Making the grade: ‘In-house’ vs ‘out-of-house’

As we enter the Summer of 2010 the UK production industry remains in the grip of recession.  Also, as noted in the recent UK Screen report, competition within the post production industry is damaging its own members with dangerous price wars. However, the biggest threat is coming from another direction – production companies and agencies bringing in-house the sound mix, online, grade and vfx work. Utilising the skillsets of freelance vfx/motion graphic artists and following the trend seen in offline editing over the last five years, it will mean an even faster shrinkage of the post production market. UK Screen’s 2010 UK Facilities Survey questioned production companies about their ‘in-house’ facilities, 69% reported they would be increasing investment again next year, this trend is likely to accelerate, at least in the short-term.

A limiting issue in the past has been the technology, with grading and broadcast systems and tape delivery requiring dedicated hardware and specialist operators that both came with a hefty price tag, just like Avid offline editing a decade ago.
By making continued and sizable investments, facilities quite rightly set their rates high, often up to £750-1000 per hour at the height of the 1990s, with operators demanding over £100k as a salary and an army of assistants needed to keep things running smoothly on a variety of other expensive systems.  You literally couldn’t do anything in-house if you were a production company.

Final Cut Pro has decimated offline rates as it has lead to thousands of editors coming out of university skilled in using it, and while it doesn’t make them ‘editors’, it has caused the end of decent kit fees and the end to music promo revenue, which helped pay the rent and staff, and made running an Edit House a profitable business.

Finishing is going the same way. The majority of facilities will need to reduce staff, settle expensive finance agreements on hefty price-tagged equipment and rethink their entire business model.  While 3D may seem the shot in the arm for the industry, FCP will be able to handle it soon enough, and so will Intel and NVIDIA’s off the shelve hardware, and 3D will be niche for some time yet and generating only a small revenue for London.

Clients producing work at the low to medium end have begun to work in-house, their budgets do not allow them to go to a good facility even if they wanted too.  As Avid’s market was destroyed by Apple’s Final Cut Pro, so it now sets its sight on the grading, onlining, sound mixing and final delivery of video content, with Adobe’s After Effects acting as an Autodesk Flame killer.
Price tags are low at below £1000 (if you’ve not cracked the software anyway), and with Apple’s MacPro and Hewlitt Packard systems advancing at a phenomenal rate, there is no reason why dedicated systems costing £150k + can be a viable option for only but a handful of facilities, who’s operators refuse to use FCP or BlackMagic’s greatly reduced pricing on its newly acquired da Vinci Resolve system.

There is of course a difference between offline editing and finishing. While editors now own their own kit, and can set up anywhere, or walk in to a production company or agency and use theirs, picture and sound finishing requires a more substantial check list for its operators and clients than the skill of the editor alone, but only at the higher-end of the market:

  • Calibrated high-end screens and audio monitoring for perfect delivery across multiple platforms
  • Digital workflow specialists in a fast changing environment of greater cameras, smoothing production challenges
  • A superior service that is dedicated, fast and experienced
  • An environment which encourages the pursuit of excellence, which is both comfortable and professional for clients, and their clients
  • Most importantly of all, creative operators who are the best in their field, adding tens of thousands of pounds to the perceived budget through their skill as colourists, mixers and visual effects artists.  As an example, there are but a couple of industry respected freelance colourists

Those facilities who realise what clients will pay for and can action these business measures quickly will remain with us, they will have to reduce their rates long-term, but profit, if efficiency is actioned, could be higher – those who do not, will meet their demise soon.

Tough decisions in tough times.

Thomas Urbye
The Look
London, UK

1 Comment

  1. Hello Thomas – great articles. I’m inclined to agree about most of what you say – but I would transpose certain aspects of production services insted of a Post House angle into your comments. I agree, we are in a difficult time – both in our personal lives and professionally. But one thing should never change and that is the professionaism that we bring to the workplace every day. And the only way to do that is by learning our craft and performing it to the best of our ability. I think the cream will rise and the weak will fail. I’m excited about who and what will be the next rising star in our industry – no matter what piece of gear they’re using.

    Keep up the good work. Feel free to check out my blog for new camera operators at if you can.


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