The Show Must Go On

Lights, camera, living room.... host Melanie Green takes a look at the new remote work realities in the world of media. Hear from news reporters, TV producers, and animators on how the media industry has adjusted to the world of working remote.

PODCAST | 20m
S1:Ep6
June 25, 2020

Executive summary

  • Exploring a unique industry that has enabled found innovative ways to continue working remotely
  • Identifying the aspects of remote work that has made the media industry even better, and how they plan to take these into the future
  • Establishing that work is more than just place

Featured voices

  • Melanie Green, host
  • Kathryn Brown, Emmy Award-winning WRAL-TV anchor/reporter
  • Aaron Simpson, former Disney Exec

Melanie Green

00:00

Picture this, you're in the audience watching the taping of a live TV show. It's a pretty big deal. There are lights and a lighting crew, camera people, and to floor director. There's even a live audience sometimes, with the obligatory applause sign.

 

Announcer Voice

00:21

Here's Mel.

 

Director Voice

00:22

Cue the applause sign.

 

Melanie Green

00:24

Thank you. Thank you. It's great to be here.

 

Melanie Green

00:32

A studio audience would be kind of nice. My audience these days is my cat. That's okay though. I mean, this is Remote Works, the show about working remotely, and I'm quite happy to be speaking to you from my dining room. My name is Melanie Green. You're listening to Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix.

 

Melanie Green

01:06

Since we started this series, we've been talking a lot about innovation as we moved quickly from office space to home space, to keep working. The media and the entertainment industries are no exception. During the pandemic, anchors, radio hosts, producers, talk show hosts, and storytellers of all stripes had to go home to tell their stories solo. No makeup artist, no camera operator, no audience.

 

Melanie Green

01:38

It's been pretty cool actually seeing James Corden's living room or Trevor Noah kicking back in a T-Shirt. We've been charmed by Jimmy Fallon's kids stealing the show. We've seen more living rooms and kids and dogs than we'll ever remember. It's been refreshing and very real. It's kind of worked for late night talk shows. I mean, they always tried to recreate a living room, having guests come and sit on a couch. But for other types of shows, like news, where professionalism is paramount, it's been a little more challenging.

 

Kathryn Brown

02:12

I'm speaking to you from my guest room, which is currently my studio.

 

Melanie Green

02:24

That's Kathryn Brown. She works with WRAL-TV, an NBC news affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina. Kathryn has been in the news business for close to 20 years. As an Emmy award winning journalist and anchor, she's pretty much seen and done it all. But this, this is different.

 

Kathryn Brown

02:44

It's one ring light, one backlight and a camera the size of my hand, and an iPad as a teleprompter. And if you would have told me that you can more or less replicate a studio feel with those tools, I would have told you three, four months ago that you were crazy, you were out of your mind. But we see that it can be done. It's been interesting talking to my colleagues from around the country about how they're doing this remote from home, work from home type thing. I was talking to one of my best friends who's an executive producer for the CBS station in New York City, and we were comparing notes and sending each other pictures and trying to get ideas for how to make the setup look the best that it could.

 

Melanie Green

03:33

Kathryn spent years as a field reporter doing live hits. There wasn't always a script for that. Oftentimes, she was reporting in the moment, on the fly. That experience has come in handy, setting up her remote studio at home.

 

Kathryn Brown

03:49

Years that I spent reporting in various cities have really prepared me for what I'm doing now, which is basically doing a string of live shots over and over again. I did several weeks, about five weeks without any type of teleprompter. And that's fine for when you're doing a live shot, but when you're doing three, four or five hours of television, to not have a teleprompter, can become a pretty big hurdle. So to be able to fall back on that and really use these skills being good at being unscripted, being comfortable without a teleprompter and a script in front of me, being able to use the camera from my years as a one-man-band reporter, which is basically you do everything.

 

Melanie Green

04:32

At the start of the pandemic, Kathryn fell ill after getting home from a trip to Disney World. She had to self-quarantine. The day she was cleared to go back to work.

 

Kathryn Brown

04:42

I was ready to go. And my boss said, "We're going to have you work from home." But at that time I didn't have any equipment at home. I had two iPhones. So I said, "Well, I'm not just going to sit here." I mean, I've been chomping at the bit to do something, to contribute, to help with this. So I said, "Look, let me do stories. Let me do something. I can do a story about how I'm homeschooling my kids or there's millions of other parents and moms going through this exact same thing." And so I grabbed my iPhone. This is something I had never done before. I grabbed my iPhone and shot an entire story. I did interviews with my kids. I edited the whole thing on my iPhone. So if you can just picture me sitting at my desk in my guestroom, hunched over an iPhone, trimming this and editing that and moving this and trying to get the audio right. Again, I'd never done it before, so I was really learning on the go, and put that piece together the first night.

 

Melanie Green

05:37

Like so many others, Kathryn needed to figure out the tech part of working remote. We've all been through that, and using whatever it takes to make it happen. In Kathryn's case, it was Minnie Mouse to the rescue.

 

Kathryn Brown

05:55

One of our engineers had talked me through how to fire up an app on my phone called LiveVIEW, so that my phone would basically be functioning as our microwave signal. So it would beam me into the station and that point I was live. Now, I didn't have a microphone, I didn't have a tripod, I didn't have anything. So the first night, I set my phone up, I propped it, I actually have a toy that my kids have. It's a Minnie Mouse that stands up and you squeeze the nose and it dances around, but the arms are kind of stiff. So I tucked the phone into the Minnie Mouse and kind of wrap the arms around the phones so it wouldn't move. That's how I did my first live shot. And then the second one, I think I propped it up on a picture frame or something and just doing what you can do, because there was really no alternative.

 

Melanie Green

06:56

Shooting your newscast in your home with Minnie Mouse in charge of the camera. If Minnie Mouse isn't cutting it, what can you do? Well, you could ask your eight-year-old to step in.

 

Kathryn Brown

07:06

So actually my son, my eight-year-old, has been a huge help because he's really interested in the technology and in news and reporting. And so he came in and he's been like my right-hand man. I'm able to talk him through, "Okay, focus the shot, zoom in, focus it, zoom back out, tilt down, tilt up. No, a little less headroom." And he's doing great. He really has been, completely my right-hand man. While Tony was able to get me set up and have all the tools I need, there are certain things you just can't do by yourself. And so I've got my son in here as kind of my one man studio crew.

 

Melanie Green

07:49

So with an eight-year-old camera man and a stuffed Minnie Mouse, Kathryn started to anchor the news from home. What could possibly go wrong?

Kathryn Brown

07:58

Right. Yeah, a lot went wrong. So we just got a new puppy on, let's see, March 13th. Yeah, we just got a new puppy right in the middle of March, right when all this stuff was happening. And he is still learning about not barking when we're working from home. So that's been an issue. I know one day I was sitting here and the four was about to start, the 4:00 PM newscast, and I could just hear my dog in the other room, like howling, completely like, "owooo." I'm like, "Oh my gosh, someone has got to stop." And so I texted our nanny who's here, she takes care of our kids while I'm behind closed doors. I'm like, "You have to get him out of here." And then I just heard like thump, thump, thump, thump, thump and then I didn't hear him anymore. So I guess she ran up the stairs and kind of dragged him someplace, but he was safe. He's good.

 

Kathryn Brown

08:48

And then one day I got a text from my co-anchor. The kids were being particularly noisy that day, they were right on the other side of the door. I don't know what they were playing, from the sounds of it football. But I got a text from my co-anchor during one of the commercial breaks. And he said, "Do I hear children in your live shot?" I said, "Oops. I'll try and get them to be quiet." And then the other day I was recording some teases and my husband and son thought it would be fun to come in and make boy noises, which only really boys think are funny. It was recording back at the station. So I'm sure someone there had a good time with that.

 

Melanie Green

09:30

Okay. For the record, I probably would have laughed at that too. But probably not what you want to hear on the evening news. So to help separate the joys of home life from the responsibilities of the job, Kathryn's colleague, an engineer at the news station, came to help.

 

Kathryn Brown

09:46

One of our engineers, he's an incredible, incredibly talented guy. I've worked with him on a number of major news stories over the years. And he came in with some equipment and a real skeleton set up, but enough to get us off the ground.

 

Melanie Green

10:02

Like all of us working from home, Kathryn the news anchor needed to set boundaries between work and home life. It was for the sake of sound quality and her sanity. Avoiding perpetual connectivity was key for Kathryn to succeed in her new remote work setting.

 

Kathryn Brown

10:22

So I have created, probably as much for my mental state as for the physical need for this, but I have created some real barriers to getting in my guestroom. So we have a baby gate. So outside, so I walk in, I pull the baby gate in front of the door. Then I close the door. I lock it and I pulled this giant soundboard. I don't even know what it's called. It's like a foam board covered in burlap. And I think it's supposed to absorb sound. So I put it in front of the door. I don't know how much good it does at keeping sound out from the outside, but it definitely is an emotional way for me to be like, "Okay, I'm at work now." Because for the first few days certainly, the first probably couple of weeks, the lines were very blurry and I would wake up checking my email, checking, coming in and out and I just felt like I was working all the time, and never really getting much done. So I had to get myself in a mental state of, "Okay, I am going to work." So that is my way of, I shut the door, I pull a baby gate, I lock it, I put the soundboard in front and then I'm at work. No one comes in. People pretty much know that.

 

Melanie Green

11:34

I like that. A giant foam soundboard that separates you from the rest of the house. I think that could really catch on. It's actually quite amazing to see how we adapt our technology and our approach to working at home. It shows that we, as humans, are resilient and resourceful and it means that what we've learned while we're sheltering in place will forever change the way we work.

 

Kathryn Brown

11:57

This is a really fascinating time to be a journalist, not only because of the subject matter and how the world has so drastically changed, but also because you're kind of watching from the inside, our entire industry, make this seismic shift. I don't think that you'll see on the regular basis, people anchoring, one person anchoring out of their home, another person in the studio, another person down the street someplace. I think that gives our industry greater flexibility going forward.

 

Kathryn Brown

12:31

For instance, if it's a weekend or the middle of the night, or sometime during shift change and major news breaks, we don't have to wait for an anchor necessarily to drive into work, put on their makeup, change their clothes, get situated, do an audio check. You can just call up an anchor who has a studio set up in their house or a mini studio or bare bones and say, "Hey, this broke. Can you pop in there and do a quick live shot on this?" And you can be on television. I mean, I can be fired up and on television in five minutes. That's all it takes. So I think learning that in a pinch we can make this work, is going to really change the way that journalism looks forever.

 

Melanie Green

13:18

One common thread that weaves its way through much of our lives is the power of storytelling. When the pandemic hit, Kathryn Brown's first instinct as a journalist was to tell the stories of sheltering in place at home, how her kids were learning online, how everyone was adapting. You'll find that instinct everywhere. A love of storytelling is something that's ingrained in us from a very young age.

 

Kristen McGregor

13:46

Hi, I'm Kristen McGregor. I am a children's media maker. I write, produce, direct, create content for kids. The project I'm working on is called My Stay-At-Home Diary. It's a kids docuseries that I'm doing with Lopii Productions in Toronto. In every episode, we meet a kid who wants to share their story staying at home during quarantine, or maybe it's not quarantine, or maybe things are opening up and we get their stories from their level in this docuseries.

 

Melanie Green

14:19

Kristen McGregor works from her home. That's not unusual for an independent producer. But what's new is the actual making of content. No more studios or location shoots with a full crew.

 

Kristen McGregor

14:32

So live action children's media production has had to really kind of change course. You'll see examples of people doing kids media now where they're putting themselves in blanket forts and broadcasting from their homes, or people are getting creative with puppets and green-screen sets, stuff like that. So the thing that's really interesting about this time for kids media is it's a really great time for creative thought and development and really trying to make the best with what you have.

 

Melanie Green

15:03

Two words, blanket forts. Can we all agree virtual meetings would be much better if they were hosted in blanket forts? Jokes aside, there's a theme here. Whether it's producing the news or reality TV from home, you make do with what you've got. Kristen was producing interviews with the host in one place and the guest in another. But there's no camera person anywhere. Sometimes, the guests end up doing video duty.

 

Kristen McGregor

15:32

We try to figure out what technology kids have in their homes and we set it up as supplemental shots. So we'll have like a camera phone recording an angle. Maybe if the family's lucky enough to have a DSLR, we'll have that set up recording. We'll have a voice memo going on somebody's phone. So it's really just trying to get the best with what we have and every family's different with their technology.

 

Melanie Green

16:04

Innovating using existing resources in new ways can bring unexpected and unique results.

 

Kristen McGregor

16:12

Great. Now, can you just look at the camera and wave for five seconds? One, two, big smile, three, four, five. Now put your hand down and just smile at the camera for one, two, three, four, five. Can you give us the silliest face you can imagine? Awesome. And then ready, Ronnie? You're going to go to the chair in the most Ronnie way possible and look at the camera and say ready. No, no, don't go back to your mom and action.

 

Kristen McGregor

16:51

For both my co-director Renata and myself that we found are like the angles and the shots that the kids come up with are really interesting. You think you see something one way and you see it another way. Like we had a little boy do a shot of New York and it's just kind of peering through this gate to a playground at a very low angle. And you're like, right, we would have probably shot over the gate. And for him, it's all about the gate.

 

Melanie Green

17:23

What's fascinating for Kristen is the innovation that happens when thechildren take charge of the process. The story becomes autobiography versus biography.

 

Kristen McGregor

17:33

After the interview, Renata and I make a shot list. Normally directors make a shot list and then they go get that footage. But now we're asking the kids to get it and we're saying, "It's like a scavenger hunt." And just their takes on our footage needs are just really interesting and heartfelt. A shot of grandma and grandpa is filmed from like their angle and they're like, "Ah, grandma." We might not have gotten that POV shot in the past. So it's, I think, the best surprising delight that we've gotten from this is just getting even closer to kids telling their own stories.

 

Melanie Green

18:19

So to paraphrase, when you cut through all the extras, the sets, the camera crews, the sound person, the lighting, you're left with one thing, the storyteller. And when that's an eight-year-old kid, the results can be pretty cool. Like Kathryn Brown and WRAL-TV, so many working in broadcast media had to rethink their work model to continue operations. And Kristen McGregor was able to adapt how she produces her children's content. Bigger budget movies and TV haven't fared so well. As so many of them ground to a halt during the pandemic, everyone from the stars to the director, to the drivers and caterers were impacted. But there's been one notable exception in the entertainment industry.

 

Ken Cunningham

19:12

Hi, my name is Ken Cunningham. I'm a series director at an animation studio called Atomic Cartoons.

 

Melanie Green

19:21

Animation is doing just fine. Ken Cunningham says Atomic Cartoons' 600 plus employees are busier than ever.

 

Ken Cunningham

19:30

What I'm hearing is that it's busier. I mean, we've been told by Netflix and other places that they're hurting for content because live action has basically stopped. So they're looking at animation to fill up that shortfall. And then just the nature of the way things work. I mean, live action will come back, I have no doubt. But just the amount of time it takes these machines to kind of grind up to speed.

 

Melanie Green

20:01

Atomic Cartoons isn't the only animation house that's busy. Meet Aaron Simpson.

 

Aaron Simpson

20:07

I'm an animation producer, writer and creator, and based in Los Angeles. And I'm currently the Senior Vice President of Creative for Island of Misfits.

 

Melanie Green

20:19

Island of Misfits is an animation company based in Halifax, Canada. They make shows for kids and Aaron Simpson has noticed that the market has suddenly gotten a lot bigger.

 

Aaron Simpson

20:32

So, what's funny is there's a lot of teams working in entertainment that wouldn't normally turn to animation that actually all of a sudden now find it, maybe their only option to keep going, finding an opportunity to do animated segments. Or I think if the blacklist that show, they were nearly finished with an episode and so they filled in the gaps with animation. Because animation, you need a microphone and some writers and you can work virtually and you don't need to get the set all going. And so some of this stuff may end up being, have some long-term staying power.

 

Melanie Green

21:08

Ken Cunningham and Aaron Simpson are both veterans in the animation industry. They've seen a lot of changes over the years. Technology has practically transformed the industry and made it much easier to connect people working remotely.

 

Ken Cunningham

21:23

We're using this system, which kind of allows us to work remotely. Like basically, essentially what's going on is people are remoting in from a machine at home, into our network and frequenting into a machine there, which is drawing down and they're essentially remotely running software. What else are we using? We're using this system called cineSync, which essentially it's actually really cool. It basically drives videos. So you download a cut of the show or when we're doing lighting reviews, we download all the high res versions of the shots and we can just sort of like quickly move through all of that stuff and you can draw in it, which is awesome.

 

Melanie Green

22:07

Technology especially geared towards pulling a team together when they're working remotely.

 

Ken Cunningham

22:13

Working remotely, it gets a little harder to communicate that stuff. But in cineSync, I can actually literally like, I've got my tablet and I can circle where the issue is or point to it or do a little draw over or something. So that's been super helpful.

 

Melanie Green

22:30

They have a lot of great tech that allows them not only to communicate, but to share ideas visually. And Ken Cunningham knows how to use it to keep his team working effectively and involve them all in a project. That's pretty cool. But it makes sense that animation has the tech for remote work. As Aaron Simpson says, they've been doing it for years.

 

Aaron Simpson

22:58

The big things are that we were already doing it as an industry. It was already happening and software was oftentimes built for this purpose. And I've been saying this, but animation industry has sort of been preparing for this storm for years without really even knowing it. Remote work is not new to the industry. It's been going on actually since the sixties, where animation studios in the States, for oftentimes financial reasons, found it really smart to reach out and work with studios abroad. And the first were in Japan and there were studios like the New Adventures of Pinocchio and the King Kong Show kicked it off. And back then, of course there was no internet, so they're shipping materials back and forth overseas. So it was a bit of a long feedback loop, but it began the long process of figuring out how to work with teams that aren't nearby.

Melanie Green

23:49

And all that experience with remote work has led not just to great tech, but also an understanding of how to keep your team engaged and involved, as well as how to make everyone on the team feels that they're part of a community. At Atomic Cartoons, they're doing some pretty cool stuff.

 

Ken Cunningham

24:07

There was Superhero Day last week, so people dressed up as superheroes and sent in selfies. We've been doing a kind of a Beer Friday thing. There's kind of the official one. Of course, people are paying for their own beer, which maybe isn't quite so great.

 

Melanie Green

24:26

Look, if I'm dressing up like a superhero at work, I will gladly buy my own beer.

 

Ken Cunningham

24:32

We've also sort of been doing it individually for the team. So I know like my animation director, Chris Buckley, he's been kind of setting up a thing on Fridays with the animators, just them as a group, so that they get a group chat going and they can all kind of be in the same room together. We've been doing a lot of sort of individual reach outs through sort of department supervisors to just have chats with everybody on the team and make sure they're doing okay.

 

Melanie Green

25:01

That commitment to employees is definitely paying off for Atomic Cartoons. The company's latest series, The Last Kids on Earth, has just been nominated for an Emmy. Meanwhile, Aaron Simpson says that the animation industry's remote work practices may be catching on. He's talking to studio heads who are seeing the benefits of having employees work from home.

 

Aaron Simpson

25:24

There's a number of studios that I've spoken with. The heads of studios are saying, "You know what? This work from home thing has been good for us." There's been some production slowdowns, a few delays, but a lot of the artists and producers have found something really to like about having this flexible lifestyle. And there are studios that now are playing with the idea of maybe the entire summer, you have the option of working at home, the entire month of December. The downside of that is that isolation can be really hurtful to a lot of people. We're social people, humans are very social. So I think getting in on a semi regular basis to socialize, is going to be, we'll realize how important that is.

 

Melanie Green

26:14

Another big benefit that Aaron Simpson sees is for the industry as a whole, we're all streaming more content. We all need a break from the real world and our favorite shows and some new discoveries are there to give us that hour or two of escape.

 

Kristen McGregor

26:30

And I think in these times when looking at a newspaper or just staring out your window can remind you of the bleakest of thoughts and we're all struggling with some part of this. And entertainment, especially comedy and movies that just make you feel good or TV shows that bring you closer to someone in your family, it's ever more important. In my household, that is so true. We're dusting off some of the classics and family movies and watching every night and just trying to enjoy each other. And I suspect that's happening in a lot of living rooms around the world.

 

Melanie Green

27:17

So a big thank you to the media makers who are keeping us informed and entertained. Your remote work is helping to keep us all feel connected. That's it for this week. I'm Melanie Green (Host) . You've been listening to your Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to listen. Subscribe, and come back next week for our final episode of the season. We'll have three enlightened experts to show us the future of remote work. That's at citrix.com/remoteworks.

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