Working Remotely

This is a guest post from Shawn Matthews, the mastermind behind the Digital Nomad film released this week. Shawn, a Digital Nomad since 2011, is a founding member of The Creative Foundry, a co-working space in Springfield, Mo., and recently reinvented his company (Tractive West) to follow a virtual production model that empowers both himself and his team with more location independent.

Witnessing The Digital Nomad Trend

I’ve been a creative professional for nearly twenty years and have been fairly “nomadic” my entire career—working out of hotel lobbies, movie back lots, tour buses, recording studios, copy centers and coffee shops. For a long time, however, it just was not possible to be completely free of the physical ties of work. Digital resources simply didn’t exist. I remember carrying around piles of legal pads, business cards, paper contracts, scripts, Pantone books, X-acto knives, rubber cement, sticky notes, planners, and the list goes on. Around 2003 things started to change. I bought my first laptop, a MacBook Pro. It was like that first year with your driver’s license—ah, the taste of sweet freedom. Yet, there were still huge gaps in Internet speeds, and many tech tools I take for granted today weren’t even conceived yet.

Especially over the past year, technology innovation has really helped people get out of their offices. Now, I travel with a laptop, and my entire studio basically fits in one backpack. These tools and technology are transforming what it means to “go to work,” and I wanted to capture a growing revolution of people working from anywhere they want. What better way to do that than by putting together a global crew, working together virtually?

Our Virtual Production Studio

After discovering oDesk in 2011, I started developing a variety of creative projects that utilized a distributed workforce. For example, I created this project, which started as a sound file recorded on my iPhone. I was able to really build out my approach, and so I relaunched my company (Tractive West) with a new focus on being a virtual production studio. Now, we use a network of creative professionals around the globe to concept, write, produce, edit and mix the videos we create, including the Digital Nomad film. If you haven’t seen the Digital Nomad film yet, check it out as context to the rest of this post:

This Project Couldn’t Have Happened Until Now

Creative projects have benefited from distributed, online workflows for a while, but this particular project (the Digital Nomad film) really could only have happened now thanks to four things:

  1. High-quality DSLR cameras have become affordable globally
  2. Creative, global talent that can be managed and contracted through online workplaces like oDesk
  3. Digital tools like Adobe Creative Cloud, Trello, Dropbox and Skype that allow for seamless workflows
  4. Improving Internet speeds worldwide

The Process & Our Filming Locations

We filmed he Digital Nomad film over just three weeks, even though we captured footage from India, Kenya, Taiwan, Prague, Oslo, Toronto, Chicago, Egypt, San Diego, New York and London. A virtual crew (hired entirely via oDesk) handled every aspect of production, from research to editing. To keep the crew aligned, at the outset, I created a storyboard on Trello that visually organized the key story elements we wanted to capture. Next, each of our field producers was assigned a list of the shots we wanted to get. We found Digital Nomads around the world and worked with their travel schedules to match them up with field producers who could film them locally, wherever the Digital Nomad happened to be working from.

The Tools We Used

I found the following indispensable during virtual production of the Digital Nomad video:

  1. Adobe Creative Cloud suite for editing, design and animation
  2. Dropbox for file management, to get all that footage from different countries combined in one place
  3. Trello for pre-production and visual project management
  4. Evernote to keep ourselves organized and sane throughout the process
  5. oDesk for hiring and managing the creative talent that comprised our team (whose members are listed below)

These tools allowed the entire project to come together seamlessly in spite of the fact our film subjects where constantly on the go — and our crew was spread across 14 locations. I listed five tools here, but a wealth of online tools are available for virtual film projects. Check out my top 10 virtual film production tools in this post on my own blog.

Our Virtual Crew

Credit and a big thank you for the making of the Digital Nomad film goes to these members of our crew:

Gayle Ye – Toronto, Canada – Videographer / Field Producer
John Temou – Toronto, Canada – Videographer / Field Producer
Simon Thorpe – London, England – Videographer / Field Producer
Magnus Wiig – Oslo, Norway – Videographer / Field Producer
Alessandro Moreira – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Videographer / Field Producer
Anurag Bose – Kolkata, India – Videographer
Robert Malecki – Chicago, Ill. – Videographer
Riyanto, Jayadi – Taipei City, Taiwan – Videographer
Aliaksandr Matskevich – Knoxville, Tenn. – Assistant Editor
Harry Evans – Herndon, Va. – Sound Design / Audio Engineer
Mohamed Samy – Cairo, Egypt – Videographer
Khaled Eid – Cairo, Egypt – Videographer
Tomas Koudelka – Nisou, Czech Republic – Videographer
Joel Mwamkonu – Mwatate, Kenya – Videographer
Dave Bouskill – Digital Nomad – Photography / Videographer
Deb Corbei – Digital Nomad – Videographer

A New Hope

Making the Digital Nomad Film really inspired me to become more of a Digital Nomad still, and to continue evolving my virtual business processes. I see so much more opportunity today to live freely than when I started my career. My hope for everyone who sees this film is that it provides a rally cry to “go nomad” and live life to its fullest. Getting to work with nomads like Dave & Deb really challenged me to think beyond my limits and to see how far I can push the concept of virtual video production. I want to spend more time traveling this year, but I am still somewhat tied to a editing suite and my core staff, however as technology improves this too will change.

Shawn Matthews


Shawn Matthews is a Creative Director from Springfield, Missouri. He is a connector, promoter, agitator and disruptor whose credits include projects for Wikipedia, Fox Television Studios, Universal Pictures and MTV, ranging from fundraising strategy to music composition. He is co-founder of The Creative Foundry, a 2,800-square-foot coworking space, and Chief Creative Officer of the boutique creative agency Tractive West.