pipeline, and integrate what made sense.

    Now, I don’t have time for that, so I make sure we have someone who MAKES the time. I might not know the answers to every question, but I know the questions to ask…something that can only come about by years of experience in the field.

    Since you asked…and if I may be so bold…I’ve championed exactly what you’re talking about in this post:

    Why You Need to be a Hands-On-Producer:

    I think that producers must be hands on early in their career, so that later on they are smart enough to hire people like you.

  3. This happens too often. Producers trying to tackle workflows they way they always used to. They get confronted with tapeless formats and instead of researching or hiring consultants to figure out what to do, they say “transfer it ALL to tape, and get me timecoded DVDs.” What?

    Many producers just say “we are doing to do things this way” and it is up to people to try to figure out how to get things to work THAT way. Only on a few occasions have I been consulted with the best way to do things before shooting started. And even then, the company switched from Avid to FCP, and I told them that they needed to talk to be before they started capturing so that I could go over organization with them. I kept reminding them but to no avail, I was hired a week AFTER capturing had started and organization was a mess. The assistant knew FCP, but not what to do in a SAN setup. “We were trying to save money” was the excuse. They didn’t, because we had to take a while to re-organize while we began editing. Overtime.

    I’m really tired of that.

    Some producers simply don’t believe what you tell them. That the plan you laid forth will save time and money. “No…I really prefer tape. I cannot see this saving money. We are going to do things THIS way.” Comfort level…they all just want comfort.

  4. I’m a freelance colorist based in NYC. I’ve worked at DI/color facilities from the most humble home set up with apple color to some of the top tier commercial color facilities. Though I agree with you for the most part there is the unfortunate reality that higher end facilities are adverse because budgets for the work done in there facilities are sufficiently fat that inefficiency is not a mayor issue as long as the client expectations are met.

    Take one very popular DI facility here in NY I found that thought the colorist there are A list, Best of the Best ect. the other members of the staff are generally younger, overworked and underpaid. (even the producers)

    Not only that but in this big company innovation and change is not encouraged at all. As a matter of fact employees know of better workflows and solutions for problems that company has however when I asked them why they have not advocated for such changes they expressed that if anything went wrong it would cost them their jobs because that company has a culture of finger pointing and self preservation above all else. I’ll add that these underpaid youngsters have very important jobs and they have an unusually high turnover rate.

    Smaller companies are more open to change as they are usually more efficient and budgets tend to be smaller therefore there is an incentive to keep things lean mean and as profitable as possible.

  5. Great post Philip. Yeah, Post Supes are *supposed* to have a handle on all those things that you mentioned but I think on a lot of productions they are under-utilized or non-existent. It would be nice if there was some kind of “workflow wiki” that producers could leverage. The information is out there but it just needs to start being filtered and organized into best practices. Books like “Final Cut Pro Workflows” and “Fix It In Post” are good but not nearly comprehensive enough and of course they get outdated so quickly. I know creating something like this is easier said than done especially given the near infinite variables and ever growing technologies into the media landscape but it’s not impossible. Is there anything out there like this already?

    1. You’re so right about workflows changing so quickly. Last Sept I was teaching a RED workflow class for Studio Arts and followed the Media Composer/Avid workflow document Avid produced for RED workflows. Turns out it was from April and *totally* out of date! Thanks to some list conversation I got corrected and Avid updated their documents.


  6. Tony Williams


    It would seem from your post that film production is going through the same hyper-distortion at the moment that print went through a few years ago.

    When print was changing rapidly and there were few common denominators across media types and projects consultants with a handle on all the technologies would step in and assist in developing a workflow on a per product/media type basis.

    Given that, you may well find that Mark is right. You need to “brand your process,” even if you don’t have a fixed process for post production. What you may well have is a perfect example of a meta-process – a process for developing the right process.

    So what you need to sell is THAT meta-process on a consulting basis. Think about what you do to develop the right production process for a project and THAT is YOUR process. Brand THAT.

    1. That’s a good thought Tony – brand the process. Cool.


  7. Bob Fitzgerald

    Picking up on some of the comments that you have made in your previous blogs about declining advertising revenues and that revenue now spreading over a broader media base, I believe that the competition for the financing dollar will be the key driver for more efficient processes. Sometimes change is revolutionary rather than evolutionary.

    I also concur with the recommendations that you should brand your process. You have stated in a number of articles and books that a good growth strategy for a content creator is to create and market your own programs rather than work on someone else’s. I see that branding and marketing a “process for the process” as a similar strategy.

    1. Good comment Bob. We have been talking about how branding the process would work and have made some progress.


  8. Interesting article Philip, thanks. One issue that is difficult to deal with is coming into a new revolution of “everyone can do it” tools, yet not having the depth of training needed to do it right.

    To further compound the above problem, some of us are involved with non-profits, bringing further limits, such as the financial resources available for training (and equipping) new blood, and leadership/producer/director roles and deficiencies.

    Given this environment, your “words of wisdom” and highly focused input/analysis is certainly valuable, timely, wanted and needed.

    Thanks…(give us more, more, more!)

  9. Russell Lord


    Thanks for the great article and workflow efficiency tools. I been working in Post Production for fifteen years in NYC and I have found that establishing a relationship of trust with clients is the most important part of my job. I agree with Shane, being consulted with first would save time, money, and frustration down the line. Most good post supers know the vital importance of testing workflows prior to shooting, logging material effectively (Metadata), technology research, VFX Bibles, stripboards, budget guidelines and effective communication. The fact is we work in an ever changing workflow environment (technology and financing), if you don’t have a fully researched and tested plan you are asking for trouble and wasted money. Branding a workflow process is an interesting idea, but it will require mass saturation and acceptance which is difficult. Effective workflow integration must be supported from the top down, it doesn’t mater if its a micro production or a large studio production, without it, everyone is wasting time and money. If you are shooting with a digital camera, hire or consult with an experienced D.I.T. before the shooting schedule starts. Consult and listen to your editors, don’t fall back on a tape workflow because it’s comfortable, utilize your dollars effectively and do your research, and please this is most important, always remain teachable.