TV Land is a Viacom cable channel running both syndicated and original comedy series catering to Gen X audiences. Recently the network established an updated brand identity, with a new logo and look to reflect its programming shift. The rebrand was a major undertaking for the network’s in-house creative team and they relied heavily on Shotgun to get them through the complex process. Senior Director of Motion Graphics and Edit, Kurt Hartman, and Senior Manager of Motion Graphics and Edit, Janice McDonnell, share the inside scoop.
Tell us about your company and the type of projects you work on.
Kurt: We work in the brand creative group department at TV Land, and there are about 70 of us here who handle promotional and marketing materials for all TV Land shows, marketing buys, events and anything that we’re trying to draw attention to. We also take care of any advertising needs, which include: on-air promos, digital and social promotional ads and out of home key art.
How long have you been using Shotgun?
Kurt: We really started testing Shotgun last January, so we’re coming up on 12 months. It wasn’t the first time that I’ve tried to impose a production management tool, and I have had some failures in the past. We came from a place where everything that we now use Shotgun for was previously done through Word documents that were emailed around. It was pretty painful, but some people were happy with the way things were. This year, we’ve gotten so much busier than we’ve ever been in the past. Right when we were starting to first test Shotgun we were also starting a complete rebrand of our network—everything from the look to the attitude and programming; so change was already in the air. We also had a significant staffing shakeup where we had to find creative ways to do more with less, which is why we finally got the buy-in that we needed to build Shotgun into our pipeline.
Janice: It started with a small guinea pig group. There are a couple of members of the group who really drive the operations of everything, so once they embraced it and it made their workload much easier, it became easier to sell adoption throughout the larger organization.
Can you give me sense of volume of how many projects you’re pushing through?
Kurt: At any given time we usually have around 20-to-30 projects open inside of Shotgun. Some projects may just entail one on-air spot, while others may have hundreds of associated assets. On average we deliver anywhere from 20-50 spots per week. They’re mostly short form promos for on-air and digital. In-house editors, designers and mo-graph animators will work in both 2D and 3D applications to deliver elements for the promos. The project slate really runs the gamut. We do everything in-house. Our goal with Shotgun was to replace the massive Word documents that we used to use to track projects, these would house all of a project’s information — from who was working on it, to who was the approver, to due dates. The doc would be emailed and re-emailed with every change, so often we would find people working with an outdated version and completing an incorrect task. This was first thing we fixed when we moved into Shotgun.
I do think that we are not the typical Shotgun client — or user — but what really drew us to the product was how easily we could adapt it to our needs. I think that there are similarities between the work we do and deliver, and what VFX houses do, but our naming conventions are different. With Shotgun, we could use existing templates, but could easily rename things so that nomenclature matched up to what people are used to here, which is one thing I love about Shotgun.
Are you using Shotgun for review?
Kurt: At first we knew that would be something we would want to do, but we had to pace ourselves a little bit because we were dealing with a group of people who had a set process in place. We have just started to use Shotgun review and approval with a small group. We were early adopters of the 6.3 release, including updates to the Client Review Site which we’ve really benefitted from.
What review features introduced in the 6.3 release are most useful to you?
Kurt: I would say that the best feature was the ability to share work in the Client Review Site with not only clients, but also other users of Shotgun. Another feature was the ability to share things with the option to make them password protected or not. We’re sending things to executive VPs and senior VPs, and they are always pressed for time, so making review as seamless and easy as possible is key. Sometimes a password requirement can be a deal breaker, so this release opened the door to review with our executives.
Where is your team based and who is primarily using Shotgun?
Kurt: About 90% of the team is at the same facility in New York City. We also have an office on the West Coast using Shotgun, and have several people working remotely from on set at any given time. We have shows that we make ourselves at TV Land, and we embed producers and social media people on set, always with access to our Shotgun database.
There’s not one category that outweighs another as far as Shotgun usage goes. 25% of our Shotgun users are producers, 25% are artists, 25% are reviewing info (like the programming team and the production management team — they’re not putting much in, but they’re reading it every day), and then 25% would be the people that are really tasked with entering all the data – the operations team and administrators.
How did you first hear about Shotgun?
Kurt: I was doing research to find tools that help with workflow, and was seeing things like Basecamp, ON-AIR Pro, Showrunner, FTrack, and Shotgun. When I reached out to the people at Shotgun, I can honestly say it was the best interaction that I‘ve had with a support team. When I first reached out to them I said, “Hey, this is what we do, this is what we need, and can I talk to someone?” and within 24 hours I was on the phone with someone sharing screens. Nobody else did that for me, and that really helped me see that this was the right product for us, and that the level of support that was in place was unmatched.
Can you describe a recent project where using Shotgun was essential?
Janice: Our recent network rebrand, because I don’t think we could have done it without Shotgun. There are so many elements to generate for a network redesign. We’re trying to get so much done. Shotgun made a huge difference in communicating with each other and staying on the same page, because we’re not all in the same room. The redesign project involved hundreds of assets that needed to be delivered to our network operations center, and to think that we used to be crossing things off on a printout of paper. Now we’re having real-time statuses on what’s been approved. It’s like keeping a birds-eye-view on the status of all of these elements at once. I can’t believe we ever worked any other way.
What are your favorite features of Shotgun and what do you primarily use it for?
Kurt: It really helps our less data-oriented people when they can go into Shotgun and see features similar to other apps they’re used to using, like Facebook—it’s a friendlier interface. When you can tell people they can follow things in Shotgun and get notifications automatically, that opens their eyes to the fact that this isn’t super complicated and won’t take them weeks or months to master. Once they knew they could make a request on something they’d like to see or do within Shotgun, they took ownership — maybe adding a new notes field, new rules or filtering, things they were excited to do on their own. There always seems to be a way to figure out how to leverage Shotgun to replace something that we had been communicating previously via email, IM, you name it.
We even started using Shotgun for inventory tracking as well. We have a lot of equipment here in the department such as drives, laptops, cameras, lenses and lighting kits, and we had trouble keeping an eye on who had what, so we made a checkout database in Shotgun where we could track who has the camera, who has the light, and so forth.
I also really like the custom entities, which come in super handy when there isn’t something that’s in Shotgun out-of-the box; there are all these widgets and entities so you can get them to do whatever you need them to. Building custom pages is something that I’ve started to get into to consolidate all of our essential project information in one place. I think that review and approval will be hugely important for us with Shotgun in the future, even though we’re still just dipping our toes in. Another big strength of Shotgun is that you’re easily able to self-service the pipeline!
Janice: I really like the customization of crew planning. I work across many departments and we’ve developed pages that make our teams’ lives easier. It helps their buy-in with our process and makes the team members more self-sufficient because they can find information on their own. Even with our freelance talent, they can see all their budget codes when filling out time sheets directly within Shotgun. We have a production manager, and she needs to know who is handing in time sheets that day, and she has a page where she can see if she needs to update their paperwork. That customization is really valuable.
I also manage in-show graphics, which is a lot of information. With Shotgun, I can see what work lies ahead and at-a-glance keep track of it in the system. Because we are a creative group, the less time we spend on making things run smoothly, the more creative we can be.
With Shotgun, I can see what work lies ahead and at-a-glance keep track of it in the system. Because we are a creative group, the less time we spend on making things run smoothly, the more creative we can be."
What content creation tools do you use in-house?
Kurt: We primarily use Adobe Creative Suite. That’s the workhorse here: After Effects, Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign. For 3D animation we use Cinema 4D.
What are the three most important things in your office?
- My coworkers
- The great New York City neighborhood my office is in
- Our art room—it just had a real renaissance. We used to do everything digitally, but recently we’ve started making things by hand, and we do all of that in this room we call the art room. It’s been really nice to use paintbrushes, paper, and the things that were forgotten about for the last ten years when the first thing you turn to is software.
- Shotgun would be my number one
- The people here
- Good communication