8 Best Virtual Production Office Alternatives
According to the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force’s recommendations for running a COVID-19 safe set, creating a virtual production office is imperative. Sets that don’t carefully follow these guidelines have already been closed down. Maintaining social distance, wearing masks, not sharing paper and pens, hiring COVID-19 compliance officers, and more regulations will be the new norm for a while. But it’s not all bad, thanks to technology.
The job can still be done thanks to helpful tools like these:
Slack is an easy to use app that you can download onto your smartphone, tablet, or computer to organize tasks and communicate effectively with your team. With Slack, you can open various channels for each important topic or department so important information doesn’t get lost a million text messages/emails deep.
Slack allows direct messages between individuals or smaller groups of your production team and you can set permissions to each channel so it doesn’t get overwhelming for people who don’t need to be part of the conversation topics. Slack also allows you to share files and links within each channel. Does your art department need images of the color scheme? Share the file in the “Art Department” channel and everyone in that channel will have access to it. You don’t need to think about it again.
Slack offers variously priced plans starting at $0.
With their free plan, you have access to 10,000 of your team’s most recent messages, 10 integrations with other apps like Google Drive, office 365, etc, and 1:1 voice or video calls with team members. Slack offers three other plans at $6.67/month, $12.50/month, and (undisclosed amount) for their “Enterprise Grid” plan for the extra-large business or industry.
In order to use Google Drive, you need to have a Google account. It’s free and easy to set up. The Google Drive app can be downloaded to your smart device and accessed from any computer you are willing to log in to.
Since the COVID-19 Safe Set guidelines recommend using little to no paper, Google Drive is a great digital solution to file sharing. You can share screenplays, production details, budget/accounting (and give permissions like “read-only” or “editing”, so files don’t get altered by just anyone). This is also a great place to organize and store call sheet templates. Within Google Drive, you can create and share your Production Bible, storyboard, photo inspirations, and character profiles.
Trello makes it easy to assign tasks, set due dates, create calendars, and organize workflow. “To do” lists and assignments are organized on individual cards that are easy to see at a glance. As a production manager, you can create cards with broken down tasks for individuals or teams to complete. Tasks can be moved into different categories such as “doing” (for tasks that are in progress) and “complete”, so you can see the real-time progress that is being made in each department (or scene completion if you want to use Trello to organize shoot days as well). To each of the tasks (or cards), you can add details, attachments, and comments.
You can create boards on Trello and add your production, team, project, or company name, add members that you are working with on the project. If you are interested in learning more about Trello, you can watch this Trello video tutorial that has their most up to date information.
Trello is free to use but does offer a paid package for companies or projects that have a large team.
Video Chat Options
Of course, nothing can compare to an in-person, face to face meeting. That personal connection seems to accomplish more, however, video chats are a close second and are quite easy to get used to, and they’re more efficient in terms of spending less of your precious time in pleasantries and traffic.
Since the COVID stay at home order began, all of us at Topsheet have been implementing video chats into our daily meetings. At first, it was a little weird and the video chats were long, but then we hit our stride and it’s become a normal and welcome part of our days.
Google Meet is easy to use and you can try it for free. Google Meet offers free, $10/month, and $20/month with various benefits including the length of time you can spend in the meeting and how many people can join on the call. Google Meet is easy to schedule in your Google Calendar, share your screen, record meetings, and give presentations and the video quality is very good. With Google Meet, you have the option of joining in as a phone call (if your internet service is spotty) or through any computer or smart device.
Zoom has a lot to offer. Their pricing ranges from free to $19.99/month. With Zoom, you can record your meetings locally or to the cloud, with searchable transcripts, have multiple participants can share their screens simultaneously and co-annotate, schedule, or start meetings from Outlook, Gmail, or iCal, and experience HD video and audio quality. Zoom also offers phone systems, video webinars, etc as your company grows or as we get back to normal office conditions.
FaceTime and Group FaceTime
For iPhone and iPad users, FaceTime is a great video chat app that can be used via WiFi or cellular data. Using Group FaceTime you can add up to 32 people on the call. If the person or people you are planning to FaceTime are in your contacts, simply open your FaceTime app, click the + in the upper right-hand corner and enter their name. If they’re not a contact on your phone, just type in the number. The only trouble with using FaceTime as your video chat option is that everyone on your team needs to have a compatible Apple device.
Skype is a Microsoft product that offers audio and HD video calling, screen sharing, call recording, live subtitles, and you can call phones (cell or landline) for an affordable international calling solution ranging from $2.99/month to $7.99/month.
The final and most fabulous aspect of your virtual production office is Topsheet. Topsheet makes it easy to virtually onboard your projects, including their documents to comply with AB-5, schedule, manage, create and distribute call sheets and communicate via notes and notifications, create and sign time cards and distribute payments to your cast and crew with direct deposit.
Topsheet offers touchless, COVID SAFE onboarding, call sheets, time cards, and payroll with direct deposit. Using Topsheet on your set will eliminate lines for signing time cards as time cards can be approved and signed using our free to download the mobile app (keeping you compliant with COVID safe guidelines and reducing the need for sharing pens/paper). Keep cast and crew organized with call sheets sent directly to each individual’s mobile devices. New hire paperwork is also done in-app, saving you time and reducing the amount of contact between people and objects on set. Paychecks can be sent by direct deposit, allowing cast and crew to be paid faster, more efficiently, and safer than ever before.