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Business Just Like Yours???

Category: Andy Marken's blog Published on Monday, 23 May 2011

 Taking a Business Page from Hollywood 

“I don't believe that the public knows what it wants; this is the conclusion that I have drawn from my career.”Charlie Chaplin

When you think about Hollywood – the motion picture industry, the first things that come to mind are usually a few hours of entertainment and the things movie bosses seem to tolerate. 

Take the way-too-visible sex, drugs and booze out of the picture and what do you have? A serious, profit-oriented business … A business, just like yours.

 Well, not exactly like your business.  

 If any of your people pulled a tenth of the stuff you read about, your company “stars” would be out on their *** in the blink of an eye. Your management, stakeholders seem to understand that any key person/star can be replaced.   

The company usually survives and is often better in the long run. Hollywood has to work on that idea a little. But there are things your businesses can learn from Hollywood. The industry may still have the aura of the Chaplin era, but glamour disappeared with celluloid and tape. 

Streamlined Production

There are serious take-aways you can learn from Hollywood’s inner workings…just scratch the surface. 

Creative Techie – James Cameron is one of the few Hollywood producers who loves both creative and techie work.  At NAB, he pushed for everyone to think in 3D terms.  He pushed for faster film work (48-60 fps vs. standard 24 fps).  He is introducing new digital cameras and technology. 

Get past the few James Camerons and the bus loads of hopefuls and wannabes and it’s an IT-centric business. They came to NAB with the same issues/challenges/questions:

-        multi-platform content operations
-        how much of their enterprise, production they should take to the cloud
-         how they are going to leverage/manage it
-        productivity, asset utilization
-        monetizing, securing their assets 

The Hollywood engine is money and specialists just like your organization...but with a difference. Studios have a relatively small core of full-time people. The real work is done by specialists – think engineering, design, manufacturing, and marketing -- across town, across country, half-way around the globe. Raw green screen digital content is mated with digitally produced/enhanced backgrounds. 

That goes to enhancement people to editing, authoring, music dubbing, special effects, and editing/authoring...yada...yada...yada. The product develop-to-release cycle takes months. In the pre-Internet days, loosely associated clusters of specialists were located around town and were contracted to do specific parts of the product production before it was moved to another team of contractors who did their magic.  

 Distributed Processes

Core ideas/concepts were kept in-house; the rest were farmed out to specialists.              

Virtual Organizations – Early on, Hollywood abandoned having all their work done under one roof.  They focus on their IP and money.  Everything else they contract out to improve their reaction time, maintain a degree of budget control. 

Movie production was a virtual organization before virtual was in vogue. The computerized work was stored on hard drives…lots and lots of hard drives. Work was backed up, archived three to four times and then the working copy drive(s) went by messenger to the next group of specialists. 

Digital Content – When Hollywood shifted to digital production, they gobbled hard drives like Tums.  All of the raw video is saved and backed up.  Every step of production is saved and backed up.  Initially, drive-based content was physically moved from one specialist to another (sneaker net).  Today, it is sent almost instantly across town, around the globe over the Internet

.If they were across the country or half-way around the globe, FedEx handled the content production-in-process delivery task.  

But like your business, the process was still linear and manageable. The movie production moved down the production line.   The difference is they are paranoid (anal almost) that none of their data will be lost.  


Linear Process – The movie production process looks pretty much like your firm’s process – each stage identified, carried out.  The difference is that the motion picture industry backs up and archives every one and zero…they don’t want to lose anything. 

They back up everything all the time – usually multiple copies in multiple locations. And it’s archived because “remanufacturing” is expensive!   The Internet and constant pressure for cost reduction changed – some say improved – the industry because T1 lines were replaced with the cloud.   

Cloud-hosted workflow solutions from Blue Diamond, Aspera, Isilon, NetApp, EditShare, Prime Focus, Dot Hill and similar firms keep production on schedule, on budget.               

Workflow in the Cloud – With movie projects involving Petabytes of data spread across hundreds of storage devices that are being worked on/used in multiple locations, automated workflow solutions help speed the processes, protect the content. 

It makes movie production operations extremely efficient, responsive, flexible.  

 It enables them to tap the best, most cost-effective talent, regardless of where they are located. 

Virtual Production – Today’s TV and movie production is managed by a core group of people who manage the creative work of specialists around the globe.

With cloud production, people in Culver City work with people in the old garment district of NYC with specialists in Wellington, NZ, an FX team in Ottawa, the post group in Belfast,  the digital musicians in Chicago and the dubbing experts in New Delhi with…. Pipe Overload

The biggest challenge has been cramming all that digital content across the Internet efficiently and reliably.   

Solutions that have been used include:

-        Lossy/lossless compression – not ideal when dealing with raw content that needed to be kept in the highest quality possible-        Dedicated T1 pipes – expensive
-        Hardware/software data tunnels – expensive, often proprietary solutions that required new (expensive) equipment  

A new answer we saw at NAB uses existing hardware/software so studios don’t have a huge new investment, don’t have to change their way of doing business. 

High-speed Tunnel – Nuvel’s new data tunnel technology is supposed to deliver up to 150x faster data throughput performance for users.  This can speed the production process and reduce costs for almost any organization, but it can be a huge solution for Hollywood whose total product is digital entertainment. 

The Nuvel data tunnel meets content industry’s needs and can handle multiple client data streams simultaneously.   

That’s important now for their production processes and even more important since they have a range of distribution channels – theaters, broadcasters, consumer TVs/tablets/computers/ smartphones. Dropping right into their highly complex, widely distributed workflow system should provide wider, more accurate collaboration. Less time in the pipe (speeds data transfer up to 150X) should mean cost savings and better asset protection – less time in the cloud. Yesteryear’s gold copies still exist in a locked, humidity-controlled room in NYC or Culver City, but even those are being digitized and stored “in the cloud.” It allows Hollywood to repurpose, reissue (recycle) old ideas for a nostalgic or younger audience who never saw them the first time. In many instances, the “authorized” final product and all of the bits/pieces only exist in cloud storage farms at EMC, IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google.

Cloud Storage – It’s almost cute the way cloud computing, cloud storage advocates create cute puffy clouds to show you where the work is done, where your stuff sits.  But in reality, those clouds sit in huge buildings that house vast numbers of storage devices around the country, around the globe.  Source - Google

The stuff is spread across multiple storage farms and magically reassembled when it’s requested. It’s also a cost-effective solution for small, Indie producers. Their backup, archiving, availability is pretty good…getting better.

The farmers also focus a lot more attention on security which means they usually see an attempted or true breach before too much damage is done. 

Green Industry

Like other business, IT organizations love to point out how green they are even as they provide you the entertainment you want, when you want it, in the format you need for the device you’re using right now. Of course, that really means they (and you) are simply shifting their “carbon footprint” from their house to the storage farm’s house.

Yeah, that works! But it’s tough to solve the world’s problems when they have to keep everyone in the food chain happy:

-        Theater folks want first crack at the movies for as long as possible
-        Cable silos want them early so they can justify keeping you attached
-        Mobile phone people want them to pad your phone bill
-        You want/expect your entertainment available 24x7 on the device you’re looking at…regardless of the shape/size 

Sound familiar? Maybe there are some business lessons we can learn from Hollywood. They’re virtual, they’re cloud-centric, they seem to have fun, they’re profitable.   

As Charlie said, “Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.”

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