When you watch films from over forty years ago, it can be easy to chuckle at the production bloopers and the special effects, even if they were ground-breaking for its time. For example, take Alien from 1979. It won the Academy Award for Best Effects, and seventeen other awards.
At an hour and thirty-five minutes, the viewer can see a crewman with a black panel as Ripley runs through the ship. From another scene, you can see the dolly that the camera moves on. It’s no secret that production workflows and technology have evolved (with some aspects, by force) since the 70s. Can you imagine if the Alien production crew had to work entirely remote?
How has the M&E industry changed amid the chaos of the last few years? Well, streaming services added even more pressure to productions, then creatives and directors alike had to work remotely during the pandemic. But before we dive into that, let's take a quick look at what media production is, how it has evolved in recent decades, and then look at what the future might hold.
What is Media Production?
Media production is the process of creating audio and visual products such as films, television shows, and other forms of media.
The media itself ranges from a feature film to episodic content, to advertising and promotional media, and even extends to someone producing content in their own home, either for educational purposes or for consumers.
For this article, we’re focusing on film and television media production. It has various types of media under its own broad umbrella term, such as feature, episodic, scripted, unscripted, and more.
How Has Media Production Changed?
The film industry is fairly new in terms of how humans consume entertainment – barely more than a hundred years old. Media production has come a long way from silent films, to Alien, and then to Warner Brother’s Black Adam.
Oldest Surviving Silent Film: Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)
And television is even more recent! It only really started to gain traction around post-World War II. In 1946, only about 17,000 televisions existed in the United States.
From black and white to color, and from regular definition to high definition, the film industry has made rapid discoveries on how to create media. But these inventions have happened slowly in the grand scheme of entertainment – at least, that is, until 2020.
The latest disruptions to the media and entertainment industry have been streaming services and the pandemic. Once streaming services entered the market, directors and production teams felt the pressure to produce more, and at a faster pace.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these changes were accelerated even more. Studios were forced to adapt to a new way of working, and many media productions were moved entirely remote. The film industry was turned upside-down, with many wishing to return to the normal on-set production process.
“Without the pandemic, you wouldn’t have seen [productions and] theatrical windows collapse in the way they did. Whether you like it or not, the pandemic forced us to try things that would be harder to do in regular times.” - Lisa Bunnell, President of Distribution at Focus Features
The pandemic accelerated the transformation in movie and television production, as well as distribution. There was a massive decline in film attendance, and many post production tasks, like editing and virtual effects, were forced to move almost entirely remote.
Today, the pandemic is waning, but ways of working are still evolving. With production entering a new ‘hybrid’ state, media production processes have continued to evolve as well. 2 million jobs in Hollywood have returned, a breath of fresh air for many eager to get back to productions. Despite layoffs, even Netflix is accelerating its media productions in LA, with at least 70 productions in the area.
With all of this change still fresh in mind, will these rapid changes continue? What does the future look like for the media and entertainment industry?
The Future of Media Production
Even after the height of COVID-19, the film industry is still experiencing rapid changes and new trends.
Immersive realities are becoming more life-like. Media production has gone from sound, to stereo, to five channels, to surround sound, to Atmos. On the other hand, video has evolved from still images, to moving images, to black and white to color, and more. Filmmakers are always trying to creatively transform their mediums.
Even the resolution, color depth, and dynamics have changed. Now, VR and AR are the future of the film industry. Filmmakers want to engage every sensory aspect of their viewer to deliver an entirely new experience!
From where M&E is heading, consumers will eventually not be able to tell the difference between a media production entertainment product and reality. That's why it is called virtual reality.
How are filmmakers revolutionizing their media productions?
There’s a general trend that filmmakers, especially the ones that operate at the top end of productions, are always trying to push the envelope. With expedited production timeframes due to streaming services and consumer demand, pushing production boundaries is almost a necessity.
For example, like Alien, Dune won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 2022. When compared to older films in the 70s, it really represents the progress media production has gone through in the past forty years.
Filmmakers want to deliver a never-before-seen or felt experience, in a completely new way than just through a screen. Even if technology doesn't improve to meet this desire, creatively, top filmmakers are aiming for a new way to tell stories.
Repetitive entertainment gets stale – it’s not a secret. Experts in the film industry know that modern consumers are not going to want to watch the same media and VFX techniques that were done five years ago, unless it’s a cult classic (like Alien).
For example, action sequences with tons of movement and quick cuts used to be captivating to audiences, but now they might be a little played out.
The need to creatively evolve and become more attention-grabbing is constant.
Modern media production needs the right technology
When the pandemic hit, most cast and production crews could not travel. Modern technology provided a way forward for remote media productions to be efficient.
“Several triple-A productions and even smaller ones are starting to use it [virtual production technology]. It has definitely pushed lots and lots of filmmakers that have either had to revise scripts or cancel productions to actually see that they can set their shoots in Brazil [for example].” - Mark Pilborough-Skinner, Virtual Production Supervisor at Garden Studios
Part of that tech stack that has been a key aspect of the film industry is Digital Asset Management Systems (DAMs). For example, during and after the pandemic, DAMs have helped remote productions better manage media assets by automatically tagging files, collaborating live on assets or shots, and offering a secure hub to archive everything.
The Evolution of Media Production Is Not Slowing Down
While the impacts of the pandemic are still being measured in the film industry, one thing is for certain: change is happening now, and it’s not stopping.
Media production has been the leading vehicle for modern entertainment since it was invented. And, with the latest technology on hand, directors have even more creative media production power at their fingertips.
As for what they plan to do with it, the world will have to wait and see.
Want to revolutionize your studio or organization’s media productions? Learn why major studios choose 5th Kind’s Digital Asset Management (DAM) platform for their media collaboration needs.