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Report from IBC 2023 - Paramount, Warner Bros., Marvel Execs Discuss the State of MovieLabs 2030 Vision

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This is year four of a ten-year journey to transition the backbone of Hollywood studio production and distribution to software and the cloud, with plenty of work still to do if the MovieLabs 2030 Vision is to be achieved.

“I am really glad this is a 10-year vision, not a 2-3 year one,” said Anthony Guarino, EVP Global Production and Studio Technology – Paramount. “We’ve made great progress in some areas, but others will take time to work through.”

Patty Hirsch, Global EVP, Consumer Digital & Platforms - Warner Bros. Discovery, agreed: “I’m glad of a ten-year plan. We need that time to shift our legacy systems across the board. A great effort is needed.”

Eddie Drake, Head of Technology, Marvel Studios, commented, “Progress has been made, but there’s still a long runway to go. We are in this for the long run. We have patience, and we want something to be viable. We do think we are on pace with that.”

MovieLabs 2030 Vision was launched at IBC 2019 to chart and lead the future of movie creation. The research body’s Chief Executive, Richard Berger prefaced a panel of Hollywood CTOs at IBC 2023, saying, “It is not a prediction – it is what we want it to be. Creative teams are faced with historical levels of production complexity with more deliverables per title, rapidly changing technologies and under tight schedules with a scarcity of talent and resources. Our vision is about creating a more secure and interoperable media workflow to give more time back to creatives.”

Interoperability underpins all the principles of the 2030 Vision and is now a key focus of the initiative. One problem is that movie production has traditionally operated as individual silos of highly bespoke “snowflake” workflows, even within the same studio. A goal of the joint venture is to agree on and implement a common architecture that can enable production teams to integrate diverse software tools, services, and infrastructure in a seamless way.

“We understand the benefits that are there in the Cloud, but we’ve also got highly specialized, highly bespoke solutions for our filmmakers,” said Drake. “We’ve got to move from traditional file systems to more object-based methodology. We’ve also got to get vendors to open up their products with microservices and APIs. We need some fundamental infrastructure changes to facilitate changes in media.”

Some vendors, it seems, are open to this discussion. Avid and Autodesk were name-checked as leading creative tool developers in talks with MovieLabs about interoperable cloud workflows.

“We need to start tearing down those walls – it needs to feel like one Cloud,” Drake asserted. “There is a real need for a single metadata repository for our company right now. We are looking for partners. We want to be creating metadata at the script stage, not curating it after the fact downstream in the supply chain.”

Paramount has recently formed a centralized global production technology group to oversee production and innovation in this space. It has done this, explained Guarino, because studios historically work with multiple filmmakers on multiple projects in parallel, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room to focus on long-term change.

“We’re looking for commonality of challenges and opportunities across disparate production groups,” he said. “We can’t expect creatives to work on the same tools. They want freedom of choice, and studios have to support that. At the same time, workflows are getting more complicated. We need a layer that encompasses a large toolkit and provides for interconnected workflows; otherwise, the system will break down.”

Paramount has also begun deploying an internal production user ID scheme where any member of a production team would only need to authenticate once in order to access all applications and assets associated with a project. “We’re taking the friction out of security,” he said.

Noting that the pandemic was an accelerant to innovation by cloud providers, such as high-performant storage, Michael Wise, SVP and CTO, Universal Pictures, said moving bespoke workflows to the cloud remained a challenge.

“Whether it’s color correction or post workflows or ancillary services like merchandise, theme parks, and archive, interoperability is what we need. A common ontology will unlock the cloud benefits.”

MovieLabs recently published version 2 of an ontology for media creation. “We hope the industry rallies around it since a fundamental first step is a common data model,” Berger said.

“The creative community creates snowflake bespoke workflows for a reason – it enables them to create the best stories, so it is important for us to take a step back and ask how we make tools that interoperate with assets with a similar ontology so that it can pass across systems from a workstation in an office to the laptop of an executive at their house in Malibu.”

Hirsch added, “If you were to serve them with something effective and simple, they would not engineer their own solutions. That is what keeps us motivated.”

All the issues aired here align with the active work MovieLabs is doing this year. They are – the Common Security Architecture for Production (CSAP), the journey to Zero Trust on the security side, and implementations of its Ontology for Media Creation and Asset/Data Interchange.

“These are areas where there are gaps to fill and, frankly, some hard technical, workflow and change management challenges to solve,” Berger said. “We are hoping that there are organizations that are beginning to focus on these specific challenges as filling some of these gaps accelerates the potential benefits across the entire industry.”

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