When the UK went into lockdown back in March, Cardiff-based Gorilla were in a better position than most: having collaborated remotely with London-based colourists and undertaken remote working R&D with Creative Creadigol, much of their infrastructure was ready for distributed working. But with only two weeks’ warning before their building closed and 100 editors to rehouse, there were still plenty of challenges. We caught up with Director of Technology and Operations, Rhodri James, to find out how the team were coping…
Were Gorilla actively developing their remote capabilities before the lockdown?
The remote element is nothing new for us. We're always trying to attract work from outside Cardiff, so having remote capabilities was a major commercial attribute for us well before COVID-19. We weren't in bad shape when it happened, in terms of our understanding of what needed to be done – we just needed to scale up. And luckily, the infrastructure was in place and it was just talking to Jigsaw24 and seeing how many cards we could get and how quickly we could get them.
These are the Amulet Hotkey PCoIP cards?
Yes. We've been looking at Teradici technology for several years – I first tried Amulet Hotkey’s hardware probably two and a half years ago, when we needed to allow another production company to do a remote edit over our private network. We dipped our toe in the water and discovered that it actually worked quite well.
Moving forward with that, we acquired more cards and were using them purely for PC over IP within our facility itself, which is obviously the classic use. Then we took it a step further and started using it for remote clients outside our network as we became confident with the technology and understood its implementation.
How are you using them now?
We tend to use the Amulet solutions when we want more critical sound. If we want good sound reproduction for the someone working from home or they're doing some kind of QC, that's when we use the Amulet – the sound and picture quality are better. For more mundane tasks in the MCR, normal remote desktop solutions are sufficient.
Has setting up so many remote clients in such a short space of time posed any challenges?
Typically I like to test new technology and go through a rigorous process before we roll it out. With this, we ripped up the rule book and just went for it. You need to have a key understanding of your own infrastructure, that goes without saying. Once that's in place, and you understand your firewalls and how you're going to implement remote working to the home user, you need to understand what they have at home.
We developed a questionnaire that we would send out to users because we couldn't physically check their equipment ourselves. It went into details like internet speeds, latency, what size screen they have at home. Generally we didn't have a problem. We did suffer a bit – and this is where they questionnaire was quite important – because editors would say they had kit at home but you'd find out it was five years old and therefore things like the Teradici PCoIP software wasn't compatible with it.
“With Amulet Hotkey, we can start small and scale up to an enterprise level. You can have complete control of your workstations and your virtual workstations remotely. And the performance is everything – support for up to four monitors, high quality compression, controlled compression, the integration with brokers, and the sound quality. I haven't come across anything that's delivering the same level of product range, performance, quality and security.”
How did staff handle the move to remote?
I think the idea of working with a remote machine is a foreign thing and therefore – I wouldn't go as strong as to say there was a push back on it, but there was a little bit of reluctance to using a remote setup.
How do you get around that?
When we were setting everything up, we always phoned the editors and talked them through what we were going to do. We would remotely access their machine and install it everything for them, so it was very much a hands-off exercise for them. We also gave them a proper onboarding process to give them confidence in the system. And then if they did have any issues, let them know where they could get hold of our team 24/7 so we can respond really quickly to ensure that any problems don't impact any of their own editing time at all. And remarkably, it's been quite nice. We've got a lot of compliments from editors. They've said they've been impressed and that the solution’s been really solid.
Any teething issues?
Internet connectivity's been an issue. We've had a 50/50 split between people with great broadband and people with really bad broadband, and that's the limit, really. There's not a lot we can do with it. We've done a little bit with 4G and we're looking to put together a 5G kit, but 5G's not fully rolled out yet.
Some of our customers have told us that their editors are loving remote working, while producers are finding it more difficult. Would you say that’s true at Gorilla?
I think it's complicated. People are enjoying working from home. And I think it really depends on the demographics. I had a comment from an editor who said, “Really love the system, really simple, love the support you gave us, I've enjoyed working from home and I'm not missing the 60-minute commute.” But then some people are on rural internet connections, and they’re struggling.
I think it's frustrating for directors and producers. We've found that using Zoom to share screens helps. It's kind of a bizarre one, really. You've got a remote editor in location A remoting into an Avid in Cardiff Bay, on which they're then using Zoom to share that Cardiff screen to somebody else at location B. But it does work, it’s helped the producers and directors a lot.
No workplace is safe from Zoom anymore.
To be honest with you, we didn't think something like Zoom would work very well, in terms of desktop sharing an Avid Media Composer with the live timeline and live video, but we were wrong. It's been a bit of a journey to find out what works well, and which tools work from a collaboration perspective.
And are those tools you’re going to keep using after the lockdown ends?
Certainly we're not going back to how we were. For quick turnaround projects, I think the editors are finding things more difficult because for something quick, you need somebody there. Body language is relevant, and being in the same room just makes it so much quicker to get decisions made to get a programme on air. I think for long form projects, the editors enjoy the peace and quiet of not having a director on their shoulder.
Has it been difficult to keep everyone connected and working as a team while they’re so spread out?
I think it comes down to personalities. As I'm sure you know, some people are actually quite enjoying the isolation and some others are struggling with it, and that comes down to people's personalities. I think editors in general are feeling a bit isolated sometimes. Our MCR team and our producers here at Gorilla are on Teams all day, so they're all virtually in the office, they can all see each other, they're talking to each other. So the concept that we had was rather than constantly doing calls – which I have to say I find a bit laborious – we just have Teams open all day and people talk as if they were in the office. I think that's helped massively for those departments, socially.
“I think this has proven that anybody can work with Gorilla no matter where they're located, and now we've got a proven track record in difficult conditions of delivering programmes remotely. So I'm hoping that comes as a commercial benefit. People don't need to go to traditional locations to get their post-production done.”
Looking back, would you change anything about the way you rolled out remote working?
We will change. I wouldn't have done anything differently, because the way we did it meant it was progressive and we could get it done at speed, but I will be changing large elements of our infrastructure in the near future to make the Amulet solution a permanent one. We will be looking at a further investment in Amulet to make distributed use around the facility the norm.
As a company with a more mature remote setup than most, do you have any advice for media companies who are just beginning to investigate remote?
As the person who looks after the infrastructure of the company, infrastructure has always been a difficult investment to justify, because it's not something people see. And certainly I feel what we've invested in network infrastructure, firewall infrastructure and VPN infrastructure is now playing a key part, and I couldn't have done any of the remote workflows without that in place. So that's the key bit, to ensure there's a constant investment in your infrastructure. And due to this situation, hopefully it'll become a lot easier to get some of that investment through the board, because people now value what it means to have good connectivity, resilient connectivity, resilient infrastructure. And then to me the icing on the cake is you can add technologies such as Amulet and it all works together like a dream.
Do you think customers will be paying much closer attention to things like remote capabilities and disaster recovery policies now?
I would say absolutely that's going to be asked about. Typically scripted programmes would ask about it and what they generally want to know about is disaster recovery and rushes handling, and that's always been the conversation. I suppose the new conversation now is remote capabilities. A pandemic hasn't been on the list of things to consider, it's a foreign word to companies in the UK, but I think the relevance of pandemic to business continuity is absolutely here to stay, and therefore remote solutions are going to have to be part of our planning.
But what's great is we've done it. We've delivered multiple shows and are still delivering multiple shows which have been commissioned in this lockdown period, which I'm incredibly proud of.
I don't like to force technology on people, because people sometimes find the change difficult and they become reluctant. What's been interesting in this situation is because we're all governed by the rules and therefore the options are limited, that's forced them to accept it. And by going through that process they've discovered that actually they can work like this and have a pleasant experience. I don't think it would have happened unless we were limited by the current government rules.
Want to make your remote workflow more permanent?
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