Why your production office should go paper-free


With the average number of documents generated by an individual production estimated to be well in excess of 5,000, going paperless will not only save producers time and money, but benefit the environment too, writes Jane Corden, CEO of industry financial and accounting services company Moneypenny.

In the last 25 years the pace of technical change on set and in the edit suite has seen exponential shifts: from film to digital, Steinbeck to Avid, and entire worlds created by VFX. Moneypenny has watched as drones have replaced cranes, and more portable cameras, lights and equipment have created opportunities and increased accessibility for film crews. All of this has fed a hunger for content; to supply the ever-growing number of viewing platforms that the public are accessing through a plethora of devices (which grow in capability as they diminish in size).

In the meantime, a digital revolution has also gone on behind the scenes in the production office, reducing the need for documentation – whether it is invoices, contracts or call sheets – to be printed or produced on paper.

In 2012, the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) conducted a global survey of businesses with between 10 and 5000+ employees across a range of industries and sectors about going paperless.

Two key findings of interest to the film and TV sector were:

  • The consumption of paper and the number of photocopies is decreasing among 35 per cent of organisations, particularly larger organisations. Thirty-two per cent of survey respondents, mainly smaller organisations, recorded an increase.
  • Forty-two per cent of organisations achieved a payback period of 12 months or less from investments in scanning and capturing documents, and 57 per cent 18 months or less.

The nature of film and TV production remains project oriented, and those projects are typically generated from small, independent production companies. This means that in 2012 (when this survey was published) a majority of the industry would have likely have fallen into the 32 per cent of businesses reporting an increase in paper, and would not have expected to see a return on investment in going paperless within the short life of a production.

However, what has changed in the last six years is that the technology for scanning, collecting and processing paper has become more affordable. Nearly all businesses already see the savings in postage and couriers that can be realised from emailing documentation. The payback of going paperless is now immediate; it requires very low levels of investment in technology. The main investment required is some time at the beginning of a production to establish systems.

Film and TV have long established systems which the freelance community know, understand and take from one project to another. This is the success of an industry which brings different groups of people together on every project and yet can instantly get on with things and know how to work together. The paperless office is becoming part of this understanding. Larger production companies and studios are insisting on it to varying degrees.

The average number of documents generated on an individual production would be well in excess of 5,000, and on large productions 10,000+.

Cost will always be a significant consideration in any business. With downward pressure on production budgets, consider the average paper and photocopying budgets on a production range from $5,000-$25,000. Add to that the cost of storing and ultimately destroying that paper as well as the time costs of managing sorting, filing and transporting that paper.

It takes time, but it makes sense to go paperless or to use less paper. Print a call sheet, write all over it and if you want to keep it, scan and destroy/recycle.

Based off AIIM’s findings, reasons for even the smallest of independent filmmakers to invest their time in going paperless (for productions of any scale) include:

  • Improved searchability/sharability of documents: A central document hub will lead to an easier and faster audit process
  • Improved process productivity: Less double handling, more immediate reporting and access
  • Reduced physical storage space: Save the five year document storage cost (commonly $2,000-5,000) paid on productions with an average amount of paperwork
  • Records security and compliance: we are seeing an increased policing of the data protection rules internationally
  • Faster response to questions from producers, investors, crew, agents etc
  • Improved accuracy and quality of data: Overcome the difficulties reading poor handwriting with input at source
  • Remote access for teleworking: An advantage if shooting at distant locations and for post-production
  • Reduced postage/transportation and document logistics
  • Sustainability/environmental initiatives

Though environment was ranked among the lowest reasons to go paperless by businesses surveyed by AIIM, there are so many reasons why it should be top of the list, including that:

  • 40 per cent of the world’s commercially cut timber is used for the production of paper
  • Pulpwood plantations and mills endanger natural habitats
  • 30 million acres of forest is destroyed annually
  • Paper production uses lots of water; 10 litres per A4 sheet
  • Most materials in landfill are made of paper which emits methane when it rots or carbon dioxide when it is burned.

The major studios in the US, BAFTA in the UK and New Zealand’s Ministry of the Environment are all implementing tools to measure the carbon footprint of a film.

The majority of invoices are now received digitally; even cafes and department stores will offer to email receipts. Contracts can be produced and signed digitally. The advance of smart phones and applications to organise digital receipts captured can also keep paper at bay. Call sheets, scripts and script amendments can all be distributed more securely and more efficiently through various document hub options. Purchase orders can be raised, approved, emailed to clients and processed in the accounts without ever being printed. Auditors accept digitally signed purchase orders as adequate approval of an invoice without the need for hard copy signatures. No need to print the invoice. Practices are changing and the efficiency, security and financial management capability is increasing.

What is the future? Artificial intelligence is increasing the affordability and capacity of capturing information with OCR (optical character recognition) increasingly accurate and accessible. The affordability of cloud based solutions are improving access to and the sharability of digitally stored documents. Tax offices around the world are becoming increasingly digital, as they also take advantage of the opportunities this brave new world provides. There is increasing pressure from governments and funders or commissioning networks to be environmentally accountable, and legislation demanding data protection with heavy fines for those that don’t comply.  All of these considerations are with us now and demanding that we take the paperless office seriously.

This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #186.