11 JUN 2020

ALEXIS CARDENAS: “THERE’S A ‘NEW NORMAL’ FOR OUR INDUSTRY”

Language dubbing, subtitling, and media services company, The Kitchen quickly adapted to the changes that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. VP of International Sales of the company described how the company’s work structure has changed, the safety measures and protocols it has implemented as studios reopen and how client demands have shifted.

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Language dubbing, subtitling, and media services company The Kitchen’s day-to-day work structure is similar at all of its studios. All studios are now permitted to be open by law under the government’s regulations. The company continues to abide by restrictions still firmly put in place in other regions, such as Russia where the studio can only open twice a week within a certain time frame of the day. Despite the restrictions, the company is all operational, using its supplemented recording capabilities. Some of the recordings are done in the studio and the rest is done at home. Actors are provided with home recording setups in their houses. “It’s been a bit of an insane process going from a normal, operating how dubbing has been done traditionally since always, in studios and traditional setups, to having to find a way to produce dubbs and audio from wherever with a level of quality that is acceptable to our clients and us as a company,” Alexis Cardenas, VP of International Sales said to Señal News.

The protocols have been implemented company-wide in terms of social distancing, sanitization, etc. All non-essentials employees such as product managers, sales, administrative staff, translations, QC, are working from home until further notice. Only staff members directly involved with the production, such as actors, directors, engineers who are in charge of recording, and mixing engineers who have their own space in the facility.

Throughout the process of reopening and working amid the pandemic, The Kitchen has undergone different phases of reopening, divided into sets of weeks. The model followed in each facility consists of actors coming in one at a time. The protocols set in place for day-to-day operations include extreme sanitizing, social distancing, disinfecting, etc...  The company ensures to collect as much material for the actor as possible to prevent them from having to come in as much as it can to decrease the risk of them getting infected by the virus. There is then a 2-hour gap between sessions while the equipment is disinfected and sanitized, which produces an extended amount of downtime inside the studio. 

The Kitchen’s conversation with its associator, MESA regarding the handling of projects during the pandemic began early on, since week one of confinement in most European territories. MESA began gathering industry executives, both on the content owner side and vendor side. All the changes that came from the crisis may result in a new, permanent work model. There are different types of content owners, different scales of content within the industry, such as theatricals, premiums, animation, which requires less lip-synching. Cardenas explains that there are “a lot of factors that can contribute to whatever opinion each individual has,” but thinks “there was a consensus in terms of ‘this is going to change our business whether we like it or not’.” Both companies continue to discuss how to collaborate and produce dubs and subtitles in the future. “There is a sense of ‘this is going to change our industry forever’ going around and that thought, that sentiment began at the very beginning of our conversations where many people said ‘well, once we create these capabilities to record actors in their homes, are we really going to go back to only the traditional studio model?’,” Cardenas said. 

Cardenas explained that numerous companies are investing in technology, others are acquiring in both, developing and existing technologies. A large amount of library content is being purchased as many new productions were suspended, and channels and platforms meeting to fill that space. Numerous OTT and SVOD services are also launching. While many dubbing studios are still shut down, most companies still have reopened with reduced capabilities in terms of the volume of content it can process. Other studios never closed, and instead are taking advantage of the increase in ratings. Most animations that closed as a result of the pandemic have now reopened and continued without any drawbacks. Others, such as The Kitchen’s Miami studio, never stopped production, and created content the whole way through, with protocols set in place and a certain amount of people scheduled in a certain place at a time. Directors are only allowed to be present while they work on their work tasks and then must exit the building as an effort to minimize exposure. Cardenas describes the needs of clients to have undergone a tremendous revolution. At the beginning of the pandemic, the company was bombarded with questions about quoting requests, whether it was still operating, and how soon it could push out projects. New productions are were halted, advertising budgets decreased, along with budgets to acquire new content. Companies then realized the circumstances were long-term and they needed to adjust to a “new normal.”

Despite transitioning successfully, The Kitchen has experienced a loss in efficiency and productivity in terms of how long it takes to pre-produce, record, and post-produce projects as a result of the remote structure. Cardenas wanted to bring awareness to the company’s clients about the reduction of work capacity the company can produce, stating that they should become more conscientious about negotiating the sale of content, packaging content they know will go through. The company asks clients to send in assets before completing the transaction, along with the adaptation of the script, casting process, etc. to minimize the amount of studio time for actors and reduce their exposure and have pre-planned content ready for use. According to Cardenas, it was challenging at first, but the company has managed to fulfill its goal to continue providing vocalization for its clients for them to resume airing content or and receiving content that has already been licensed. “We’ve managed to do that and to get it up in running rather quickly, which was another big fear,” Cardenas said. “We didn’t want to have a lag or an interruption in deliveries to clients and a bottleneck of content that needs to be produced and delivered.”

Amid the challenges that resulted from the pandemic, The Kitchen has gained knowledge from the experience by learning new strategies and work structures that perhaps it wouldn’t have thought of in the past. The company has learned a way to optimize capacity, including the model in which it’s executed its series recordings. Typically, if the actor has any pickups, the actors come and do the pickups. Now, the company is reconsidering whether the method is necessary and whether it would be more efficient to do a retake by sending the line to an actor and asking them to record it at home after approving home studios and ensuring audio quality in-home studios is up to par with industry and company standards. “Nothing is definitive yet,” Cardenas said. “People are still wrapping their heads around this. The only thing that everybody does know is that it’s going to change the way we operate. There’s going to be, or maybe there already is a “new normal” for our industry, and everybody is racing to figure out how to do it and how to do it well.” She completed.

By Karla Flores y Romina Rodríguez