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omms, or intercom, has played a part in feature film and TV productions for over a decade, but with COVID-19, the industry is beginning to see its role expand at an accelerated rate. Film and episodic TV productions ex- perienced a new type of hiatus last year when the pandemic imposed stay-at- home orders. As these restrictions began to ease, however, creative and technical professionals started returning to on-lo- cation sets. What they were returning to had a much different look and feel than what they were accustomed to prior to March of 2020. Locations are implementing rigorous safety protocols, including regular testing and daily temperature checks. On-site health compliance managers are be- coming a regular presence. Facial masks are required, with social distancing rules in place to limit groups and gatherings. Staff allowed on-set are limited, with more people calling in to set remotely. The side conversations and "huddle" dis- cussions that were commonplace on-set are no longer possible. With this new environment also comes a new use for a not-so-new tool — the intercom. Full-duplex wireless communica- tion systems are expanding from being an enabler of clear communications in certain circumstances to a necessity for the con- tinuation of safe media production. They are now being viewed as critical to execut- ing a creative vision and allowing collab- oration to occur freely and safely, while complementing or even integrating with more familiar two-way radio technologies. Crews on a film or TV set are used to walkie-talkies. Radios have extended range, sufficient battery life and are rela- tively inexpensive. When the limitations of walkies are considered — only one person can talk at one time on a channel, the audio quality is below average and feature sets are minimal — it is apparent that they are not a standalone solution. You cannot depend on radio for realtime conversa- tions because only one person can be pressing the transmit key at a given time. The limitations of two-way radio, com- bined with the introduction of distancing protocols, has necessitated broader and accelerated deployments of intercom on-set — and at times, off-set. Wireless partyline systems enable full duplex and high-quality natural conversations, while also allowing for flexible channel assign- ments. Intercom "pods" have emerged, where different departments of a pro- duction can have a common channel for all, as well as their own private channel. Pods allow team members to maintain proper distance while still carrying on efficient communications on a more granular level. Much of the need for more granular communications has originated from the camera department. "If a DP knows that they're going to want to talk to the operator or be close to the direc- tor during a shoot, or an AD wants to make announcements to the set as a 'voice of God', or the director wants to have a quick conversa- tion with talent without having to meet face-to- face, a wireless intercom system facilitates all this communication," explains technical director, Brent Marchenski. Using a wireless partyline can also facilitate calmer on-set environments, as crew mem- bers remain in a fixed location, speaking into their headsets at a normal volume. Wireless partyline has also contributed to shorter workdays thanks to more efficient workflows. Often, fewer cuts for technical reasons are needed since more people are talking through headsets on a private line to address an issue. "I've seen this technology contribute to production wrapping an hour earlier each day," explains communications technician, John Kendrick. "ADs don't have to change radio channels to call hair and makeup. Instead, they just have a hair and makeup button. People aren't getting stepped on or dealing with someone sitting on their radio and listen- ing to them eat. All that goes away." While on-set personnel are adjusting to new intercom workflows, other pro- duction team members, who are used to being onsite, are now adapting to calling in from remote locations using mobile app "endpoints" that tie into the main intercom system on-set. Varying COVID rules in different regions have made trav- el to and from a site more difficult, espe- cially when quarantining is required upon arrival. In many cases clients, producers, agents and even directors, are now work- ing remotely, but still need to interact and communicate with a production as if they're on-set. "You can easily integrate Zoom into a comms system, allowing people to talk naturally and seamlessly, as long as you manage the mix minus aspect," ex- plains Peter Schneider, vice president of Gotham Sound & Communications. "They can see things in realtime, react verbally and join conversations — whether they're in the next room or 2,000 miles away." Wireless communication systems are enabling production crews to return to set while upholding safety and health measures, allowing for key contributors to communicate remotely, and creating unexpected benefits within the produc- tion environment. For these reasons, the industry is seeing wider-spread adoption of intercom beyond the camera depart- ment that will likely also extend past the restrictions presented by COVID-19. INTERCOM STEPS UP SUPPORTING ROLE DURING COVID-19 WIRELESS SYSTEMS ARE ENABLING CREWS TO RETURN TO SET C WORKFLOW 38 POST JULY/AUG 2021 Brent Marchenski John Kendrick

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