The post production industry, the RED camera & the future for film & television

I think it might be time for a bit of editorial comment, following on from the piece published in High Definition magazine this month.

I’ve just read today that Jim Jannard of Oakley sunglasses fame, and now CEO of the RED camera rebellion, has sold his sunglasses business for $2.1 billion. This spells to me that he really is keen to follow his new camera through more than ever, selling your own business that you have grown for decades must be the hardest thing in the world – but this shows that he has a new project that has taken hold of him.

For those of you that do not follow the technical side of film making, the above mentioned Jim put his neck on the line a few years ago and said he would successfully bring to market an HD camera capable of resolutions higher than even 35mm film can produce – and do it for only $15-25k (plus lenses). The industry was in outcry, such technology should be $150k+, with many people dismissing his vision as farcical, and not feasibly possible with the technology available at this time.

But now they are silenced. A recent short film shot by now legendary director Peter Jackson was very well received in Las Vegas in April by thousands of people who had already laid down a $1000 deposit for a camera they’d never really seen any images out of. The power of hype marketing had finally hit our industry, and it certainly had been the most successful campaign we had ever seen from a manufacturer.

So what effect will that RED movement have on the wider industry? Well, it comes down to a much wider debate than that really. Coming from a post production viewpoint this industry is now going through a massive change – so much so, that I wonder whether there will be much of a post production industry as we know it within five to ten years.

Up until recently, a lot of programmes, films, promos, commercials etc. had their post production handled by specific companies dedicated to offering that kind of service. However, technology has moved so fast now, that many production companies have now purchased their own post production equipment and are completing their conforms and online’s (and even grades) on Final Cut Pro from Apple in their own production offices. So powerful is the available toolset onboard the latest version (Studio 2) that it really is a post house in a box, and for less than £1000, add the hardware, monitors and video cards and you could have a nice setup for between £5-15k depending on your video storage requirements. Suddenly, all that money you spent in Soho can be taken by the production company to do what they like with. Does it matter that everything takes ages to render and that you’ve hired one person to do the jobs of many – if you’re saving money and no one watching TV notices why worry?

What does this mean for our industry? Well, in the short-term we will see the demise (for now) of the need for documentary, low-end drama and general television production work to have to use any experienced post house to ‘finish’ their project. So many production companies or small post houses will have their own 5 – 10 FCP suites with editors who not only cut the programmes, but also online, add titles and grade the piece that there will be a halt to that revenue arriving in Soho. Thus, I believe we will see the slow demise of many post production companies that rely on this area of the industry for their revenue.

Certainly in post, I believe we will experience a ‘bathtub’ phenomenon, where only large and small facilities survive, and anyone in the middle will dwindle because they cannot adapt to change quick enough, can not survive on small revenue streams, but also don’t have the very best talent (and there is more ‘talent’ available than ever). Larger companies will survive through their sheer financial reserves, the best talent, and probably their complete dominance of the commercials and high-end features & drama work (the only area of the industry where everyone takes a decent wage). For us at the ’boutique’ end as its known, we will have to survive on repeat business from well paying clients, we in turn have to offer a personal high quality service that is not seen anywhere else, the best operators but in an environment with fewer runners, less staff, less designer sofas, but all the very best equipment. We’ll see how The Look gets on with this tactic over the coming years.

The big buzz at the start of this decade was DI (digital intermediate) for movies. When I first joined MPC in 2003 we were one of the first people in town to offer a DI for a movie (in basic terms colour correct film images digitally). The price to the studios was well into 6 figures, and the investment for MPC (and CFC) was huge. However, other facilities soon realised that there could be money making potential in the area of feature film grading and online (bolted on with revenue from visual effects). However, by the time I started The Look it was possible to get a whole DI done in town on a movie for less than £50k. The cost had more than halved through the saturation of the market, even though the delivery requirements and technology costs had increased.

As a quick note to those that think £50k seems like a lot of money, here is the cost of setting up a DI facility for features stated here (in very very rough terms):

  • Grading systems: £250k-600k
  • Arri Laser film recorder: £250k-350k
  • Film scanner: £200k-1million
  • Digital high-end HD projector: £50k
  • Data storage: £25k-50k
  • Film calibration hardware and software: £10k-20k
  • HD deck: £50k-150k
  • Staff: £20k-30k per month.
  • Premises per month: £4k-10k per month

N.b. the average DI takes 4 to 5 weeks to complete, is susceptible to multiple rescheduling changes due to editorial/vfx issues and escalating costs due to tape stock and 35mm film output. In short, the DI feature market at this rate is a loss leader, used only now to support the VFX department within a facility, £50k a movie doesn’t pay the bills. Supply quite simply does not meet demand.

So that aside, what of the future of this industry as a whole? Well, I do believe that we will see the complete demise of 16mm film as a major option for television (and even features and promos) with the arrival of these excellent new HD cameras (RED, SI2K, Viper) etc. and it will leave just 35mm & high-end HD cameras to fight it out (its worth me mentioning here that I truly believe 35mm is still superior to any HD camera I’ve seen). Unless for artistic reasons, the move from 16mm film (and even 35mm) to HD will be swift, and it will come down to who can handle these new flavours of HD images in the post environment, those companies that stayed in SD (standard definition) television post production will suddenly be left behind and facing liquidation.

While we may all be moving towards shooting in HD (even at home on new HDV & AVCHD camcorders) the question has to be whether we will ever see any of this HD quality in our homes? When ofcom make the call this year on the future of television will they opt for more standard definition channels (do we really need more ‘2 pints of lager and a packet of crisps’) or whether the bandwidth will be reserved for freeview in HD. Otherwise, anyone wanting HD will be subscribing to Sky or someother similar subscription service. Is the BBC finally taking a back seat and focusing their funds on their online business? Could this deliver HD content (via H264) to screens around the globe?

Im not going to go into the future of broadcast, thats not really my concern, whether its down a phone line, or down a satelite beam, its irrelavent to me. The key thing as someone who has invested in the best possible equipment at a price tag 10 times that of FCP is that it is clear that advertising and high-end features work will be the only area where we can all make sizeable revenue and ever hope to pay for all the equipment and the skilled staff. With the RED camera and its HD competitors it opens up new doors of opportunity for those of us passionate about high quality work, working with the best talent in the industry & utlising this new technology to bring images to the screen (and sound) that will make a huge impact on the viewer in every sense. Its the reason I decided to work in this industry when I was in my early teens – and I hope Im still around working on great films, commercials, music promos and television for many years to come. Whether shooting on these cameras and saving on film stock will mean more money for the rest of the production, or if it will be an excuse to reduce budgets even more is yet to be seen.

Its a tough time for everyone in the industry. Budgets going down, delivery formats going up. Why this is, the answers are probably to complex to answer here fully. But the internet and the powerful marketing that it can produce is a major suspect.

So, here’s to quality across the board! Before everyone just switches off and watches YouTube all day!

Happy viewing…..

Thomas Urbye

Company Director

The Look


  1. Pingback: Acting Tips
  2. Thanks,

    Very nice & succinct thoughts. I’m in the same industry and have been feeling the pinch since the last two years. With other mediums opening up, like You-tube, mobile downloads. 3G the importance of corporate film production in the media plans of industry & agencies is going down. Hence the low demand and falling budgets. add to it the rapid changes in technology the whole production industry (except Feature films) is in a turmoil. The question on everybodys lips & blackberry’s is “Where do we go from here?”

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