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Construction Role Models: 5 Lessons Construction Can Learn from the Film Industry  

Today, we know that imitation is indeed a form of flattery–and is moreover a smart thing to do for savvy businesses. Nevertheless, taking a page out of another industry’s book is a surprisingly uncommon move, both in the construction niche and elsewhere. We’re here to correct that with our Construction Role Models series, in which we consider other sectors that have something to teach us.

Today, we’re taking a look at the lessons construction can learn from the Film industry. Although we will not be discussing (debatable) classic construction-themed movies like The Lego Movie, Evan Almighty and, recent Hollywood hit featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Skyscraper, we will instead be exploring the unexpected business links between the film industry and the construction sector.

Although the connection between the two industries may not seem intuitive at first, there are actually some clear parallels. Most obviously, they both work on a project-based model, completing one film or building at a time. That similarity makes the film industry a good source of inspiration, and as such, it’s made some notable progress where construction can afford to take note.

Curious to find out what Hollywood-style standards construction can adopt?

Ready, set…action!

1. Embrace the Mobile Movement

Film has done a great job keeping up with technology over the decades. From Steamboat Willie to Avatar, cinema has always expanded our horizons and pushed its members to find the boundaries of creativity. In so doing, it continues to wow its audience and delivers experiences we couldn’t have imagined just years before.

What does that mean today? Well, the recent shift to mobile jumps immediately to mind.

“Younger audiences are becoming more interested in streamable content that is accessible on their iPhones or tablets,” explains Variety. “They’ll still turn up at the multiplexes to see the Avengers save the world or watch Han Solo slide behind the wheel of the Millennium Falcon, but despite a few massive blockbusters, the zeitgeist continues to shift from the big to the small screen.”

Note that this doesn’t mean film hasn’t faced challenges. It still does, in fact, especially since the shift to at-home, snuggled-under-the-covers Netflix binging has become de rigueur for a Friday night. Unfortunately for Hollywood, that means a lot of the money has jumped over to mobile-based technologies rearing their heads in Silicon Valley rather than the City of Angels.

The response from film? They jumped to mobile too. Much more capital now pours into films that never release into theaters, but instead pop up in your Hulu or YouTube feed, any time of the month or year. Instead of wilting, the film industry chose to see this as an opportunity to provide a seamless experience across platforms, and audiences are eating it up with a spoon.

The construction takeaway is to focus on mobile-friendly initiatives as well. Specifically, construction companies need to adopt apps and programs to make documents and information accessible from wherever and whenever teams need it. Furthermore, similar to how the film industry attracts younger viewers with mobile experiences, the construction industry can attract the younger workforce it so desperately needs with the help of new technology. In so doing, construction cannot only reverse its decades-long trend of failing to attract young workers but can majorly up collaborative outcomes.

2. A Shift Towards More Collaborative Teams and Workflows

Did you know film teams are growing in size? We think of Hollywood as always having taken the mega-crew approach, but not so.

“Twenty years ago, the average top grossing movie would credit 299 people in the cast and crew,” says film data site Stephen Follows. “In 2016 that swelled to 577 – almost double the 1997 figure.”

Photo: Stephen Follows

Furthermore, just like the building sector, technological jobs are also increasing in the film industry: “In 1994, only 15% of the people who worked on the average Hollywood movie worked in some form of post-production role (i.e., editing, visual effects, sound, music, etc.),” adds the film aficionado. “Twenty years later, this has ballooned to 41%, thanks mostly to the increased quantity and complexity of visual effects.”

That’s a lot of moving parts to track, which is why digital communication between large film teams is becoming increasingly important. Film teams today report massive global coordination efforts, “with a production team in Los Angeles, a film shoot in London and VFX teams in Romania, Canada or China. Managed well, this can bring specialisms to the fore, which benefits everyone.” That means file sharing and digital collaboration have become more essential to create higher quality films especially with innovative technology that companies like Autodesk provide.

Construction can also focus on bringing teams together more collaboratively. In their case, adopting building information modeling (BIM) will go a long way. It kicks off collaboration at the start of the project, while still in the design stage. When BIM data is utilized throughout the construction phase, teams can upload, download and manage files that lead to a better conceptualization of the project and overall decision-making. The best way to accomplish this is through field collaboration software that helps bridge the divide between large field and office teams.

3. An Increasing Movement Towards Sustainability

Sustainability is no longer a fringe interest, publicized by back-to-the-landers and granola nuts. Today, it’s a true movement cutting a swath through mainstream food, fashion, technology and yes, the film sector.

This is challenging in the case of the latter, as “The film and television production industry generates carbon and greenhouse gases from travel, transportation, production material deliveries, on-site generators and even pyrotechnical scenes,” explains the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “To account for the carbon footprint that results from these activities, many productions will hire third-party contractors who specialize in carbon and life cycle analysis accounting to track the overall impact from the production.”

Companies such as 21st Century Fox, Sony Pictures and others have variously reduced their waste output by 15% during shoots to 90% at headquarters, through a huge variety of measures undertaken on many different fronts.

NBC Universal created a visual guides to illustrate sustainable production best practices in various settings
Photo: NBC Universal

As an industry that uses plenty of virgin resources and produces a high level of waste, construction can afford to take some lessons from the film industry. We can commit to greener practices and building, embrace lean construction to reduce waste on and off the jobsite, kill our reliance on paper, emphasize LEED certification, seek out greener materials and generally put the Earth first. Nevertheless, similar to film, an industry-wide commitment is needed to make a significant positive difference.

4. Test Disruptive Technology

The film industry has not shied away from adopting new and emerging technology that has helped to keep it relevant and modern for today’s viewers. Consider the rise of AR and VR, which improve viewer experiences significantly. AR, or augmented reality, helps people interact with their worlds in a deeper, richer way, by superimposing information on a screen image of what the person is looking at behind the device. It’s an awesome educational tool to promote movies. Virtual reality, or VR, increases viewer engagement in actual movies. This storytelling medium immerses people in the experience more deeply, helping remove barriers between film and viewer.

Similarly, VR can help tell the story of a project and bring more engagement to project teams, while AR makes a great educational tool in construction as well.

Other technologies–3D printing and drones prime among them–offer unparalleled tools for shooting innovative movies and for creating a more efficient, sustainable and on-time construction projects. And while not every company can afford to experiment with multiple types of new tech, starting with one in a test case scenario or just exploring the options is vital to staying competitive in the long term.

5. A Rise in Inclusivity

Tellingly, the #MeToo movement was rooted largely in the film industry. The field has had a historical issue with sexism, which made it the ideal epicenter for change. Today, the movement has encouraged more powerful women to speak out, making waves in the industry that break on ever more distant shores.

Even more inspiring is that although fact that women have proven their mettle as amazing actors for the duration of the film industry, in recent years they’ve outstripped men in the variety of excellence of their performances. And for the first time, the women behind the camera are breaking out of their corner as well.

Construction is a very male-dominated industry, so the parallels for needed change are obvious here as well. The world, simply put, needs more women in construction. They bring new ideas and ways of thinking to the table, which will make companies and projects stronger overall. It’s time to level the playing field, and construction companies and leaders can start to lead this change from the ground up.

Film: An Industry to Watch

As construction continues to evolve, film is a great role model to emulate. This industry has had little trouble adapting to any of the technological or economic changes introduced by the last hundred years of American and global history. Instead, it relies on its inherent appeal to viewers, taking its cue from them as to what is needed at any given time.

Moreover, film has embraced inclusivity and new tools, gone green and mobile wherever possible, and taken collaboration to new heights. If you want the most agile, collaborative, budget-friendly and successful company possible, bookmark this post and keep your eye on film today.

Check back and subscribe to our blog for the next edition in our Construction Role Models series. You can also take a look at our other post in the series, below:

Have an idea about what industry we should compare construction to next? Suggest in the comment’s section below!

Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.

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