How the pandemic has expedited innovation within the film industry

November 12, 2020, 10:30 AM UTC
Disney+/Lucasfilm/Everett Collection

Alongside his team at Industrial Light & Magic, Rob Bredow is helping change the way television shows and movies are shot.

Using an immersive, massive, and cavernous LED video wall that stretches 270 degrees around the film set, reaches 75 feet in diameter, and can display digital environments that rival reality, Bredow and his crew at ILM—a division of Lucasfilm—have developed a way to bring the filming location to the cast, rather than the cast to the filming location. This LED stage is the latest innovation of Lucasfilm’s virtual production platform called StageCraft, and it’s ultimately making the filmmaking process much more efficient.

“One of the things that StageCraft brings to the table is the ability to shoot many locations on just one soundstage,” Bredow, SVP and chief creative officer of ILM, says. “For season one of The Mandalorian, we shot over 60 sets on just one soundstage because with the digital environment, it only takes us a couple minutes—you hit a button, it loads up, and now you’re in a different planet.”

On this episode of Fortune Brainstorm, a podcast about how technology is changing our lives, Bredow speaks with Fortune’s Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe about the inception of the StageCraft LED wall, how the technology has changed film production, and why it has been particularly useful throughout the pandemic.

An idea several years in the making, the LED walls were originally designed out of frustration with the traditional way of lighting scenes: Directors of photography wanted innovation with regards to visual effects. Now COVID-19 has made the technology all but essential.

“One of the nice things that StageCraft LED stage opens up for folks is some of those things that used to have to be done with large teams of people standing by just in case you had to make that change…can now be made digitally,” Bredow says. “People are working on their scenes from their respective houses, getting everything prepped, so that the day you’re ready to shoot, you can walk on that stage and you already have your set virtually built, you have your lighting well underway or almost done, and you just have to make your final adjustments before you’re ready to shoot.”

Andy Forssell, EVP and GM of WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer arm HBO Max, joins the podcast to discuss the content side of filmmaking and how the pandemic has caused the intensity of the so-called streaming wars to heat up. The closing of theaters has increased the importance of streaming services like HBO Max, and that’s a trend that may continue long after the world gets the virus under control, according to Forssell.

“The feature film studio has probably gone through more COVID-related impact than anybody else,” Forssell says. “You’re seeing all film studios, not just ours, have to suddenly look with pretty open eyes and be willing to think about any option there…You may see smaller/medium films head more to streaming services right away. Consumers are going to tell us what they want.”

Earlier in the episode, Lev-Ram and O’Keefe bring on Fortune entertainment reporter Aric Jenkins to hypothesize what factors will separate some streaming services from others. As it turns out, content is still king, and organic social media promotion is as important as ever.

To hear more about the new ways television shows and movies are being made and distributed, how viewing habits and preferences have been shaped by the pandemic, and how scenes with Baby Yoda are filmed, listen to the episode above.

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