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Comcast Technology Solutions’ Matt Small on Production Craft’s Tech Revolution


CTS’ senior producer and video editor tells LBB about how the company is dealing with the challenges of speed and volume, and why collaboration and listening are key to production success

Comcast Technology Solutions’ Matt Small on Production Craft’s Tech Revolution

Matt Small, senior producer and video editor at CTS, got a taste for the creativity and technology that underpins production back in high school. Over 30 years later and the tools he first started out with have changed a lot (“an edit system [...] was a quarter of a million dollars - now that software is free”) but Matt is as passionate about what he does today as when he first started out. 

Having been with Comcast for over 15 years, Matt is always sharing his knowledge and expertise with others by way of saying thanks to the people who’ve done the same for him in his career. He credits those experiences for his success as a producer and editor today. 

To get ahead of production’s main challenges: speed and volume, Matt is overseeing automation and the creation of templates while insisting that it’s still all about the ability of the person in the chair to make the best use of the tools available. Audio descriptions are a recent challenge that Matt has been tackling together with his team, figuring out new requirements and making them work for major broadcast events. 

Below, Matt speaks with LBB about his career journey, how the desirable skills in production are evolving, and shares why collaboration is an essential skill to being a great producer. 

LBB> What first brought you to the production industry? Was this always the plan?

Matt> I started production at high school. We had a class that was called vocational broadcasting. We shot our homecoming, football, game, and parade. I put together a little video of that, and we sold it to make money for equipment. So that was 30 years ago. I really enjoyed it. I always liked the mix of the creative and the technology. I went to college and studied mass communication at the University of South Dakota. I also majored in psychology because I wanted to find out how the psychological side of things affected what you saw and how you felt.

LBB> How have you seen the production industry change from when you started to now?

Matt> It’s mostly the availability of the technology. Starting out, we did a lot of studio production and the equipment needed to make quality content was expensive. I worked in Los Angeles for seven years and we were working on an edit system that was a quarter of a million dollars - now some of that software is free. And I think there's more information sharing across the board. I've worked with a lot of people who wouldn't tell you how they did things, and I've worked with a lot of people who have shared their knowledge to make me a better editor and a better producer. So that was something that I really did; I made a conscious effort that if someone asked me a question and I knew the answer, I wasn't going to withhold that information. We use that mindset in our daily workflow at CTS to do things better, faster and smarter. 

LBB> What led you to Comcast in particular? How long have you been with the company now?

Matt> This June it will be 15 years. It was an interesting path. I was actually freelancing and I got a call that said, “We got somebody who needs these music videos edited. They gave their last editor a nervous breakdown.” So I'm like, “I'll see what I can do.” I had a a little bit of music experience, so it didn't scare me. While I was there, Comcast had some projects coming up. They were doing cut downs of the Tour de France for the network and they said, “Matt, can you do this, this and this?” I said, “Yeah, I can edit, I can produce, and I can do the graphics.” I was hired on and my first job was doing those cut downs for 21 days straight.

LBB> What do you enjoy the most about your role?

Matt> I like the new technology. Even when I was working in Los Angeles, we were one of the first post houses to edit in 4:4:4 colour space. I've just been able to do some beta testing on new equipment from other companies. I really enjoy trying to figure things out and making it work when it's not necessarily the easiest thing. For example, we have developed custom tools to automate and increase speed to market for our clients and advertisers.

LBB> Can you share an example of something you recently worked on that required the production department to solve a particularly tricky or interesting problem? How did production step up to find and execute the solution in that instance?

Matt> One of the things I always say is to let us do the things we’re good at so the agency can concentrate on the things they excel at. Lately, we've been getting into is audio description in addition to closed captioning for accessibility requirements. The team really stepped up. We've got editors and account managers writing the audio description scripts, then getting them approved by the client. Some of our editors and colleagues do the voiceovers for the audio description. We have multiple editors working on audio mixes and getting those files ready for delivery. It’s been a whole department effort on figuring out the new requirements and making it work for new client requests and needs. 

LBB> Speed and volume are two factors affecting production today. To what effect would you say this is true and how are you rising to the challenge?

Matt> Going back to the availability of the technology, you’ve got access to the tools that used to be out of reach. A lot of times, there are so many moving parts where you do have to be adaptive and nimble, and you have to be able to turn something around very quickly. The tools are more about the person in the chair, but you also have the technology that will help you. We're doing a lot of work with automation and templates, so we combine the speed with the volume. There are a lot of different tools that you can use to put those both things together because it’s always been about using whatever tool is the best tool to use to get things done efficiently. 

LBB> Building on the above, how do those factors affect the idea of craft in production?

Matt>  There is a big responsibility to safeguard the client's image and brand. We are using our workflow and technology to build solutions that benefit everyone. I think the craft is turning toward utilising technology to do things better, faster and smarter.

LBB> And how is the idea of desirable skills in the industry evolving?

Matt> It used to be where you would have specialists working. I've been at those different aspects of the creative process and I feel like it's starting to lean more towards, if a client can find someone who's good at all the aspects, they'd rather work with one person than work with 10 different people. The more you understand about multiple aspects of production, the more marketable you are. If you have a little bit of knowledge and a working understanding of the different aspects, it’d be more valuable to some clients.

LBB> Which trends and changes do you think will influence what you do the most over the next five years?

Matt> There's going to be an interesting blending of how content is delivered. The viewing habits are going to influence the way things are produced. Even the aspect ratios or portrait versus landscape. There is no one universal master. It's going to be interesting to see how the consumption of the content kind of goes upstream in order to influence how things are created, especially on social platforms.

LBB> What do you think makes a good producer? How much of success in this role is learned versus innate?

Matt> Collaboration is the key to any project. Just being open to other people's ideas and perspectives rather than being so laser focused on what you personally want. The best producers I've worked with have been the ones who elicit feedback from everyone on the project. They may not act on it, but at least they're listening. Being open and receptive to other people's input and ideas is innate. You can learn it, but if you already have it, you're a step ahead.

LBB> Finally, what kind of advice would you give to anyone who wants to make a career in production?

Matt>  Never stop learning. Technology isn't changing as much now as it did over the past 15 years, but there's still the innovation of 360 and VR, and now with UHD and HDR. All of those technologies are the tools to help to tell your story. Keeping up with the technology allows you to know what tools are out there to tell a better story or a more concise message.

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Comcast Technology Solutions, Fri, 05 May 2023 08:03:57 GMT