Customer Case

Case Study – The Sun Chronicles

Maarten Verwaest
February 16, 2020

France Télévisions have used a new, high-end continuous drama series to pilot the set up of a fully integrated data-driven production workflow. It unifies the metadata flows between the numerous departments required for drama production to streamline production operations, to cut the production and post-production cost, and to enable automated versioning and localisation.

Key take aways

  • Processing large volumes of raw material requires an industrial approach
  • A data-driven production workflow is the key to automation and industrialisation
  • An integrated process saves 30% of the post production cost

CONTEXT

Un si grand soleil (Chronicles of the Sun) is a daily continuous drama (or ‘soap’) following the lives of characters living in Montpellier, France. The series is produced by france.tv studio, a subsidiary of the French national television broadcaster, France Télévisions. It is shot on location in the South of France and in Vendargues studios, near Montpellier. Post production is in Paris.

The series is an ambitious, high end production which has been broadcast from Monday to Friday each week since August 2018. There have already been over 500 26 minute episodes.

France.tv studio was looking to unify the metadata flows between the numerous departments required for drama production in order to streamline production operations, and to make the process of versioning and localisation more efficient and effective. This would enable it both to make the production faster and less expensive, and to optimise the marketing and monetisation of the series. In short, it was interested to find out to what extent it could industrialise the manufacturing process.

The production understood the value of metadata within the supply chain and how, with the use of artificial intelligence, that metadata has the power to deliver benefits throughout the content supply chain. France Télévisions has very close links between its R&D department and production, and this was seen as an opportunity to pilot research work in a real world environment.

Three companies provide the backbone for the project. Setkeeper is the hub for the organisation, communication and distribution of pre production management tasks. Limecraft provide asset management, collaboration and task-oriented automation fuelled by AI features. Avid hosts the post production logic.

The plan for this new, industrialised way of working, was to achieve the Holy Grail of end to end metadata, by joining up information from the production management side (such as actor details, costume, character information, location information, props, costs, and so on), with the dailies, post production operations, distribution and archive. The result would be a single interface that communicates and exchanges metadata, securely and in real time. If successful, this would be a first in content production.

BLUEPRINT FOR A DATA-DRIVEN PROCESS

The process begins with the script, which is processed by Setkeeper. Within Setkeeper the scenes are broken down and indexed. Location information, props, casting, character details and continuity become machine processable. Of course, this is information that a crew would also capture otherwise: they are simply now doing the same earlier in the process.

Setkeeper is responsible for issuing call sheets and other information to the cast and crew – with the ability to monitor whether that communication is received and opened, much like an application such as Mailchimp.

Un si grand soleil is a daily drama and the production has to shoot every day. During that day, several episodes are being shot at the same time, depending on cast availability and location. In the course of a day, scenes may be shot for as many as 20 different episodes. Over a thousand different files will be generated in the process.

The key benefit of the unified production system is that it enables easy access to the scripts and associated details such as cast, props and continuity for each scene and location. This already saves an enormous amount of time.

Meanwhile, France.tv studio are using Limecraft Edge, for on site processing of raw footage and camera metadata. It transcodes the media to DNxHR and web proxies, and processes the camera metadata. The web proxies and metadata are sent uploaded instantly onto Limecraft Flow, which connects to Avid Nexis and Interplay in Paris. By doing so, rushes are available for review and selection immediately upon production.

Limecraft Flow then automatically pre-cuts the shots into scenes, and creates a virtual edit enriched with key metadata. It does this by using AI to detect scenes from the script. Over 10,000 clips are automatically sorted into ten episodes in an instant. This saves significant time and effort for the production team, thereby avoiding human errors.

The three systems – Setkeeper, Limecraft and Avid – now keep the metadata constantly flowing between them. The scene information and web proxies are copied and sent to Setkeeper and joined up with the inputted production information.

The script supervisor reviews the material and marks the circled shots using the Setkeeper interface on an iPad, while producers add comments. All this data is automatically transferred back into Limecraft Flow. The scene data is re-applied to the master data in AVID Interplay, so that it can assist with any versioning later down the line.

A further aspect of the integrated workflow tools is that all stages of the production process, such as review, offline edit, QC, grading, versioning and so on are set out as a workflow. Each step can be ticked off when it has been completed. A dashboard in the Setkeeper interface allows producers to see which step an individual programme has reached. This is especially useful when 20 episodes are in production simultaneously.

When an episode is ready to move into edit, an EDL (edit decision list) of the chosen shots is imported into Avid, along with the relevant media, via Nexis. Bins are created automatically in preparation for the edit.

As the edit progresses, the metadata now in Avid travels along with it. Limecraft tracks the edits and ensures that, with each cut, the associated metadata remains associated with each clip, by reapplying the EDL to the master data. Crucially, the metadata can be traced even after an edit has been exported for publication and versioning.

This continual automated transfer of metadata back and forth continues, via Avid Interplay, through grading, VFX and sound editing, enabling the metadata to be edited and maintained all the way through the workflow. It is this fundamental and unique process that enables the creation of multiple, alternative versions at marginal cost.

BENEFITS

It is very normal in large productions for each of the departments to be siloed. Although each is focused on performing its functions as well as possible, the communication of key production information between departments is often cumbersome. Any process that ensures that key data is constantly circulating between departments is bound to increase flexibility, and to reduce timescales.

Matthieu Parmentier, R&D Projects Manager at France Télévisions has calculated that the use of rules and algorithms to automatically rename, classify and associate shooting files has the potential to save as much as 30% of time spent each day. This case study has not yet achieved those levels of time saving, but there is already a saving of a half-person per day, with this soon due to become a full person. This saving alone will cover the cost of the cloud solution, so any additional deployments and savings will represent real cash benefits.

Perhaps the clearest benefit is an overall process efficiency. Historically production information has been kept in emails or individual documents. That information is often also in the hands of freelancers, and is typically discarded or lost the moment a production ends. Not only is that data now maintained in a centralised, online system, but it is constantly available. Everyday processes such as checking continuity now become much faster and easier.

The business change aspects of the innovation are challenging however. On the one hand, the creatives are pleased to see the automation of background tasks: it enables them to get into a smoother creative flow. But others are threatened by the automation processes, and fear they will lose their jobs. Currently those people are being deployed to other roles, and much will depend on whether they come to prefer their newer tasks.

ROADMAP

Un si grand soleil has been working using this approach for nine months now. The one part of the workflow that still requires manual intervention however occurs right at the beginning: the script.

The input of the script into the system relies on the writers to set out their scripts in a particular way, or to use screenwriting software such as Final Draft. Currently, however, the writers are not working this way. This means that manual intervention is required to take their script, correct it, and input it into the system. With new script drafts appearing everyday, this is a hugely time-consuming process. Clearly, therefore, the adoption of the new workflow by the script department is key to the full and effective operation of new, automated, metadata-led processes.