The Soho Summer Shakedown: ‘Last Man Standing’

So the summer of 2009 has arrived in Soho, and for many its not all sunshine and lunchtime drinking.

Those days finished in 2008 – and even then, that mentality was archaic and dangerous, however depressing that is to swallow.

The saddest thing of all for anyone working in this industry is knowing so many people employed at other facilities, both large and small, who have been made redundant in a time when finding another job in Soho is bleak.  Broadcast announced today it estimates 300 people have been made redundant in Soho, I suspect the actual number (taking into account those facilities that have not announced their redundancies) to be much higher.  Any plan to unite all the post houses in town, in whatever guise or umbrella you want to call it, has failed – facilities are offering crazy deals to keep themselves in business, one stating on their site “The Beat Soho Offer – We will beat any quote for post production in Soho”.

I have made it a policy of mine, though The Look is ’boutique’, not to undercut other facilities in order to win jobs, it goes against what I believe to be the core values in business.  Rates never go back up. Fact.  Undercut now, but don’t expect to claw it back.  I am left speechless when I hear of major internationally owned facilities hacking thousands of pounds off quotes to try and wipe out other Soho facilities, in a ‘last man standing’ attitude.  Dangerous play.  The rates won’t go back up.  Those facilities will never be the last left in Soho, not when up against so many, instead you damage your own reputation through increased work volume, which in turn equals substandard quality and service.  This inevitably lowers your turnover long-term, costs increase as you have to pay overtime and your own staff aren’t keeping track of the actual cost of running suites and decks, finally, clients don’t return because someone else can always do it cheaper than you.  I repeat – the rates will never go back up.  They never have.  Check a ratecard from ten years ago for a Henry Infinity.

Much has been spoken by other MDs in the local press regarding the shakedown during the last twelve months, and in my experience the word on the street from the production world is bleak.  DPs, Directors, Editors – most seem to be either getting by, or have written off the Summer completely and hope that work will pick up in Autumn – whether that’s commercials, features or TV.

So what are the sources of revenue available, lets cross them off:

ITV and Channel 5 are unlikely to commission much this year at all

Advertising on TV (where there is still some budgets available) is down – way down

Independent movies have lost their investors – not good for the British film industry

Music promos?  Well they died years ago

What does that leave?  The BBC and Studio features.

It is estimated that there are over 100 post houses in Soho.  I think by 2010 there will be a lot less.

According to an accountant friend of mine, the media industry is the hardest hit industry in London bar property.

So, what are we doing at The Look to make it through this dark time?

We’re currently doing lots of drama work with the BBC, which includes working on ‘Desperate Romantics’ (6x1hr) for primetime BBC2.  We start another major BBC drama straight after.  In part, we’ve secured this work through strong contacts made in features with DPs and Editors who have returned to television as the independent movies sector is so dry right now.  Either way, we are delighted to be working with such great people, and long may it continue.  Combining this long-form work with our other short-form clients who are shooting TVCs on the Red camera, we might just make it through this Summer’s 2009 shakedown……………….maybe its time for another Mint Magnum as a special treat now that lunchtime boozing is off limits………

Thomas Urbye


The Look

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