Editor’s Note: The world changed right before our very eyes. In a span of three weeks, movie theaters closed. Restaurants went to delivery or take-out only. Non-essential businesses shut down. States ordered individuals to stay home. Unemployment has skyrocketed. Wall Street is shook. Disneyland and Disneyworld closed indefinitely. We now work, live, exercise and entertain ourselves in our homes. This is the new normal. In this new on-going series, we check in on ad agencies, production companies, post-houses, and anyone else who wants to talk about their personal experiences during this coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Chicago-based Sarofsky is an award-winning collection of artists, producers and above all, storytellers who unlock the magic every time they touch a project. Whether it’s the opening titles to the latest Marvel film or a campaign for Jeep, their work has lasting impact.
And they are led by visionary director Erin Sarofsky. Erin spoke with Reel Chicago about how they are doing.
The new normal at Sarofsky is actually quite similar to the old normal, both from a technology and a social perspective. We were lucky to adopt long term solutions for the pandemic from the outstart. We saw what was happening in China and Italy and we knew that being in a large city would require a commitment to a long-term work from home scenario.
For us that meant solving two main challenges: working and communication.
To produce the work we are known for, we knew it would be ideal if our current workflow would remain intact. That means no transferring files to any off site device. Everything had to stay in the office, on our servers with access to our render farm.
This was absolutely essential for our work to remain truly collaborative. So Mark Galazka, our IT Manager, came up with a stable, workable solution. Every workstation is controlled by the artists remotely via Teradici PCoIP protocol that compresses and then decompresses audio and video to their home machine.
It’s a remarkable solution… Even with a basic home computer we can log into our workstations at the studio and work with no lag. All we had to do, besides adding Teradici devices to each workstation, is make sure our artists had decent internet speeds at home (which was no problem) and provide them with additional monitors to mimic their work set up (also no problem, because we had the gear on hand from our Sarofsky Labs set-up).
Additionally, the Sarofsky studio is a stand alone building that we are the sole inhabitants of, so it is acceptable for an IT member to come to the studio to maintain the server and equipment and maintain the required social distancing.
Collaboration is a big aspect of our work life. So enabling communication was also an essential part of the new set up. At the studio we already had some tools to help us collaborate, but they were simple tools like gchat and google docs/sheets.
We knew a more immersive tool would be needed so we implemented Slack and created groups within that for all of our different jobs. It’s been really important to set up a formal working paradigm within that platform otherwise it would be impossible for anyone to keep track of anything. We are also using a real-time cloud based collaborative media review platform called Syncsketch which has helped us internally to quickly provide feedback on projects.
Emotionally, we find that video calls do help keep us connected. Seeing each other and talking as if we were in the same room helps that connected feeling. Each of us does have to take responsibility for checking in a little more often, because in the studio that happens very naturally, as we move around the space. We still have our company meetings and social hours. Those go a long way to keeping us sane.
The first week we were all thrilled Mark’s technological solution was working… So we were on a high from the fact that we are smooth sailing. Now we are all settling in for the long haul, we are making sure our home setups are comfortable and are tweaking our processes to make sure nothing is being missed from this new work style.
For our EP Steven Anderson and myself, this seamless transition was essential because people need creative, realistic solutions more than ever. People know Sarofsky as a studio that can do high production value work all in the box so we have to be available and accessible to our clients as most work shifts that direction. We are as prepared today as we were a month ago to take those calls and step up to the plate.
What people may not realize is that we also have live action capabilities during this time. We represent The Barkers, who own their own studio and gear, and can accomplish a lot as a two-some directing team. Some of the biggest challenges from any live shoot is moving footage and getting client approval. To minimize contact, we are sending our footage directly to our servers using Signiant Media Shuttle and using Clearview Flex to get client shot approvals in real time.
So yes, we do miss our physical space and being near each other every day… But the good news is, we made the transition to the new normal and are working very efficiently in this new paradigm.