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IMAGE: showing the conversion to a paperless office in a chalky style, papers flying across teh screen, goign into a laptop. The background is a rough textured dark blue.

The Digital Office aka The Paperless Office

By | Education, Innovation | No Comments

It’s insane that I still get pieces of paper from people. A paperless office is more and more achievable. Here’s how you can stop losing stuff in the mail, down the sides of drawers, and make sure everything’s available with one of these:

IMAGE: a paperless office means you can use this: a search bar showing search default text

Get Paperless Files

Cloud storage, you might have heard, is everywhere. This is essential, and there are so many plugins for your email services that let you just pop attachments or even the emails themselves into your online storage. If you’re unsure, these cloud storage services are just hard drives online, accessible anywhere, wherever you like, on all your devices, and best of all, you can search easily and quickly. No more thumbing through piles of paper looking for that one document. No more out of date versions. It’s all in one place, shareable among your team, clients, suppliers, whatever. Essential! Here’s our nerdy guide to organising a cloud drive.

Google Drive | Dropbox | Microsoft OneDrive

Get Paperless Signatures

No more sending of paperwork in the mail, to get it signed and sent back; or even more annoying, scanned and emailed back; or triple annoying, printed, signed, scanned and emailed. These services let you upload a document, populate the text, date and signature boxes, or leave them blank but marked for filling in by one or multiple parties – then the finished document is sent securely to the signing parties, who can draw their own signatures into the software or browser, finish up and bam, you’ve got everything signed and filed away. Some plug in to your cloud drive, too, meaning signed documents go straight to where you want them. Most services are free, then only require payment when you have to send lots of agreements out in a month.

HelloSign | DocuSign | Adobe eSign

Paperless Notetaking

This is the final frontier. The one thing that kept a paperless office slightly out of reach: the need for handwritten notes. Drawing, doodling and scrawling is the fastest, and for creatives, often most tactile and solid way to jot ideas or details or anything. Styluses, pens used to write on tablets, have been around for ages, but fell short of pens and pencils unless you had a full blown Wacom set up. That time is drawing to a close. Fine point styluses and tablets custom built for such digital pens have finally closed the gap, and smart tech means your wrist or hand won’t get in the way. Sync your notetaking up with Evernote, Google Keep or SimpleNote, and your handwriting can even be searchable (to a point).

Samsung Note | Apple Pencil/Pro | Fine Point Stylus

 

IMAGE: A white box with its lid off, on a grey background. Communication and information

Open & Structured: How We Use the Information in Google Drive to Facilitate Communication in Production

By | Education, Innovation | One Comment

This post is about how we use Google Drive as a conduit for information and communication, and how in really understanding why we do it the way we do it, we’re actually developing the culture of our productions. Now I warn you, this is a super nerdy post. If you’re into management, information, communication or organisation, you’ll love this.

Due to much ongoing experimentation, we’ve landed on an approach that works for now, for our film crews of about 20-30 people, on projects that aren’t secret or sensitive. If you’re bigger or you wanna keep stuff secret, this may not be for you, and when we get there, we’ll see for ourselves! Regardless of size, getting a process for sorting your digital information, and nailing a cloud storage service can be tricky. Really, before you even choose from Dropbox, Google Drive, Box or one of the other services out there, you want to work out what your principles and values are in how you work with your crew. For us, it’s about

Open Access to Information, Structured Flow of Communication

The way we see it, Google’s Drive and their apps, including Docs and Sheets, combined with desktop, laptop, tablet and smart phone technology gives our crew the ability to access a film, TV or digital project’s data anywhere, anyhow. That stops a huge amount of problems – no more files kept at the office, out of reach; no more out of date pages getting mixed up with current drafts; everyone can know they’re looking at the most updated version of anything; stuff can’t get lost (as easily). With our crews, broken up around the city, rarely in one place at the same time, and often working in multiple roles, we want them to be able to access any information about our project immediately, as easily as possible.

So we treat our Drive folders as repositories of information, as consolidated as possible, with ease of access the priority. That means:

  • You shouldn’t have to click too deep in to sub-folders to find what you need.
  • Spreadsheets should make use of tabs to combine as much information in as fewer locations as possible.
  • All folders should default to Link Sharing ON – Anyone With The Link (No Sign-in Required).

Any sensitive or security-conscious files are placed in a special ‘locked’ folder that is set to Link Sharing OFF – Shared with Specific People. Then, only higher-level crew have access to that folder by invite only. But, If there’s no actual need to restrict something, then we prefer it be unbound by restriction! When a new crew member joins, we share the master folder with them, giving them access to every department’s information. It’s then incumbent on the Producer or someone from that office to walk the individual through the data that’s relevant to them.

All of this is predicated on the notion that we want people to use the digital world to find information as quickly as possible, unfettered by unnecessary bureaucratic measures. A soundie who needs to see what camera we’re using can find that information as soon as she needs it. A cast member who wants to know where we’re going next week can get location data in the middle of the night. The information is open, and we encourage each individual crew member to use the search bar, keywords, favourites, bookmarks, stars, whatever they prefer to create priority access to the information most important to them. All of this cuts out wasted time chasing information.

Structured Flow of Communication

The amount of data we amass for any one project can grow to mammoth size. Video files alone can be gigs big. With all that information, updated, added to and moved by each crew member as required, we need to keep everyone across the flow of information. That’s where structured communication comes in. There are a few different methods we employ, but the best fail-safe is the weekly conference call. If we could, we’d prefer to have a weekly heads of department meeting, around a nice big round table, with food, drink and good times – but we’re in Australia, my friend, where money for creativity is as rare as the Tasmanian Tiger. Instead, we use Skype, Hangouts or the simple phonecall (again, Australia, so shitty internet), depending on everyone’s majority preference. I’ve had people tell me they’ve taken hours and hours to get through such a call, which tells me they aren’t structuring their communication right. We have an agenda that rarely changes:

  1. The Producer first connects with the Director 15 minutes early, then brings in each Head of Dept (HoD), so by start time, everyone is on. (The Director, usually loquacious, chats with the crew as the Producer dials)
  2. After formally starting, the Producer calls on a HoD to quickly sum up what they’ve done this week gone, and what they need to do next week. No elaboration, just task lists crossed off or still open.
  3. The rest of those listening are reminded to take notes of what they need from the other departments.
  4. The HoD says they’ve finished, and the Producer throws it to the Director, who follows up with any corrections, adjustments, clarifications or additions.
  5. One by one, the Producer works through each HoD in the same way, with the Director following up. The second last is the Producer, who states their own this week/next week list.
  6. The Director is the last to state their this/next week list.
  7. Finally, the Producer goes back around the HoDs, asking each to name another department or the Director, and ask for what they need. Again, this should be quick, with any detailed discussion prompted to be followed up one-on-one outside of this call.
  8. Once everyone has had their say, the Director gives a wee pep talk, the Producer confirms the time of the call for next week, then all say I love you and hang up.

The Producer or a Production Coordinator is usually taking notes as each HoD talks through. We mark what issues there are, what actions will be taken, and who’s taking them, just to make sure after we hang up, nothing’s missed. This is kept in a single sheet, on a single tab, with each prior week pushed off to the right – all we ever use is last week’s and this week’s notes.

The point of this call is make sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing – problems get solved or are discovered to not even be problems, niggling misunderstandings are shattered to make way for crystal clarity, and everyone feels appreciated, listened to and understands how important their roles are, and how their work fits in to the other departments’ work in this big beautiful creative commercial beast. Often, during these calls, one HoD’s list answers two other HoD’s questions immediately, so we’ll hear, “I was gong to ask about blah, but that’s already answered!” Regarding our information storage, the most common expressions heard are, “I’ll put that in the drive for you” or “That’s in Folder X on the drive”. Again, we’re catching each other up on the flows of information, all coalescing in our Google Drive. It takes a bit of practice, and at first the rapid, business-like pace takes some people by surprise, but that in itself helps folks fully realise the focus and professionalism of our crew. For an hour a week, everyone is serious, determined and is openly seeking help in being great.

I’ve barely touched on the actual detail of how we use Google Drive, but soon we’ll show you how to fine tune the sharing settings in Drive to match our standard setup. The above is to emphasize that no matter what aspect of the creative process you’re fiddling with, starting with a candid appraisal of how you communicate, and what role you want information to play is crucial. Once you really know that, then the tools you need become obvious. It’s less about features and price and platform – those things come into it, but they all must respond to the answer to this question:

How Do You Use and Communicate Information?

The answer to that question will set the tone for your productions every time. We want openness and clarity in what we do, which means there’s a lot of stuff, and that that stuff needs to be made clear for everyone. Siloing information, like it’s some sort of treasured prize, doesn’t really do it for us, because each crew member is so specialised in their craft – that is their value. In order for them to do what they’re good at, they need to use their specialised brains to grab exactly what they need, and maybe a little bit more, at any time, to create their part of the project. Why slow someone down by having them request access to a document? Why delay their lightbulb moment because they’ve got no signal? We use information as a tool for our artists, and we communicate information to ensure visions are aligned. In doing so, we communicate how important that vision is and where it’s coming from, and give free and open license to our artists to use all the information they can gather to do their exceptional work. It seems to go all right for us so far.

The X Gene Use Google Drive For Video Delivery

Using Google’s Cloud Drive for Drafts and Delivery

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The X Gene uses Google Drive to send digital versions of drafts, documents and final deliverables of your video. It’s an easy way to keep everything centralized and accessible 24/7. Drive is Google’s version of of cloud drive, like Dropbox or iCloud, which are all cloud storage services that essentially create hard drives on the internet. The beauty of these services is we can create folders that are shared only with you and synchronize back and forth.

If you place the images or briefs we need into your shared folder, we receive them on our side immediately. When we place your video drafts or final videos in on our side, you have access to them straight away, too.

To get the most out of this system, we’ve got a few pro tips for you. Once you do these, we’ll be better connected, and the whole process becomes easier and quicker. You’ll take full advantage of the power of the web.

Install Google Drive

Drive exists in the cloud, which means you can access it anywhere, anyhow. The quickest way is to install a Google Drive app onto your computer. Follow this link and you’ll be shown the appropriate download (Mac and PC). Once you install the app, a special Google Drive folder will appear on your computer. You can use this like any normal folder, except it syncs to the internet whenever connected.

If you tell us the email address you use to log in to Google Drive, we’ll make sure our shared folder is accessible by you, and that folder (usually called ‘TXG-YourBizName’) will appear on your computer. Now we can share files back and forth, and all you have to do is drag those files into your shared folder.

Mobile Access

iPhone, iPad and Android devices also have a Google Drive app. If you download the app from the relevant store, you can access your files on the move, out the office, and even upload files to us. Show your friends and associates those awesome videos wherever you are!

Bookmark Your Shared Folder

The default way for most people to view their shared folder and the video drafts inside is via their web browser (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Explorer). If you don’t want to install the applications above, we highly recommend you take the link we first send you and save it to your browser’s bookmarks or favourites. That link takes you to the browser version of our folder (as opposed to the Desktop or Mobile App version). You can add files from there, but most importantly any files we add for you will show up there, too. Every draft we send goes into that same folder each time, so if it’s bookmarked, you can always check without diving into your emails or waiting for a download to complete.

a yellow cartoon duck with smiling eyes and a chubby demeanour

Why We Do Drafts

By | Education | No Comments

When we quote a job, we’ll say how many drafts are included. That’ll usually be drafts of a script, and drafts of an edit. Sometimes, it seems people aren’t quite sure of why we do that, or what constitutes a draft. Here’s why and what!

When we’re making something, it’s a mix of our vision and the client’s vision. Those visions will never immediately 100% align. It’s impossible for two people to think exactly the same way. If I say, “Think of a duck,” you and I are picturing two different ducks. Maybe mine’s black, and yours is green and tan. Maybe yours is a pond duck, and mine is Daffy. Making a collaborative or responsive creative piece is about understanding each other as much as possible – and understanding comes from communicating. Drafts are the things that let us communicate. They give us something central and real to discuss.
Image: a wooden mallard decoy duck to demonstrate how varied our ideas of ducks and drafts can be
In our official terms (read them here), a draft is defined as, “any video file, document, or sound file submitted to a client, on which notes can be given back to The X Gene. The final draft is either that draft which requires no further changes/notes, as stated by the client, or the maximum number of drafts as stated in the quote/by these terms – whichever comes first.

Here’s an honest truth: the first draft of anything is shit. Well, maybe not shit, because The X Gene is great at scoping what someone wants before we begin – but certainly not what the client exactly pictured. That’s good! It’s never going to be! The first draft is the starting point. We present that first draft and give the client a formatted Google Sheet, and ask them to go over it second by second, and tell us what to change. Be as specific as possible! The more changes, the better!

From that, we reshape the video or script, refining it with our own knowledge of copywriting or editing as we go, and then draft 2 is a big improvement. So many times, a client will exclaim, “Oh that’s much better!” When done properly, draft 3 is usually just a polish – a couple of timing changes, or a few word swaps, say.

Where it goes wrong is when clients don’t take the time to really look over the drafts we send them. If we get only two or three notes on draft 1 – sometimes none! – we get nervous, because in all likelihood, those changes will trickle through after draft 3, when suddenly the client has looked closer and noticed, and then we have to charge extra.

Back to our terms, “all jobs requiring editing or standalone motion graphics/animation include two rounds of revisions, which is three drafts, in the quoted price, unless stated otherwise. Any changes outside of these three drafts will be quoted and, if approved, charged accordingly.” It feels lame to say it, but in drafting, haste makes waste. A video is probably a pretty expensive line item, so we try and encourage our clients to take some time, sit down with a coffee or thickshake, and dedicate an hour or so going through the first and second drafts with a fine toothed comb, jotting down the timecode and exactly what should be changed. Then, wait until the end of the day, look back over those notes and confirm they’re what’s needed.

Maybe there’s a hesitation to tell us what to do? One of our favourite clients gave copious, detailed notes with exactly what she wanted as a result, and at first apologised. We rejoiced! Those notes told us exactly what to do, and so we knew that when we were finished, we’d done exactly what was right. The only time that goes awry is when a client changes their mind and reverts back. Flip flopping is a nightmare. So don’t be afraid to know what you want – and be specific about it – but take the time to ensure that you and your stakeholders are all agreeing that your duck is the same as our duck.