Made in Frame: Malka’s High-Octane Coast to Coast Workflow
A bi-coastal creative studio with a staff of nearly 200. Content that ranges from feature-length documentaries to commercials and beyond. And an end-to-end workflow from concept to delivery.
It really doesn’t get much more demanding than that.
Storytelling at scale
Started by Jeff Frommer and Louis Krubich, MALKA has grown from a company of “two guys and a dog in a warehouse” to a company of nearly 200 in-house creatives who collectively shoot in the neighborhood of 50 terabytes of content each week.
Now headquartered in Jersey City, NJ, with another studio in Santa Monica, they pride themselves on their ability to bring a distributed team together to produce a vast array of content.
Jeff, who serves as president of MALKA, describes what they do as, “storytelling across all of the touchpoints in today’s digital landscape.”
“You need to be able to make feature documentaries for Netflix and Showtime. We tell brand stories in every medium from animated explainers to three-minute client testimonials to thousands of digital performance-marketing assets. Amazon is one of our biggest clients and we probably produce 1500 assets a month for them—not just derivative, but bespoke assets, endemic to every social media channel,” he says.
“We’re doing fun campaigns for We Work. We helped Tinder do a performance marketing campaign during the pandemic. We have financial clients like Morgan Stanley and Money Lion.”
Key to their success? “When I think about the brands we work with, we function as their go-to in-house partner. We make them feel like we are a part of their team,” Jeff says.
But not only does MALKA make a lot of content, they’re committed to making it at Hollywood quality.
Their mission has been to bring their clients the best of a creative agency by building it on top of an agile production company, which meant putting editors, animators, VFX artists, colorists, directors, cinematographers, audio engineers, copywriters, and producers all together under one roof.
Except that technically they work on projects under two different roofs from across the country. And in 2020 not everyone could be under that same roof—even if they were in the same city.
So how have they managed to not just survive, but to thrive under challenging circumstances?
Investing in technology
As we learned during the early days of the pandemic, the companies that were able to pivot to remote work quickly were those who had already begun moving their workflows to the cloud. MALKA was among them.
“When the pandemic hit, we had invested enough in technology and infrastructure so that we had no problem continuing to collaborate even when we sent everyone home,” Jeff says.
At that point, there were approximately 100 people working at MALKA. In the time since March 2020, they’ve grown to almost twice that size.
Derek Brown, head of operations, elaborates. “One thing that sets MALKA apart from other studios is that we have the ability to work closely with each other on every project, and the fact that we can rely on each other really makes us able to move faster and more efficiently than other companies,” he says.
“Everyone knows how the media is organized, where to get files, and who to ask for what.”
“I’ve been using Frame.io for about the last five years, and we started using it at MALKA two or three years ago. I think a big part of the level of collaboration and organization that we have is the fact that we’re all able to follow the same systems and processes. Everyone knows how the media is organized, where to get files, and who to ask for what. It really gives us the ability to essentially pivot on a dime when any issue happens with any project.”
Frame.io functions as the backbone of that organization.
“One of the things that drew us to Frame.io is the ability to mimic folder structures like you would on a Finder or Explorer level. Being able to determine how we want to organize our media allowed us to work efficiently within the system. We’re continuously reorganizing and coming up with new folder structures,” Derek says.
Typically, their folder structure is based on client and project codes. Within that, they have approvals folders, delivery folders, internal review folders and external review folders.
The advantage of organizing it that way is that it avoids the problem of an internal collaborator leaving comments and then having those internal comments go out to a client.
“Between version stacking and organizing things into different folders, we’re able to work the way we want to work, instead of us having to adapt to whatever way of working a platform dictates to us,” Derek says. “We needed a system for video review that could keep up with the pace that we were working at.”
What’s also important to the MALKA team is being able to archive projects to save space (and storage costs), but also to easily restore them if clients need revisions.
“Weeks go by and a client will pull up a link and want to view something again. So the ability to use our folder structure to go back into those older projects and find what we need and then pull them back up is very, very helpful. Essentially, we’re using it as a media management system to keep all of our final hi-res and approval exports,” he adds.
This kind of organization also helps internal MALKA teams.
Sales can easily show work to prospective clients or, for example, if one of the creative departments needs to reference a past project for inspiration, it’s easy for them to find.
“Frame.io doesn’t strong-arm you,” Derek says. “You’re able to move around and rename files within the system, which essentially works as another version of a media server and you can choose to use it that way.”
There’s also the issue of speed. “Amazon actually sends us a lot of assets through Frame.io,” Derek says. “They have their own account that they share with us, and a lot of the media they share is hi-res. But compared to other similar services, Frame.io uploads faster.”
An important upgrade
MALKA started off on a Team plan, but recently upgraded to Enterprise, and has found numerous new ways to streamline their workflow as a result.
“We were really just skirting by with the Team plan,” Derek says. “We had issues where small groups of people would upload videos and then send Review links out. Obviously, as a Reviewer, you’re able to log in so you can see people’s comments. But one thing we kept running into was that we had a generic account that people would log into. So you’d constantly get notes and it would say that MALKA left that note. ”
“But with Enterprise, everyone has their own user account. We’re able to have user groups that can help organize permissions and projects that people need access to. It just makes it easier to collaborate because everyone’s got their own account. Everyone’s logging in with the same level of permissions, depending on what project they’re assigned to, and they’re able to work much more collaboratively.”
𝙒𝙀 𝘾𝙀𝙇𝙀𝘽𝙍𝘼𝙏𝙀𝘿 𝙋𝙍𝙄𝘿𝙀 𝙄𝙉 𝙅𝙐𝙉𝙀 𝘼𝙉𝘿 𝙒𝙄𝙇𝙇 𝘾𝙊𝙉𝙏𝙄𝙉𝙐𝙀 𝙏𝙊 𝘿𝙊 𝙎𝙊 𝙔𝙀𝘼𝙍 𝙍𝙊𝙐𝙉𝘿 🏳️🌈
𝗠𝗔𝗟𝗞𝗔’s 𝘽𝙚𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝘿𝙧𝙖𝙜 for @InTheKnow profiles some of the fiercest performers & celebrates the right to individuality & self empowerment. pic.twitter.com/ujYuVIt4e3
— Malka Media (@MalkaMedia) June 30, 2021
Derek also notes that one of the bigger issues they previously had was because they were limited in the number of users, they were limited in the level of access they could give to other people on the team.
That meant that he and just a few others were essentially managing the permissions, access, and media for everything that lived on Frame.io. By switching over to Enterprise, they’re now able to allow more people to function autonomously.
For example, the editors now have the ability to upload from their own accounts, instead of needing someone else to do it for them.
Derek also appreciates the versatility and flexibility of Frame.io. the ability to view a history of links that were shared as watermarks. “If we have to restrict access, cut access off, or make a password, it’s all very intuitive.”
And then there’s the security factor.
“We work with a lot of really high-profile customers and security is huge for us. When we’re shooting a Super Bowl commercial or working on a documentary for Netflix, we need to be sure that MALKA is never the weakest link in the chain. It’s why we’ve invested so much in technology and security,” Jeff says.
“We’ve been using the Frame.io Enterprise features that give us the ability to put a firewall around our content. Giving people their individual logins and using the Watermark ID really allows us to make sure that if something was shared, even internally, there’s personal responsibility. We’re able to separate certain clients from other clients, and certain creative teams from other creative teams. You never want to be in a situation where you send a client a link to someone else’s video—and that’s never happened.”
Working at the speed of Malka
Nothing is better than an actual high-stakes production to stress test your setup.
During the pandemic, the MALKA team took on an ambitious ask from VICE Media for an investors meeting. They were tasked with delivering six 15-minute videos over the course of a single weekend using footage that had been shot all over the world.
MALKA deployed a remote 30-person team of animators and editors, who covered day and night shifts from Thursday through Sunday.
And then there were the clients and stakeholders. “We probably had 60 clients from agencies to PR to the executive team and advisors, with everyone chiming in. And without Frame.io, there was no chance that project would have been able to get done,” Jeff says.
Working in Frame.io, in fact, led MALKA to discover some advantages to working in a virtual room rather than in an actual physical space.
“We saw hundreds of comments and dialogues and conversations happening inside of the Frame.io link. Everyone’s watching the video and talking about what’s going on in this virtual space. What that would have required previously was everyone to be in the edit room—probably multiple people in different boardrooms. We were able to solve one of the most challenging projects we’ve had as a production company,” Jeff adds.
When MALKA delivered the videos on Monday morning, their client at VICE was duly amazed.
“We got calls from every executive at the partner who said, ‘How did you do something that everyone said was impossible?’ I think it takes a little blood, sweat, and tears, but it also takes some foresight into the technologies so that when that project comes around, you have the infrastructure to support it,” Jeff says.
Prior to the pandemic, Jeff was convinced that working remotely wasn’t as effective or efficient as working together in the same space.
After completing this project, he realized that sharing feedback collaboratively through Frame.io fostered an instantaneous conversation.
“We don’t have to be in a physical room, it can be in a virtual space. I think we’ve been conditioned to now allow that to happen. What I love about Frame.io is that it gives me the ability to see something and say something.”
A great client experience
It’s clear that Frame.io is an integral part of the MALKA workflow.
But Jeff and Derek agree that it’s equally integral to the overall client experience.
“I used to work at a small post house in Manhattan, one of those boutique production houses where there were four or five edit rooms and clients would come in and sit there and work with you,” Derek says. “If you were an editor at a workstation, there would be a producer sitting behind you and giving feedback.”
“That’s the type of feeling we want to give our clients,” Jeff says.
“So when we think about why we’ve implemented Frame.io and how we’ve exploited it to give our clients direct access to our creative team it’s so that they can feel like they’re working with their in-house team. No matter what design or animated video or long-form feature we’re putting together for them, they know that their voice is going to be heard with the people that are actually going to create it.”
Beyond that is the freedom that being in the virtual room affords busy executives. “I’m a wine-and-dine person,” Jeff says.
“So the best thing for me is when it’s 11 o’clock and I’m out at the bar, ideally with a client, maybe with my wife, and I get a notification. I can just step away, watch the video, plug in my headphones, give feedback and get back to what I’m doing. That type of operational efficiency means that I can be in two places at once, you know?
“So when clients get that Frame.io link, they know immediately that they can, for example, be at their kid’s birthday party, and they’re off, but they need to share some feedback. They can do that without thinking ‘Oh, let me go inside the house and get my computer and pull it up and write down the notes and then screenshot and send it over.’ Instead, they can make the comments in their phone and it goes right to the editor. And from my perspective, they feel like that was a great experience, and the vote of confidence that they get from the technology we’ve invested in means they’ll come back.”
“In our world, speed is success.”
Being able to get faster feedback from busy executives also ripples into the overall timeline.
“A lot of the work trickles up,” Jeff says. “You’re waiting for the CMO’s opinion. So are they going to send an email to change this or that? In our world, speed is success, and we’ve seen our revision timelines and cycles reduced.”
Looking toward the future
MALKA’s proven ability to produce high-quality work remotely during the lockdown bodes well for their future.
The fact that they have nearly doubled their staff is one indicator of the company’s health. That they are now able to hire staff regardless of their location has also expanded the pool from which they can source new talent.
“The ability to hire people remotely allows us to find the best talent in the world, wherever they are. We can give them access to our systems and by using Frame.io we can control their access to the things they need,” Derek says.
“Our employee count is constantly changing. We’re around 150 right now, and I would say probably about 90 percent of them are in and out of Frame.io every day.”
“With Frame.io we’re able to keep everything organized and give people the right access to the right projects.
Sometimes it’s important to look back before looking forward to see how much of a progression there’s been.
“Before we rolled out Frame.io we were working in the old-fashioned way where you would send a video, people would watch it and send you an email back. Those emails rarely had time codes and normally just allude to something that was on the screen,” Derek says.
“The other pain point we had was just general organization. We tried making sure that every video that was posted in our older system had enough information, but it was a very manual process. We had to rely on every new editor, every animator, whether they’re freelance or staff, to follow the same system for labeling things so that we could find them. But with Frame.io we’re able to keep everything organized and give people the right access to the right projects. By working that way, we’re able to keep things neat and organized, which also helps us essentially future proof our systems.”
From a business perspective, MALKA is equally future-focused.
“It’s less about winning awards and more about delivering results,” Jeff says.
“I think we’ll continue to scale every department. We want more animators. We want more editors. We want to do more video production, to shoot more in Dubai, in Ireland, San Francisco, and Miami. When you work in a fast-paced environment like ours, that requires collaboration between an editor and animator, a graphic designer, and a colorist, they have to be able to work on the same file and they have to be able to work at a speed where they can do what they need to.”
Jeff places a strong emphasis on technology enabling creativity.
“I’m a nerd. I love technology. I think technology will change the world. I’m always looking for ways to make creatives more creative. And if there’s a new technology that can make us better, faster, or stronger, we want it.”
Blockquote: “Frame.io has done wonders for morale because it’s allowed people to collaborate better than previous ways.”
Jeff and Derek agree that Frame.io is part of MALKA’s future, technologically, creatively, and culturally. “I think Frame.io has done wonders for morale, because it’s allowed people to collaborate better than previous ways,” Jeff says.
“We have some projects that may be separated between the two offices,” Derek says. “But for the most part, we work together. Everyone is kind of one big, happy family.”
And we’re happy that MALKA is part of the Frame.io family.