From helping to fund Oscar-winner The King’s Speech and TV drama United to getting directly
involved in production, post houses are increasingly diversifying.
Providing funds for feature films is a long-established way for post facilities to get productions into their edit suites.
“It all started on a needs-must basis because there were too many post houses chasing too few jobs,” says Azule managing director Peter Savage.
“I don’t think post houses necessarily wanted to become rights owners; they had to.”
LipSync made its move into the world of finance four years ago and has since backed 44 films. It is now investing in TV productions as well.
“We have our core business of post that we never lose sight of, but providing finance allows us to increase the use of our fixed assets,” says financial director Norman Merry. “It’s classic sweating of the assets of things such as kit and rooms.”
Since widening its remit to include high-end drama, LipSync has backed United (pictured), The Crimson Petal And The White and Zen. “TV budgets are, of course, much lower and the amount of money in the post budget isn’t as high. We only get involved where there is post spend at the top end of the TV market,” says Merry.
The King’s Speech is the most recent - and perhaps the most successful - example of a post facility backing a feature film. Molinare invested £200,000 in the Oscar-winner in return for a 5% equity stake in the film, for which it also completed the VFX.
Fineline Media Finance sales and marketing director Gareth Wilding says that high-profile projects such as The King’s Speech could encourage more post houses to venture into financing. But he advises them to be cautious of missing out on paying work because they are engaged in something that may or may not generate a pay day down the line.
“If it can be mastered, there is clearly an angle there and an opportunity for post houses to leverage their skill sets.” While the value of a film like The King’s Speech is clear, it can be tricky to quantify what less successful films are worth to a post house.
“A lot of companies have these strategic assets that they place a certain value on, but if they go straight to DVD, it could struggle to meet that valuation,” warns Savage. “It is difficult to know what it is worth until it has effectively died.” Despite the risks, he says, because such assets are difficult to accurately value, they can provide a “creative” way of keeping a balance sheet solvent when a firm might be trading at cost or a loss.
LipSync’s Merry says one of the benefits of investing in productions is the marketing value, and Aquarium head of operations Sean O’Shea says that getting in front of new clients has been the main benefit for the audio facility since it started recording audio books during quieter periods.
“It’s not something we hang our hat on; it’s something we do to generate a little extra cash, and I’d rather our staff were busy than staring out on Broadwick Street,” he jokes.
Aquarium also recorded the audiobook version of Don Don, a novel by Revolver Entertainment managing director Nick Taussig, which resulted in it winning audio post work on a separate feature film that Taussig was involved with.
A thorough understanding of workflows has been put to use by many facilities that find they are now working further up the production chain. Sequence Post has been producing opening titles and idents for more than five years, which, combined with its knowledge of high-end cameras, means it is increasingly in demand as a production partner, according to co-founder Ben Foakes.
“The team at Sequence has spent years editing and designing workflow and fixing problems with other people’s material. We have unpicked the workflow and worked backwards so we are more efficient at shoots. We know how to cut programmes and how to make things safe. It’s like when editors become directors - they shoot efficiently because they know what the end game is,” he says.
“Using Canon 7Ds, Go Pro and Sony 700R HD cameras, we recently produced and shot trackside, track action and on-board footage for Red Bull Racing. It made up a good few minutes of the Formula One episode of the Engineering Connections show, which was produced by Darlow Smithson for BBC.”
But for Prime Focus, it is the company’s understanding of the opposite end of the process that is being exploited. Its digital asset management system, Clear, is part of the India-headquartered company’s global approach, says UK managing director Simon Briggs.
“The Sony stock issue has accelerated broadcasters’ plans to take delivery of file formats. Twelve and 24-month business plans for file-based transmission are being brought out for review and we are very well placed for that.
“We can take it as far back down the chain as we want to go: compliance editing, QC, formatting, and correct delivery to the broadcaster.”
Since the company’s 2009 rebrand, it has labelled itself a ‘visual entertainment services company’ and has been moving into areas that overlap with post. It has launched a 3D conversion unit, an animation house (Amazing Spectacles) and, in March this year, it announced that it was establishing Prime Focus Productions.
A few weeks after the Prime Focus announcement, Air Studios revealed its move into film and TV production. It is currently working on a pilot of a 3D music programme for Sky.
For Air Studios managing director Richard Boote, the move into production echoed his original motives for setting up the studio in the 1980s.
“I did it to record bands and put records out, and then the business took over,” he says. “We had to build more studios, pay for more staff and now, after 25 years, we’re going back to the reason we did it in the first place, which is to use the facilities creatively.”
Hackenbacker founder Nigel Heath also sought to get back to his roots in his support for London-based rock band The Riff Raff.
“As in any facility, there is some downtime and we feel it fitting to use these periods to help young talent in areas such as recording, mixing and mastering,” says Heath.
“This is by no means a one-way street. In my opinion, it’s better for studios to be kept busy during quiet moments. Younger members of the crew can gain experience and consoles can be debugged - and all without paying clients being in on the sessions. We have also negotiated repayment schemes into the projects we support, which can help fund quieter moments.”
Despite his philanthropic desire to “give something back”, he is clear that during busy season, attention returns to paying clients.
“This is our core business. It’s what we do best and so we give it all our attention. Every opportunity has to be grasped, but not at the expense of what has made us a successful company.”
Talent Agents - Building Relationships
Manchester facility Sumners set up its Sumtalent employment agency three years ago with an eye on the BBC’s impending move north.
Managing director Andy Sumner says it now represents 100 editors and is beginning to diversify to include audio specialists, dubbing mixers and production managers, with an interest in adding VFX operators.
The business covers its costs and provides a service to clients, he says, but also provides a useful source of information. “It helps with intelligence. If people phone for an editor, we can ask where they are planning to do post. Together with the Pie Factory studios, which we also manage, it helps to know what’s happening in the industry.”
It is an area in which Clear Cut Pictures is also involved, with Clear Cut Talent representing editors, mixers and smoke operators. “It’s doing very well,” says managing director Paul Austin. “We are constantly building relationships, so it lends itself well to the business.”