As file-based delivery continues to take over from film, post houses have been investing in infrastructure and hardware to facilitate the demands of clients. Michael Burns reports.

Tooled up, flexible and, above all, file-based: that might be a fitting description of the UK broadcast facility sector as we leave 2011.

Tapeless workflow is now the normal setting in post-production, but this year there was continued massive investment in hardware and infrastructure to accommodate it.

Prime Focus, for example, rounded off the year with a £1.5m infrastructure boost to its London and New York facilities.

“The total transition to tapeless workflows has seen a significant increase in the quantity of rushes captured per programme and a greater complexity in the workflows that clients choose to pursue,” explains Rowan Bray, managing director, broadcast division, at Prime Focus.

“This has resulted in closer working relationships with clients, and we need to engage with them at a much earlier stage. Investment has been specifically aimed at improving data workflows and facilitating creative output for the existing client base, and the growing new business areas of drama, entertainment and comedy.”

Mark Thomas, chief executive of BBC Studios and Post Production, adds: “With the move to file-based workflows gaining wider acceptance and momentum, our post division is acting more as a workflow consultant pre, during and post production, as well as a traditional post house. Taking programmes, such as BBC1’s Watchdog and Endemol’s I Can Cook, tapeless has been a major achievement in 2011.”

Rushes managing director Joce Capper’s lasting memory of 2011 will probably be that it was the year when film almost died. “It’s still hanging in there, but only just,” she says.

“The move to more than 60% of the productions we graded that were delivered to us in a digital format happened much more rapidly than I expected. So 2011 is also the year when we all, clients and post houses, had rapid crash courses in data handling, data moving, data wrangling and, of course, all things storage.”

There were also changes in the technology used in post. Apple’s move in June to a revised version of Final Cut Pro, with a consumer-friendly price, alienated many traditional post houses and prompted a move back to Avid.

Sales of media asset management and data transfer systems increased and there was a jump in investment in grading systems for high-end drama and documentary productions.

“The post landscape is very different from two to three years ago, which is exciting for all of us,” observes Envy managing director Dave Cadle.

“The amount of different workflows is keeping our engineering team extremely busy.”

Cadle reports an exceptional year for Envy - it has taken on more comedy and drama business in long form and opened a fourth building in London and a new 7.1 audio studio.

“Next year, we are already considering looking for more space as the demand is very high and we have been turning away a considerable amount of work.”

Demanding more

That’s not to say everything has been rosy. Clients, themselves squeezed by financial pressures, have demanded more from facilities in terms of shots and content, while budgets have stayed the same or even shrunk.

The shots have had to become even more complex, too.

“The challenges are always budget-based,” says Serious Facilities managing director Simon Cull.

“We are being asked to do more for less and we have to be clever about how we approach a project to ensure our clients get the final product they want using the money they are given.”

Rowan Bray of Prime Focus agrees that there is increasing pressure to shoot in more adventurous ways and deliver in tighter timescales.

“If the previous year has been a story of financial challenge, the next year will be more creatively and technically ambitious,” she says.

As the much-heralded (and long-awaited) increase in regional production by broadcasters finally kicked in, the post-production sector outside Soho began to see the benefits.

As well as a continuing presence in Bristol to handle Deal Or No Deal, The Farm Group secured the contract to supply the BBC’s new Salford operation with post-production and sport studio management and staff.

Farm staff moved into the new site in the summer and the operation went live in October, while the group’s London facilities continued to produce thousands of hours of primetime television.

In Scotland, the increase in network commissioning didn’t always translate into increased post work for local A decent share of the increased BBC commissions went to Serious Facilities and audio facility Savalas, working in partnership at Film City Glasgow.

Savalas managing director Kahl Henderson observes an upturn in business, particularly from drama production in Scotland.

“Having established ourselves as a key player in network drama, opportunities continue to develop,” he says.

“The partnership has hugely helped business. Having the ability to offer a complete post service has attracted a whole host of new clients, including long-running, established projects.” Glasgow, previously Arc Facilities, is also seeing a big return on investment on upgrading suites and infrastructure for a tapeless media system, according to managing director Brian Suttie.

“One of the other significant investments we’ve made is in a Flame Premium suite, which offers not only a level of visual effects that previously hasn’t been possible in Scotland, but also a more integrated workflow for high-end onlining and grading.”

This diversification route was explored by many in 2011. The Mill, for example, launched design and gaming teams.

“We now work increasingly as a creative partner alongside agencies and production companies,” says the post house’s spokeswoman Pip Lowe.

“These partnerships have allowed us to continue to create complex and challenging work and provide innovative concepts across all platforms.”

LipSync’s new funding model has helped its equity investment division go from strength to strength. These projects, which include investing equity into BBC2 drama United, helped the post house cope with tight deadlines and a limited budget.

Hampden reports that the facility’s reputation is also growing in the TV drama arena. “While we are mindful of the global economic situation, natural disasters affecting the industry and budget pressures, we have great expectations for 2012, not least because Stephen Woolley’s Great Expectations is on our slate.”

What about the promise of 3D? “3D has in many respects stalled,” says Peter Savage, managing director of Azule Finance, a leasing and finance provider for broadcast and post-productionrelated industries.

“Despite being great for some productions, the audience has remained very specialised and small.”

Molinare is one facility that hopes the 3D audience will grow, after completing its stereoscopic grading theatre.

The company has also invested to increase capabilities in areas such as archive and restoration, and VFX.

“We rebuilt, rebranded and relaunched with new facilities and a focus on providing technical excellence, creative talent and our client service offering,” says Molinare head of business Richard Conway.

“But most signifi cant for 2011 has been the expansion of our high-end broadcast post offering. We have built up The Hour, Neverland and Treasure Island, while the three primetime Christmas offerings of The Borrowers, Lost Christmas and Lapland have rounded off this very significant year.”

Timeline: A year in facilities


The Farm wins a £10mcontract to provide postproduction services at BBC North’s MediaCityUK sites

The Mill is sold by Carlyle to Barclays Private Equity in a deal that values the business at £119m


Envy invests £2m to double the size of its Rathbone Place premises


Pepper Post is put into insolvent liquidation by its owner Future Film Group


The senior management team at Evolutions, led by MD Simon Kanjee, agrees a management buyout of the post company


Halo takes over Pepper’s Noel Street facility

Cardiff-based Mwnci rebrands as Gorilla


Reliance MediaWorks shuts down film processing operation iLab