Production office and remote base in the forest

Moonlighting is no stranger to innovation.

In the late eighties, during a time of political isolation, we were one of the first production services companies in South Africa, showcasing the country’s diverse range of locations and talent to foreign filmmakers all over the world.

Fast-forward to February 2020, when our Chinese clients could not be physically present at their Cape Town shoot due to the beginning of the global pandemic. What followed was our first remote production and a whole new way of working. The then lesser-known Zoom played a major part and we even flew the head of Zoom’s South African subsidiary down from Johannesburg for the shoot!

Adaptability is in our DNA. Finding the best possible alternative to being physically present at a film shoot has been an invigorating process and the developments and systems that have emerged over the past 12 months have truly enabled us to move forward even through a global pandemic.

Communication channels are critical to success

We realized early on that streaming a video signal from the VT operator was only one of several vital components of the remote process. Critical to success was the ability to replicate the hierarchy and confidentiality of the communication channels for client, agency and production. The challenge was to develop a system that would keep all parties informed and able to participate as if they were present.

An “always on” approach

As a starting point we asked the question: “Where do these conversations generally take place?  On set? In the recce bus? At dinner? In boardrooms and wardrobe call-backs?” It quickly became clear that there needed to be an “always on” approach to these conversations. This, along with practical requirements such as backup power and a failover bandwidth supply, prompted us to centralize the communication facility.

Our technical provider and partner company – a sports broadcaster that pivoted to remote streaming for production – established a studio in our offices to do just that. By activating the conference facility before call-time, participants can dial in from anywhere in the world whenever they like; dipping in on their way to work; making comments between meetings, at the dinner table or travelling between sets.  When not streaming the VT image, information slides inform remote parties of the on-set status, where there could be a lunch break or a location move.

Evolving & enhancing the client experience

Replicating the experience here for our clients was not just centred around production. We recently arranged a virtual safari for our clients and agency in the US (albeit at midnight their time) while production in Cape Town moved location. Local film industry animal wrangler Luke Cornell joined us live from his incredible farm, “Cornellskop”, and introduced the clients to some of his animals.

Increasingly, we are asked to include live video streaming of cast call-backs, wardrobe fittings and behind the scenes activities.  We also established a secure area for product preparation where, via an HD-quality viewing platform, a remote client specialist was able to instruct our packs-person how to assemble their product.

No bandwidth, no comms.

Of course, none of this is possible without bandwidth. No bandwidth – no coms.  The ability to successfully harvest this resource has become a major consideration when choosing locations. Knowing where the cellular towers are, what provider is manning them, and testing strength on the technical recce is critical.  Mobile spectrum is in short supply in South Africa and we are only now beginning to see 5G in city centres.  In order to ensure the speed and robustness of our digital connections, bonding up to ten mobile signals has become a common and successful practice for us.  We recently established a microwave link across 35 miles of ocean to enable a 2-hour shoot on a remote beach and are currently preparing to stream proxy files to editors directly from the camera when Frame I.O. brings its facility online in March.

Innovation for today. But what about tomorrow?

Covid forced us to find new ways to continue production but far from disappearing as we find a way forward out of the pandemic, they are fast becoming an integral part of the new workflow. They have created new efficiencies in both cost and time as well as multiple new possibilities and are undoubtedly here to stay.  It’s a gratifying, if unexpected, result of the past 12 months as Moonlighting enters its 4th decade of serving our clients in the ever-changing world of filmmaking.

by Philip Key, CEO Moonlighting

Comments from clients:

“the infrastructure Moonlighting has set up for streaming for the Video Village is amazing and better than anything I have experienced. It’s really well set up and has worked really well.” Michaela McKee, EP 1stavemachine

We were able to have seamless communication with our team in SF who were joining remotely.” – Veronika Fontaine, Mekanism



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