Metro’s broadcast and duplication operations were moved into Uncle Soho, itself having switched locations from Wood Lane, while Metro’s hire arm was renamed Rent. These divisions join HD finishing specialist Home, offline unit Shed - which is currently closed for refurbishment - and The Farm, which handles SD online and offline, as group members.
“We operate a number of brands to maintain the integrity of a boutique feel rather than having everything under one big factory roof,“ says Sargent, adding that The Farm racked up the busiest year (turnover £22.5m) in its nine-year history. “You have to fight hard for every pound,” she adds. “Maybe work is going to the bigger companies that producers know can deliver.”
For drama specialist Pepper Post, consolidation was also the name of the game. It agreed a joint venture with film finance and production outfit Future Film and took over the running of Future’s Noel Street audio facility Future Post. The deal increased Pepper’s workforce from 50 to 70, enabling Pepper to put a complete post-production package together from funding to finishing - the two most difficult parts of the film-making process, according to Holzen.
“Drama is our core but we identified film as an area for expansion,“ he says. “Our investment is substantial so we needed to make sure we had our business model right. We decided that meant allying with a film finance house in order to generate feature work.” In the joint venture, any productions part funded by Future will be steered toward Pepper for finishing. Holzen adds: “We had five to six films on our radar before the deal. Now we have 50.” Not all of those will turn into business but several have, including Shuttle and Barbarian Princess.
Pepper is currently busy fulfilling series work for Christmas including Cranford and Spooks while gearing up for a steep rise in VFX work. “Our focus next year is VFX,” he reveals. “Drama docs and period dramas are consistently demanding VFX at a reasonable price.”
Lip Sync Post, which has a reputation based on drama audio-mixing, is expanding aggressively into feature post with an eye to becoming a serious competitor to MPC, Framestore-CFC or Cinesite. Shots for Stardust and The Bourne Ultimatum passed through the facility this year.
“It’s taken seven years to develop the business but clearly that’s where I want us to be,” insists managing director Jon Diamond. “We’re consistently winning bids from the bigger film facilities since we have everything under one roof from scanning and recording to colour correction, a big VFX department and audio.”
Enviable track record
Over the past 18 months no broadcast facility has had more impact than Envy, a £5.6m start-up in February 2006 and now a top 10 Soho player in revenue, size and reputation. Credits this year include full post for The Restaurant, as well as online grade and audio for The Tower and The Story of India. It recently announced plans to launch a facility dedicated to on-air branding, commercials and short-form finishing by September next year. Managing director Dave Cadle has begun scouting Soho for suitable premises for what will be the third branch of the business.
Envy generated £5.1m in its first year and is on track to post a £8.5m turnover by next February. “Short-form work has probably contributed 10% to 15% to our business,” says Cadle. “We’ve fielded enquiries from two major agencies to finish more work with us and feel that with extra capacity we’d attract significant branding, design and 3D projects.”
Earlier in 2007 Envy pumped £1.2m into the launch of an offline division at Margaret Street featuring 18 Avid Adrenalines. A further £500,000 was spent installing a 5.1 studio at its Rathbone Place HQ.
“As rates have moved down we’ve had to speed up the way we work to make it cost effective,” says Cadle. “If producers can’t pay the going rate for suites then we have to move it through the facility quicker and get more volume work.”
Apple-based facility Unit has also been on an expansion spree on the back of a sizeable investment from former Hit Entertainment director Mike Luckwell. The Carlisle Street outfit doubled capacity a year from launch, turning over £1m in its first year to May. It projects a 250% increase in revenue next year.
“By spreading our clientele among short-form graphics, documentaries and commercials we’ve been inured to the vagaries of broadcast post,” declares managing director David Peto. “Traditional Avid editors are retraining now they can see an incentive to work at a quality place on Final Cut.” It is set to open a CGI arm, Unit FX, in the new year targeting commercials and TV idents. Peto adds: “On the VFX side we have grown 300% since we launched the department six months ago with turnover up 40% from commercials alone. We are also seeing a massive amount of short-form work including titles and idents for BBC2 and Sky.”
Unit currently offers six VFX stations and a variety of Shake, After Effects, Furnace and Final Cut Pro tools. It incorporated VFX boutique Split Image in June.