Every country in Europe has a George Clooney. Warner Brothers, the film production company whose current titles include The Great Gatsby and The Hangover III, needs to know who the local dubbing actors are in each of 52 territories.
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It also needs to dish up the right version of each film to the relevant locale. Certain Middle Eastern countries take a dim view of osculation, nudity and alcohol. German cinemas ban knives, on screen. Not all cinemas can handle The Hobbit’s 48 frames per second. And the economic meltdown in Greece means Athenian audiences are still being served 35mm film, not digital, in their cinemas.
Roy Servis, digital cinema manager of European technical operations at Warner Brothers, introduced Apple-based FileMaker as a project management database to manage film distribution across Europe some seven years ago. Previously, the company had been using ever-burgeoning and "unmanageable” Excel spreadsheets.
The most recent version of FileMaker – version 12 – was “a game changer” around 18 months ago, according to Servis, in respect of enhanced reporting and data visualisation.
“Being able to report and analyse the data, seeing it more holistically, has been a benefit,” he says.
His team sees each film as soon as it is finished, and starts inputting information “as soon as it is green lit”. That is when the dubbing actors, who should be consistent across sequels, are identified and other information is flowed in, such as 2D or 3D, digital or film, and is there enough stock? Trailers, which will be months in advance of release, will also be tracked.
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The team uses an app within FileMaker to watch the movie and indicate swearing, nudity and other elements that need to be dealt with. Sometimes that means sending a QuickTime cut of the potentially offensive matter to the territories for them to adjudicate on.
“The software has also introduced mobility to these processes, as the database can be updated in real time from any Mac, PC, iPad or iPhone,” he says.
The team of nine has 25 or more films to get to cinemas each year – 34 in 2013. “We can’t miss a release date,” says Servis. With creative producers making changes at the last minute, that can be challenging.
The FileMaker software has been proving its value over the past 18 months, so much so that Warner Brothers in the US is taking it up. “That is the opposite to the norm, since we are the little brother usually,” says Servis.
The system is constantly evolving, he adds: “We have every cinema in the world tracked – how many seats, what equipment, and so on.”
It has been an economical tool to deploy, he says, costing about $13,000 altogether for the server, the software and the clients, over a three-year period.