Google Drive Archives - The X Gene

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

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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 That stops a huge amount of problems – no more files kept at the office, out of reach; no more out of date pages getting mixed up with current drafts; everyone can know they’re looking at the most updated version of anything; stuff can’t get lost (as easily).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.

Dropbox icons

Why I Chose Dropbox As Our Cloud Service

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Let’s hear from our founder, producer and mad scientist Simon J. Green. Take it in the face, Simon…

When I set up The X Gene, I’d just moved from a digital media company I’d also co-founded called Green Rabbit. While we were there, cloud services had just started becoming a ‘thing’. At The X Gene, I knew I wanted to move all our creative, briefs, client files and general business documents to a cloud service, because I knew I’d be on multiple computers as well as needing mobile access while out on shoots or in transit between client meetings.


I’m a nerd. Massive. I looked at all the current cloud services and compared their features in an excel spreadsheet. Plan costs, GBs of space, shareability, mobile apps, integration with other apps and online services. Back then I think I was looking at three main contenders: Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive (although I think Google had  just rolled out their paid version), with YouSendIt floating around the edges.

Ultimately, I decided on Dropbox. Since then, heaps has changed. YouSendIt have become way more attractive, adding a solid cloud service as well as online document signing. Interesting, because I know a lot of people who use YouSendIt anyway, and I even still use it for a quick send that I can leave uploading. I know, once it’s upped, it’ll be immediately sent. Dropbox doesn’t do that, although I can easily leave it uploading and then email the link from my mobile while I’m out.

Box seemed to scrape together a lot of key integration in apps, but I found it rather American-centric in that regard, and hardly anyone I work with uses it. On an iPhone or iPad, this might have been a concern, but since I’ve moved to Android, the cross-app shareability options have exploded.

Google Drive is probably the most viable outside of Dropbox for me. Our company email and calendar is set up through Google, we use Chrome for browsing, mobile and tablet are now Android, Google Apps looks tasty, especially with some of the business tools available, and we have a chunk of documents in Google Docs, because the collaboration is so damn useful.

Dropbox is our winner, though, and hear’s some of the reasons why: they’ve since increased plug-in support for multiple apps and online services, in particular Vimeo. Vimeo is fantastic for us, because we display all our finished work through a paid Vimeo account with embedding on our sites, and deliver drafts to our clients using password protection. One incredible feature sees us able to upload a video by clicking a button and browsing our cloud and choosing the video within that ecosystem. The video is already online, so the processing is a matter of seconds instead of up to an hour. That means just the one upload, which saves us bandwidth and allows us to deliver drafts to clients in two ways – one a Dropbox short link, another a Vimeo password protected link. Dropbox has a teams function now, which will help us as we grow. Using the integrated desktop app means when a client or contractor uploads a file to our account, it immediately starts downloading on our computers, giving us instant access instead of having to wait for manual clicking of the Download button. This shared folder system also makes it easy to keep our briefing and creative files neat and tidy for our contractors. We’ve also gathered something like 60 GB of additional free space from their referral system. If someone joins one of our shared folders, then adds Dropbox’s app to their desktop computer, we get a chunk of free space. If someone clicks this link http://db.tt/bgtBRkG and joins Dropbox, we get free space. Through various online tweets, surveys and offers, we’ve received free space. SO MUCH FREE SPACE!

We looked long and hard at the others, but we’re happy with our decision. We  love seeing the add-ons that increase productivity as cloud services become more prevalent. So that’s why we went with Dropbox.