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Story development: the four key challenges you have to crack

Courtesy of Laika Studios/Focus Features

There is an old adage: ‘Time is money.’ This has never been more true than in today’s media production industry.

Time well-spent, or wasted, can be the difference between a project being profitable or making a loss. A studio’s survival hinges on the productive use of its time and resources.

Knowing this, it’s all the more alarming that one of the most crucial workflows of any production is often rooted in time-inefficient processes of the past, or configured in ways that are highly inflexible and opaque. It’s time to talk about pre-production. Pre-production sees artists, editors, directors, and producers all coming together to create compelling stories. However, often the processes that facilitate this magic don’t work effectively, which can lead to this phase of production being long-protracted.

To work out where studios can start to make improvements, it’s worth examining the key challenges that productions face during story development.

Time-intensive administrative tasks

You’ve assembled an all-star cast of creatives and producers. You should just need to put them together, and they’ll begin churning out award-winning story ideas, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, your team ends up bogged-down with complex server structures, naming conventions, and storyboard printouts.

All the time they’re spending trying to figure out where the file they need now lives, they’re not spending creating amazing stories - which is costing you money. To get the most out of your team, the administrative process needs to be streamlined - nearly invisible - so they can get on with being creative.

Sony Pictures uses Flix on The Smurfs 2

The Smurfs 2. © Sony Pictures Imageworks

Inflexible pipelines

Story development requires many different people with varied skillsets to work together. There could be any number of possible configurations of the many industry-leading applications commonly used by creatives. Getting them to all work together effectively can be a real headache.

To solve this problem, technical departments generally either opt to make all artists use specific software - which they might not be familiar with - or choose to build out complicated and expensive solutions that allow everybody to use the tools they prefer. A better solution would be to employ a workflow that can link up these different applications, so they can work together in harmony.

Communication breakdown

The free flow of information and data is the oil that keeps the engine of your project running. However, when the story development process is in full flow, everyone has a lot on their plate. It’s hard enough for your staff to concentrate on their own departmental responsibilities, let alone keep track of what's happening with everybody else’s. One misunderstood instruction can lead to days of delays, and one overlooked idea can render a potentially great project average.

In order for everyone to be on the same page, everybody needs to be informed and up to date. Therefore, effective communication is vital.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. © Sony Pictures Imageworks & Hotel Transylvania. © Sony Pictures Imageworks

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 from Sony Imageworks using Flix
Storyboard software brings Hotel Transylvania to life for Sony Pictures

Cumbersome story development processes

The journey from initial thumbnail to final board, and then on to prevised shot, is a long one that can involve many, many iterations.

The manual processes that have traditionally been in place to facilitate this journey are time-consuming, and prevent artists from experimenting with ideas. In turn, this can result in costly reworking later on in production. There’s also the headache of locating previous iterations on servers which are complex, counterintuitive to navigate, and time-consuming to maintain.

The fact that it’s not uncommon for story artists to re-draw boards, rather than look for the originals, tells you something about the cost-inefficiency of these processes. And when multiple artists collaborate on a sequence, the problems are compounded. Studios need to look towards solutions that work with the iterative process to reduce time-wasted and save money.

The crux of the matter

The studios that thrive in today’s highly-competitive media production industry will be those that can operate the most efficiently. They’ll be the studios that can unshackle their creatives from laborious administrative tasks, so they can get on with what they do best. They’ll be the ones that empower artists to work together, with the tools they love. And they’ll be the ones that enable their whole team to communicate effectively to get the job done.

You’ll be pleased to know there’s a tool that can do all these things. You can find out more here.

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