Originally featured in The Globe and Mail
For filmmakers working with SirtNet in Toronto, the entire GTA becomes the stage. Developed in collaboration with industry partners at Sheridan College's Screen Industries Research and Training Center (SIRT), SirtNet is a secure network that allows production and post-production teams to collaborate remotely from the start to finish of a film or television series, creating a more efficient and cost-effective workflow, says John Helliker, dean of Innovation and Engagement at Sheridan, who spearheaded the initiative.
"At any given time you can have as many as a dozen or more disparate companies in different parts of the city working on the same project, engaged in either the production or post-production phases," explains Mr. Helliker. "SirtNet gives them the ability to work together in the same virtual space, almost as if they were in the same room together, but without ever leaving their own physical location."
The result is enhanced connectivity, fewer logistical issues, reduced costs and enormous time savings. SirtNet also operates on a dedicated fibre optics network – players have to be hardwired in to participate – so security is guaranteed, and the so-called dark fibre utilized allows for rapid transmission of the massive files now necessary to contain the fruits of modern filmmaking. SirtNet has already been used in the production of more than four television series, along with numerous feature films, and has recently been commercialized by a consortium of companies including Beanfield Metroconnect, StorageASP and Netkeepers.
"SirtNet has been invaluable to us," says Bill Goddard, executive in charge of production for Take 5 Productions, one of Canada's leading producers of award-winning television dramas, including The Handmaid's Tale and Vikings. "It's enabled us to work in a much more efficient manner by bringing key players together without interruptions or delays, and that translates into getting our productions done on time."
Sheridan is justifiably proud of SirtNet; it represents the most significant applied research project yet to emerge from Sheridan and also serves as a good example of the college fulfilling its broader mandate, which goes "far beyond teaching and providing exceptional learning experiences," adds Mr. Helliker. "We also have a mandate to help with economic and social development," he says, and SirtNet does that by commercializing a complex initiative that took disparate parts of a fragmented industry and allowed them to function as if they were a fully connected organism, a mini-cluster with the ability to expand exponentially as new players and opportunities emerge.
He adds that a polytechnic like Sheridan with its diverse faculties is precisely the kind of environment in which projects like SirtNet are possible. "Originally most of the students and faculty came from the arts side, but the complexity of this project drew in students from computer science and even business," says Mr. Helliker. "They all learned and benefited from the experience of working together, which sets them up to excel in the collaborative workplaces they'll encounter in the future."
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