New technology is making it easier for Welsh post houses to compete for work with Soho, but super-indies taking facility work in-house is a growing concern. George Bevir reports.
The BBC’s plan to move its drama HQ to Cardiff has led post facilities outside Wales to consider establishing satellite offices in Cardiff. But while some facilities are looking to Wales for additional work, post fi rms in Cardiff are largely of the opinion that the BBC’s move will not benefi t the region’s post sector to any signifi cant degree.
“It’s not something that will have a big impact on Wales,” says Richard Moss, managing director at post firm Mwnci. “I’m not sure how much external work we will see. For the BBC, it is all about value for money for the licence fee payer. So I expect it to do most things itself.”
Nor do Welsh post-houses see predominantly Welsh-language broadcaster S4C as a signifi cant source of work. “We don’t rely on Welsh-language programming,” says Greg Provan, director of audio-only post house Cranc, while Moss describes it as a “fairly small market” for Mwnci.
“It’s not where the majority of our work comes from,” he says. “We do more for networks - programmes such as Arctic With Bruce Parry. That was a big job that needed versions for BBC Worldwide, Animal Planet and so on.”
The decision not to rely on S4C for work appears to be borne out by the closure of one of Wales’s oldest post houses, Sounds in Motion. The Cardiff-based audio post house worked across documentary, drama, features and animation for ITV, BBC, Channel 4 and S4C. Broadcast understands that the audio facility closed at the end of last month and has since arranged for other post firms to take on its outstanding work.
The boss of one Welsh audio house, who asked not to be named, suggests that Sounds in Motion’s demise was caused by local production firms completing post on their own programmes, and possibly by the onset of cuts at S4C. Paul McFadden, owner of audio facility Bang, says he has never considered S4C as a rich source of work. When he set up Bang, he decided not to go after S4C programmes. “Cranc, Sounds in Motion and Soundworks were all fighting for the same work and we didn’t want that battle,” he says. “We went for more high-end work.” It is a plan that has paid off, he says, highlighting the firm’s recent work on Doctor Who.
Simon Jones, director and dubbing mixer at Soundworks, is also concerned by the rise of super-indies. “We have seen a massive shift in Wales,” he says. “They have large amounts of commissions and have taken a lot of facility work in-house - offline, online and audio. That’s had a massive impact on the post community.
“The difference between post firms and the indies is quality. It worries me that they are producing finished online masters in offi ces rather than in professional facilities that care about quality. I hope that someone polices the product at the broadcaster stage, because it’s driven more by money than by passion.”
Dealing with cuts
S4C is facing the prospect of cutting a quarter of its £100m budget over four years. Despite fears for jobs at the broadcaster, Moss is confident that it will not have a signifi cant impact on the post sector.
“I can’t see the cuts at S4C hurting the post side,” says Moss. “It’s more about the way things are commissioned from production companies. If everyone makes efficiencies at every stage, it won’t be to the detriment of programmes on air. There are lot of cogs in the chain.”
In January, Cardiff-based accountant Mike Henry outlined a plan for S4C to deal with the proposed cuts by taking post in-house, proposals that were dismissed by Mwnci’s Moss. “It was never anything to be taken seriously,” he says. “The fi gures were plucked out of the air and the general maths was bad, as were the assumptions.”
Though the proposals were swiftly rejected, they raised the issue of how to tackle the cuts. For Moss, savings can be made through investment in technology. “There are ways of saving money and putting it on screen,” he says. “With fi le-based technology, people are working out cost savings through loading and working natively. We have upgraded Unity Isis, so now we can take on programmes natively.”
Advances in technology have also helped Welsh post houses take more work from London. Mwnci uses Sorenson Media’s cloud services to make material available to execs regardless of location. “That is one example of technology saving money,” says Moss. “It’s also how we do items for The One Show. We push material down the web and get feedback on it the next day, so we don’t have to make DVDs to send to them.”
Cranc’s Greg Provan describes London as “the future” for Cardiff ‘s post firms. “We are getting bits and pieces from London, which is quite exciting. Locally, it seems slow and people are hard to commit,” he says, explaining that Cranc, as well as working on the audio post of Arctic With Bruce Parry, completed work on Terry Wogan’s Ireland. “We do quite a bit of ISDN work for people who might be filming here for Doctor Who or Upstairs Downstairs,” adds Provan. “We can ISDN link to London, for example, if an actor is here on location but they have to do a voiceover.”
For the post facilities Broadcast spoke to, 2011 is thought to hold more promise than last year, which Jones describes as “feast or famine”.
Provan, too, is optimistic about the next 12 months. “I am hopeful - we just started with Time Team, which has relocated to Cardiff. Hopefully, programmes like that will make people realise they can get a project finished in Wales and that this is not just a postal address.”
NEP CYMRU A WELSH SUCCESS STORY
When Welsh facilities house Barcud Derwen went into administration in June 2010, one firm to emerge from its ashes was NEP Cymru, an outside broadcast and studio facilities company that secured the assets and staff of Barcud’s Omni TV.
Managing director Tony Cahalane says that 40% of its business comes from sport, 40% from music events and 20% from ad-hoc events, such as political and election programming.
He says that over the past six months there has been a 15% increase in studio usage. “There is interest in local commissions, mainly as pilots, but we don’t see a huge amount coming from the national and regional push.”
The facilities sector could be aided by agreements that set out a minimum amount of work for local facilities, he says.
“Independent production companies have guarantees, but as facilities, we have nothing like that. What we want is an agreement that S4C commissions would be facilitated by independent facilities and not used as an excuse to beef up BBC facilities.”
Cahalane says firms in Wales have started lobbying Welsh Assembly members and the DCMS. “The response has been interesting,” he says. “I don’t think there are enough people in politics who understand the level of employment facilities firms provide - they are in touch with the production side, but not so much with facilities.”
Cahalane says that in any one weekend, NEP Cymru supports the majority of the outside broadcast and studio workforce in Wales, creating some 150-180 freelance days over a typical weekend.
“The main push for us is to generate more work that is independent of the Welsh market, as things change with S4C,” he adds.