3rd July 2020

Notes From The Team: Delivering In Lockdown by VFX Producer Rory Knight-Jones

Jenny Burbage
Posted 3rd July 2020

Our Rory Knight-Jones talks about the importance of mental wellbeing while delivering VFX for Netflix’ The Old Guard during lockdown

“Every VFX project walks a fine line between creative freedom and tight deadlines, each one offering up its own unique set of challenges. But little did we know back in the summer of 2019 when we began work on Netflix’ feature ‘The Old Guard’ that our biggest test would be managing our team and delivery through a global pandemic.

By late February, we were working full steam ahead to reach our delivery deadline. The machine was running smoothly, and a consistent and effective workflow was in place. As news began to progress about the spread of COVID-19 there was a real sense of uncertainty. None of us had ever been through such a thing, and it was easy to question yourself daily. Am I underreacting? Am I overreacting? Nobody knew.

By early March, I’d taken the decision to start working from home, and over the course of a week or two, our entire Milk crew were now at home too. At first, there was a sense of novelty. We would all like to spend more time at home, right? It was during this period at the end of March where things seemed to escalate exponentially, with the government swiftly enforcing a lockdown. This no longer felt like a choice, which changed things a lot.

There was a real feeling of shellshock in those early days; our everyday working rhythm had been rudely interrupted. Emotions were high and anxiety was rife. Our daily catch-ups were now suddenly all digital. Meetings in our own living rooms, sometimes in our pajamas, almost always in loungewear! I’m a firm believer that adversity breeds productivity, and once the feeling of dread and unknown had numbed itself a little, the team very quickly got to work on what our new processes would look like.

“The most eye-opening aspect of those times, for me, was seeing how agile humans really can be.”

The most eye-opening aspect of those times, for me, was seeing how agile humans really can be. Rather than lay down and wither under such strain and uncertainty, the team saw this as a real opportunity to step-up and find really good practical solutions to keeping us going on the right path. Dailies became digital; morning meetings were replaced by morning zoom calls; client reviews became virtual (often joined by my Golden Retriever Ralph who kept us all smiling throughout! ) I felt an incredible sense of pride as I monitored our progress closely over the course of the first month at home. Typically where I had expected potential impacts, there were innovative and creative solutions to working. It was clear that COVID-19 was not going to win this one!

As well as the practical element of delivering a project, we all quickly became more attuned to each other’s mental wellbeing. With the increased focus on mental health in recent years, there has already been a plethora of positive steps taken, but this new situation seemed to shunt it straight into the spotlight. We were all so used to visiting each other’s desks and asking a customary “How are you” with the response usually being a diluted courtesy rather than a serious answer. But Coronavirus prompted us to check in much more with the team. Not about their shots or schedules, but about them. How they were, really. Pushing for honest and revealing answers.

“You are not ‘working from home’ you are ‘at home, during a crisis, trying to work’.”

The question we always asked was “Is there anything we can be doing for you on a professional or personal level to make this easier?”. Nine times out of ten the answer was “No”, but the question itself is enough to make someone feel listened to, respected and valued on a human level.

It was incredibly important for us to remind the team that these were not normal circumstances. You are not ‘working from home’ you are ‘at home, during a crisis, trying to work’. This is such an important difference. Encouraging people to check in with themselves daily, step away from their workspaces and spend a moment assessing their human needs was incredibly important. Such actions led us to a team that was less anxious, more self-aware and conscious that they were in an environment where they could reach out and say “I’m not having a good day”.

Although there are many tales of tragedy and loss during this cruel and uncertain time, I will always reflect on the lessons it has taught me about kindness, self-care and finding strength in those around you. And as the world slowly wakes up and returns to normal, whatever that may look like now, I really hope we can all take these lessons forward with us.

The Old Guard drops on Netflix Friday 10th July. Myself and Milk’s Old Guard crew can’t wait to see our work on screen. I know they will all feel such a shared sense of achievement.”

Check out The Old Guard trailer below:

The Old Guard | Official Trailer | Netflix

Play

Image: Rory and Ralph on a Zoom with Milk’s The Old Guard production team

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