M&E Journal: Looking Beyond the Paperless Mission: How Automation Minimizes Risk

By Mark Goldstein, President, CEO, Entertainment Partners

Many have speculated that we are in the midst of a golden age in entertainment production. Content creation continues to explode, as distribution methods continually evolve. News as entertainment, entertainment as news, social media as an information pipeline, celebrities as politicians, and politicians as celebrities — our very definitions of content and production are in flux and continue to blur.

Technology is adapting quickly to address and anticipate these rapidly evolving needs, but as output expands exponentially so does risk.

One of our studio clients recently lamented that the start packet for onboarding new personnel for production has grown from one page to 15 to nearly 40 for union employees and nearly 70 for non-union. Production companies face highly technical wage and hour requirements that differ across jurisdictions. Certain unions require contributing employers to direct pension, health and welfare contributions to different benefit plans depending on the hire state or the work state. Failure to remit to the correct plan can lead to enormous penalties.

Minimizing waste and human error

Digitizing the back offices of production yields immediately measurable results on the ecological and efficiency fronts. The SmartStart digital onboarding solution to get new personnel employed eliminates human error due to illegible handwriting and has scaled back 300 repetitive fields to approximately 30. It can save 10,000 sheets of paper for a single production and can cut the setup time for crew members to a third.

Beyond these productivity gains, there is a much greater level of protection being enabled — productions are automatically in compliance with sick leave, minimum wage and other federal and state laws. Studio and government forms are signed and verified, as are studio codes of conduct and I-9s. Employment is quickly and easily verified.

In the days of paper timecards, discrepancies had been common. Clients who sought a better solution ended up getting much more than a quick digital fix when a digital solution was designed. SmartTime also cuts crew member timecard completion to a third as well, as crew can finally track and submit time on their mobile devices. Timecard information is electronically submitted to the payroll system for faster turnaround.

For productions, SmartTime automatically calculates overtime, meal penalties and premiums based on project and union rules so labor laws and regulations are properly applied.

Payroll edits and discrepancy reports are available to help reconcile the production report.

If there’s a pattern emerging, that’s because collaborative development between clients, industry experts and technological innovators means it isn’t enough to simply look at our manual processes and replicate them through technology.

Go green initiatives and the need to better utilize time on set and back at the studio may have started the conversation but they were just the seeds. Minimizing risk in a meaningful, measurable way became the parallel driver to develop tools that better align the modernization of on-screen movie magic with the back-office control center.

Closed loop security as game changer

As a defining example, Scenechronize and Scenechronize SmartHub grew out of the need for a centralized, cloud-based document management system.

Production executives needed instant visibility across their entire slate of projects with filtering, customized permissions, and instantaneous retrieval by keyword, metadata and document type. Manual processes such as script breakdown and creation of sides, which used to take hours, now take seconds. Access to archival documents, so critical in matters of litigation, has been reduced from months of reviewing boxes of documents in storage to retrieval seconds.

But something nobody asked for or envisioned — closed loop security — proved to be the game changer. Beyond preventing files from being downloaded, printed or forwarded, this technology applies automated watermarking to each recipient and enables administrators to determine how long a document may be available for viewing, how many times it may be viewed, and how long after it is read the document will disappear.

No matter what opinions viewers may have voiced about the final season of the wildly successful phenomenon Game of Thrones all can agree that it kept viewers guessing until the last scene. How did they avoid leaks? Actor Nikolaj Coster- Waldau made the talk show rounds just prior to the season premiere and gave away the secret — they used Scenechronize to safeguard their incredibly valuable asset, the story.

Going forward, innovators who aren’t solving for myriad layers of client needs with every technology solution may end up leaving their clients underwater. Rather than send in a lifeboat, we must ensure they avoid the storm entirely.


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