Archive for the 'colour grading' Category


Reaching Creative Flow

Many people are aware of the briliant TED (Technology, Education and Design) community at
Some time ago I stumbled across a fascinating talk on this site about the route to happiness from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  It appeared to be routed in the perfect combination of personal challenges meeting perfectly matched personal skills.  We are at our most creative when our own personal skills are challenged at a level that stretches them, creating an equilibrium and harmony. When challenged too little we become bored and depressed, when the challenge is too great and our skills lacking, frustration and self doubt kick in.

The talk focused on how anyone can meet this personal equilibrium in their daily work or interests. For those of us working in the arts, and in the case of myself and others dedicated to the enhancement of storytelling and emotional engagement through the powerful use of images and in my case specifically colour, these two opposing forces meet when faced with the desire of the filmmakers to transcend that what has been achieved before or that will engage people with its beauty or savageness. My biggest creative challenge of recent months was working with the much acclaimed artist Isaac Julien, whose infamous work in the field of video art has challenged the genre of traditional filmmaking. With his work ‘Playtime‘, which debuted in Times Square in New York, the challenges before me were staggered. The first was to deliver to Isaac a standard of creative colour grading and picture enhancement that would satisfy him and to help to take the work to the next level of aesthetic appreciation for the viewer, this in itself is just the first big step to achieve. Once the road to this goal is set, as the colourist working with an artist of Isaac’s expertise, it requires the ability to move in to the aforementioned ‘flow’. As stated at the top of this article, when an artist’s skills are tested to their extreme, then at that moment you can reach this evasive ‘flow’ sweetspot.  The success of any artistic work in my opinion starts with solid building blocks, the belief in the initial direction, the confidence that this direction is the correct one for the work, and that it is the only direction.  When that is locked in then the challenge moves to delivering that execution across the whole work, to create a cohesion to the work, that compliments the director’s artistic vision, the performance, the composition of framing, the editing and the sound design. When the challenge of cohesion is complete then the final step to ‘flow’ is the hardest, the final grasp to perfection. Where every frame of the work is perfect, where minute details are agonised over. At that point the artist, when free from outside pressures, can hit the sweetspot of ‘flow’, and at that moment aspire to create the perfect work.

Artists have various reasons for creating work.  Some do it for themselves, to satisfy their own need for self belief, a competitive nature with themselves as the ultimate critic. Some do it for the audience, to take the audience themselves to a moment of ‘flow’. When art of any kind can challenge its audience’s concentration skills, artistic perception and thus create total immersion in the work, then the artist has given back to the audience the greatest gift.  As artists we have been successful when all those that have been able to engage in the work have moved to ‘flow’ and for that moment taken them from the trappings of day to day life.
To really achieve peacefulness at the end of our day we need to embrace the challenges to our own skills, push them, and give back to our audiences, whomever they may be.

Thomas Urbye | MD & Senior Colourist, The Look, London


I am a colourist working across all genres. From feature films, television drama, documentary, commercial content and video art.

Isaac Julien’s ‘Playtime’ is a seven screen work currently exhibiting around the world. It is 70 minutes in duration and was mastered in ultra high definition at The Look.
For more information you can read more at The Look’s site or at Isaac Julien‘s site.

You can see a short trailer for the work here

The inspiring TED talk referenced in this article can be found here:
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness

The Flow diagram is copyright of Milhaly Csikszentmihalyi 


Why is mediocrity such a powerful force?

Ive hit the decade mark!

Yes, Im now in to my second ten years working in Soho’s post production world.  Not only that, I’m ten years working with some great Directors, DoPs, Producers and Exec Producers (not to mention the great people that are hired by these people).

In that time I’ve met all sorts of characters – some geniuses, some nutcases (music promos!), some incompetent, some living on a different planet, and quite a lot of the in-betweeners, a sort of mediocre, they are just, well, getting on with it – making a living.

What’s rather more concerning is I’m still deciding if my work is mediocre.  One thing that has struck me in recent years is that a lot of the people I count as talented (certainly more than me) also aren’t sure if they are mediocre too.  What is surprising is how desperate the really good people are not to be mediocre.  Its almost an obsession, you see it painted on the faces of great creatives, and also, though not as often, on the faces of producers that hire them.

I’ve found myself during the last couple of years sat in meetings, or in the grading suite, or chatting outside a pub with a DP / Director / Producer just saying “we’ve got to be bold with this – punchy”, with Directors and DPs drumming in to me that “we’ve got to push this look, this scene is all about the starkness, it cant look like everything else out there” etc etc.  Yet, by the time shooting starts, and certain execs wade in, the whole project is diluted, re-scripted, and everything that the Director had in their mind is gone.

Then on the flip side, I’ve sat with very gifted DPs and Directors who say very little, but know exactly what they want, its a subtlety to the image, the delicate film-making process, that takes it from mediocrity to that next level.  The directing, lighting, editing, score and the grade can be delicate, slow-burning tension – but the result, anything but mediocre – in its own way very bold.

Interestingly, its this passion that I’ve witnessed over the last few years, and particularly with the shows I’ve worked on this year where the whole team on these projects have tried to be bold, which has propelled these gifted few to such great heights, in a tough market of lowering budgets and mediocre commissions.  Its tough for these more bold creatives and producers to get a job, yet the jobs that could be on offer aren’t the ones they even want to do.  On occasions they have to take them to cover their own personal costs, even though of course the personal cost could be quite great – you are, as they say, only as good as your last job.

Its a stark fact that more than half of producers and exec producers are at odds with these people because what they want is actually mediocrity, an easy life, to get that perfect TV show that gets the ratings and challenges nothing, engages enough, and passes the time and gets a repeat series – hey presto you’ve secured a second home in Devon or even France.  Hopefully it will allow them to make a more dynamic project later for their portfolio, if they have the will to be bold.

For a century of film-making, gifted and bold creatives have pushed back on what is the safe route, and time and again the result has been a more successful final piece.  Mediocrity has seen millions of films, commercials and TV shows end up on the scrap heap, yet when we look at just The Top 10 IMDB Movies (as voted by the users of the site), we see a list of strange choices:

1) Shawshank Redemption: A film set in a prison – Exec Producer “Sounds a bit down – really, another prison break film?”.  Did nothing at the box office, had little P&A budget backing it – then, when people started to see it, well, the rest is history.

2) Godfather: Mob picture, set around a family – 3 hours long, and it was the Exec Producer Robert Evans that made it this length!  It is sloooooow.  But its certainly bold.  Violent, slow burning, an epic movie.

3) Godfather 2: A great follow up to the first, Coppola delivers a tense story of the next generation of the Corleone family.

4) Pulp Fiction: A masterclass in disjointed storytelling, casting and post production – Exec “Why Travolta!?!? All these storylines?” – thankfully the Weinsteins were involved and they have a track record of spotting bold talent

5) The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: not much dialogue, whole lot of on screen tension – then there is the bolder than bold score from the genius of Ennio Morricone (N.b. my fav, Once Upon a Time in the West, which is for me the greatest direction, score, editing and photography I’ve ever seen – shots held for literally eternity – now, editors and execs love a cut).

6) The Dark Knight – A director that uses (mostly) one camera, 70mm, and lets it run well over 2hours – and Hollywood hates that.  He manages to spend millions, which you actually see on screen, as well as being one of the very few films of the comic genre that succeeds as a great movie.  With Inception as well, he shows that a Director’s bold vision is enough to take over a $1billion.

7) 12 Angry Men – Now this is my favourite in this list because its set for nearly the entire movie in a single room.  Its also in black and white, but its a masterclass in acting, scriptwriting and direction.  You can imagine the screams “this picture is all set in one room, the audience will get bored after fifteen minutes”.  Most execs freak out at a one minute courtroom scene. “Quick more cutting, we need to speed it all up, people will turn off!”

8) Schindler’s List: A true story, adapted very well to the big screen.  I can imagine a few squeaky shoes at that first production meeting.

9) Lord of the Rings: Fair play to Peter Jackson, he managed to get a studio to let him spend millions on adapting a book no one had ever risked to take to the big screen on anything like this scale.  And at 9, he clearly succeeded.

10) Fight Club: a film about people who like to beat each other up for fun.  The oddest premise, with Meat Loaf in a supporting role, and with super bold direction – again, can you imagine the elevator pitch?!

So, despite the fact that so many of us try to be bold, we do lose out to the mediocre.  We for instance are always dealing with producers that just want the cheapest deal, do everything in one big post house, usually with a safe pair of hands / an old drinking mate / or that’s near their office.  Yet, the fact remains, for really great work to be made you have to be bold and pick the team that has the utmost ability to deliver the best.  It doesn’t matter if its TV, commercials, or features or docs, its got to be bold, for me, its like Top Boy, The Wire, to Breaking Bad, to The Fades and on – do not give in to mediocrity, and strive to produce films, whether 5 seconds or 13 hours, that take the audience on a new and exciting journey.

During the next ten years, my motto is “Push it”, and thankfully I’m now working with clients that feel the same – and its fantastic!

If you’re a young filmmaker, whatever your discipline, be bold, be bold, BE BOLD.

Thomas Urbye


The Look


Why does my project look different on every screen I watch it on?

The age old question, asked by so many people who’ve come through my suite:

“I’ve downloaded it to my laptop and it looks different?”

Then there is the inevitable panic:

“Thomas, how can we make sure that everyone who watches it, watches it ‘properly’?”

This issue recently came to light here:

As a colourist, I’ve spent a great deal of time learning to understand colour science, thanks to years of discussions and teachings with friends like Martin Parsons @ Image Eyes and Steve Shaw @ Light Illusion.  We’ve had many chats over different screens and different technologies, and discussed the question asked by Producers, Directors and DPs the world over: “Why does my work look different on every screen?”

I’m going to set out why it does, a brief note on the technology and finally, why it doesn’t matter as much as you think.

A visit to my company’s website will quickly tell you that colour is very important to our business revenue, we are predominantly a colour grading company, and clients from all sectors of the industry use us to make their work look as special as it can, in real terms, adding value to what was shot and hopefully taking the image beyond what the client ever thought possible.  In a world where software colour grading tools, like editing and desktop publishing, is pretty much free, anyone can be a colourist now – just like they can be a graphic designer or editor.

The difference is how quickly you get to the absolute best result, your understanding of your profession, your client skills, the client experience, delivering on time and knowing that your screens are calibrated…….

A lot of people think that there isn’t a standard for colour on screens, but there is.

We have a lot of screens at The Look, all of them using different panel technologies inside – we have LCD, LED, Plasma and projection.  They have varying price points, various issues inherent with their design, and they have varying controls over their calibration.  But this blog isn’t about the intricacies of different panels and the complicated world of colour science.

The current standard of HD TV screens and content delivery, the world over, is known as Rec. 709 and you might be surprised to learn, that most panels inside the TVs you buy are roughly calibrated to this standard.  The problem arises when TV manufacturers add special ‘features’ to the TV itself (rather than the actual panel) so that it appears sharper and more impressive on a shop floor against its competitors.  The ones that drive us colour specialists mad is anything with the word ‘dynamic’ in it.  Dynamic Contrast, Smooth Motion, Noise Reduction and various settings like ‘Game’, ‘Dynamic’, ‘Sports’ etc. all play havoc with the image displayed, heightening colours and increasing the contrast, usually causing any detail in the image which is in the darker or lighter areas to disappear completely as the panel is worked hard to make the image more intense – any subtlety is gone – its like turning up the bass and treble on your amp and wondering why certain songs sound terrible, while others seem to sound more ‘epic’.

If you actually turn off everything, and set the TV to standard you might be surprised to know, and this is in my experience true even with consumer sets, that they aren’t that far off the Rec. 709 standard.  At The Look we measure the black level (to make sure picture information isn’t being cut off, or isn’t too ‘lifted’) and we also measure, using a special probe and specialist software, how bright the TV is when a pure white image is put in to it.  We then measure pure Red, pure Green and pure Blue to see if its close to the Rec. 709 standard.  We then check a grey scale to confirm that their isn’t a strange colour cast or tint to the panel.

Interestingly, with most HD panels from decent manufacturers, you can get them pretty close to the standard, certainly for home viewing.

Why bother with any of this?

Because you should want to watch programmes, feature films and commercials as they were colour graded by people like me and the Directors and Cinematographers I work with, and my other fellow Colourists the world over who’ve calibrated our screens.  Thankfully, digital cinema now means that when you go to your local cinema, it should be pretty accurate to what we saw – well, if its properly maintained that is.

The chances are you won’t be able to do much more than going to ‘standard’ on your TV, turning off all the extra stuff I mentioned above, and doing a visual calibration with your own eyes on a film you trust – which may sound crazy, but in my experience, my eyes are as good as any probe I’ve used.

Even after this, its not going to be perfect by any means, and even in a professional environment we struggle to get every colour at every point in the colour and brightness scale to be accurate to the Rec. 709 standard.

So TVs may seem like a pain to tweak, with all their options and settings.  But what about your laptop, your iPad, your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy etc.?

The bad news is, most of these devices don’t have a way of tweaking your screen, they don’t even work to the Rec. 709 standard, some say they work to the sRGB standard, but thats unlikely out of the box.  I recently purchased an iPhone 5, restored my old iPhone 4 settings to it, so in effect they were identical, with the same home image.  Put them next to each other and I was gobsmacked at how different the same image looked, the iPhone 5 was significantly warmer in its colour tone.

iPhone 5 on the right has significantly more yellow/warmth in the whites than the iPhone 4 display on the left

Its true to say, if you buy another iPhone 5, put the same image on it, it will probably look different on that one too.

So when clients say, “sorry I couldnt make it to the grade, but I’ve downloaded your link and the product looks a bit yellow to me” I get a little frustrated!

“Thomas, how can we make sure that everyone who watches it, watches it ‘properly’ as we see it on your screen?”

You cant.

But I have an explanation on why you shouldn’t worry too much.

For hundreds, even thousands of years, man has chosen colour by mixing paints and putting this paint on to a canvas, and this canvas would have been lit by both daylight and candle light, and later, by electric lamps of varying colour temperatures, he or she would have carried on working for days and weeks, and just as we cannot change the colour of lamps and sunlight, neither can we accurately control the colour of the screen or the viewing conditions of the millions of people watching our work.

If you visit any gallery in the world, which has natural light as a source, when you visit at 9am and photograph a painting, and return again at 4pm and photograph the same painting with the same settings, the brightness and colour cast could be warmer, or cooler, based on the natural light.  This in itself will have changed the way we see the painting, the colours will have changed to our eye, but one key thing to remember is that our brain interprets the information that our eyes transmit to it.  If someone is wearing a white t-shirt in an image our brain balances the other colours based on that and other known objects and what colour they are.  When someone owns a TV, a laptop and an iPhone, the colour is neutralised by our brain it appears normal (unless you put them next to each other) and its only if we have a reference (a logo with strong colours) that we might spot an issue, otherwise, everything seems fine.  If your TV is set up a bit wacky, that wacky to you is normal.

However, with the gallery example, we don’t see this as devaluing or ruining a painting or piece of art, it is how the colours are used in the painting (or image) that compliment each other perfectly, how the light in the original scene is rendered and controlled, in essence, creating an image that is visually pleasing in whatever environment you watch it in and on.  As the image above shows, the scene that I photographed in Austria is equally beautiful on both screens, and if you were to look at one phone, and then turn it off, and turn the other one on, if you did this with even a few seconds gap, the chances are you’d think they were identical – that is how bad our colour memory is.

There is no excuse for anyone who offers grading services, individual or company, not to understand the complexities of display calibration, it is a known standard that manufacturers do work too, and it allows screens that the work is seen on later to be off in a particular direction without major detriment to the viewer’s experience of the image, particularly if you have set your black and white levels properly.

So if you are panicking about how your project is looking different on YouTube, your Quicktime on your laptop (oh the joy of Quicktime gamma issues), YouTube on your iPhone and then when its broadcast, don’t loose too much sleep – its never going to change, its not as bad as it seems – you just need to make sure you work with people who know why it looks different and how we can counter the issues as much as we can within the controls and knowledge at our disposal.

I leave you with one final thought, years ago I worked on a Channel 4/E4 series here in the UK called ‘Dead Set’.  It was Directed by Yann Demange, DP was Tat Radcliffe and it was Written by Charlie Brooker.  I can remember all of us discussing the issues described in this blog, and how dark we could realistically go with the colour grade without causing issues for anyone watching this zombie horror during bright daylight hours (it was in places graded and lit in a very moody way), and in an unheard of moment of genius Charlie managed to get the announcer to state before the programme: “Now on E4, ‘Dead Set’, which contains graphic scenes and which is best viewed in a darkened environment”.

I had a wonderful vision of millions of people all reaching up to their light switch and turning off their ‘big light’, and there by increasing their enjoyment of the work we had done, and actually seeing some more of the gory detail!

There you have it, problem solved
Thomas Urbye

MD & Senior Colourist

The Look



2011 wasn’t all that bad for TV & Commercials, was it? So what does 2012 hold?

2011 was pretty depressing, reading the paper or watching the news was a miserable experience, and all in all, those who still have a job, or have a business should apparently be chuffed to bits!

Interestingly, a lot of my clients have actually had a pretty good year, not exactly the best ever for most, but many have told me that when they actually worked out the numbers, their figures were actually very good – both freelancers and production companies.

So if this is the case, and for us we had our best year ever (our fifth), what is it that makes us all feel so uncertain about 2012, despite quite a few of us media based companies having surprisingly good revenue?  The big thing for many is “Do we expand premises, get more people, invest in new technology, or just keep capital in the business just in case it gets bad in 2012?”.  Unfortunately I think the tendancy is to opt for the latter, and I’m inclinned to agree with them, which does nothing for getting the economy going, but most people are just too scared to risk loosing it all when everyone is telling you that 2012 is going to be horrible.

This year we worked on ‘South Riding’ for BBC, ‘Monroe’ for ITV, ‘Top Boy’ for Channel 4, ‘The Fades’ for BBC, ‘Whitechapel 3’ for ITV, ‘The Bodyfarm’ for BBC, ‘Bert & Dickie’ for BBC and ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ for BBC.  This adds up to 29 hours of drama for us, and we’re very proud of all of the work.  ‘Top Boy’ and ‘The Fades’ stood out for this year as youth orientated shows which both received critical acclaim.  With ‘Top Boy’, Channel 4 invested thousands in advertising, which meant that it pulled in a large and very diverse audience.  During its transmission week, it was the second most popular thing (trending) talked about on Twitter in London, Manchester and Birmingham.  Its fantastic when a series pushes the boundaries of storytelling and its craft, and produces something which is more than just ‘ok’, and ‘Top Boy’, though difficult for many to watch, received such great reviews that everyone involved is genuinely proud to have worked on it.  To engage with such a diverse age range from all different walks of life, is a testament to what can be achieved to create great, world leading UK drama – any comparisons to ‘The Wire’ can only be gratifying for those involved.

We were delighted to work on some wonderful TV drama this year, and I genuinely feel like the standard of UK drama is increasing, despite the year on year reduction in budgets from some broadcasters.  Although more drama is being commisioned next year from nearly all the broadcasters, the chances are there will be more drama series but a little bit more money spread across quite a few more of them.  This does have the unfortunate effect that UK drama has: too few shooting days and prep, too few extras and atmosphere, too few truly realistic locations, and too few decent wide shots if anything other than contemporary UK is the subject – all this hinders UK drama when compared to what the US can produce.  The directing, acting and technical craft is so high in the UK, that its a shame that sometimes the budget and subject matter is often so, well, safe.  For UK drama to really get to a world stage then broadcasters need to increase budgets to capture the aforementioned, give writers more time to finesse their work, and increase budgets on those dramas that really need it, only then can we hope to create true ‘brilliance’ for a world stage on more regular occasions.

2011 continued to be a very poor year for independent British films, with many directors not able to find funding to bring their film to the screen.  Despite successes like ‘The King’s Speech’, and despite post production companies becoming investors, it wasn’t enough for many to get their film off the ground.  I cant see this changing in the short-term, but we will continue to actively look out for great scripts and directors for potential investment, if not move in to Production ourselves in 2012.  We have to hope that other investors can return to the industry with the support of EIS schemes and tax benefits for those investors.

3D Stereoscopic has been huge for Hollywood, with nearly all children’s movies being in 3D.  Here in the UK though, Sky are left to fly the 3D flag for us with sports and natural history programming.  Sky are commited to 3D and I’m sure we’ll be hearing of some big commisions in 2012.  However, a recent survey discovered over half of people who own 3D televisions don’t actually know they have 3D built in!  Viewing 3D in a cinema is one thing, but wearing glasses at home is another.  However, the Olympics and Euro 2012 along with transmitting Hollywood 3D movies could be what Sky and also BBC (if they commit to 3D) need to push the audience into the third dimension, and its not going to be quick – but we cant give up now.  Fingers crossed Sky and BBC increase the momentum.

Finally, I’d like to thank all those that have supported The Look and the team that work here during 2011, we’ve worked with some of the best UK talent and some really lovely people, and we are very grateful to be chosen to work on some great projects this year.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you

Thomas Urbye


The Look


Post production company Pepper finally closes?

After a break in recent ‘bad news’ stories, it was with surprise that Soho learnt on Friday of, what seems to be, just maybe, the final closure of post production company Pepper as it has been put in to liquidation by Future Film Group.

Its terrible for the staff, who may already have endured rough times with the company before, find themselves again in an all to familiar state.  Knowing some of the people there myself, they were shocked that out of nowhere the doors were locked and they were out, for those dry hiring rooms it must have been a scary arrival at Greek St on Friday 10th June.

Demand most of the year outweighs supply in our industry, and Future have looked at the business and made the right decision in this regard.  When companies continually go in to administration (see and on occasion leave their creditors with large outstanding debts it not only hits its creditors and freelancers (if they are left unpaid), but when companies do this, they should, in my opinion, close, and stay closed unless major restructuring and redundancies take place.  By conducting and disposing of debts and liabilities in this way it only increases the cost of credit to other production/post/rental companies as the market becomes more high risk for lenders, which in turn leads to smaller profit margins for the rest of us trying to run a business.  The argument of course is saving jobs, but very long-term I’m not sure it results in this as the industry as a whole suffers through excessive undercutting to increase turnover rather than profit.

Hopefully with demand in TV drama increasing, perhaps some of the other international names that have continued to run their post production services at a loss will now start to  charge proper rates for their services, although their clients may find that a bit of a shock!

I hope all the team at Pepper, who included some talented and friendly people, find work quickly, and that Future Films Group continue their success in film finance, an area which has also struggled in recent years in this recession.

Thomas Urbye


The Look


“Who needs an agency/production company/post house anyway?”

What is the biggest single change of the fast moving media world in the last two years?

The dissolving of the traditional structure:


And why not?  For so long the traditional route seems so cumbersome and expensive, cutting out one of the processes surely means more money to those left, as technology has moved on, seems only sensible to streamline the process.

Many of the clients we work with, and those that I grade with, have made that decision.  Agencies have bought their own editing systems and installed their own After Effects software, they’ve found good Directors to work with, as Production Companies have shed their own, and with a couple of freelancers in the mix they can take the initiative and remove the Production Companies from the equation, sometimes they don’t even see the need for a Post Production Company for some of the jobs.

Production Companies have become an Agency too.  Makes sense, handling the client can’t be that difficult, and if the Agencies are not going to bring them the work, then it makes sense to seek out the clients and produce the work themselves, they too have got their Final Cut Pros, and more importantly they have the roster of great Directors and Producers.

Finally, there is the Post Production Companies, who see work drying up from both their main suppliers, so they set up their own production arm, approaching new and existing clients and offering to cut out the Production Company, and maybe even the Agency.  The client is winning, the campaign is cheaper, and there is more money for those left in the food chain.

But there are problems.

A short clip from Mad Men demonstrates the fantastic character of Don Draper at work, pitching to Eastman Kodak for a new product, in a time (1960s) when things were done the old way, and have been done that way since now.  Don is a master.  Who then, takes on this role, in a Production Company or Post Production Company?

Here then is the rub.

For those Production Companies that have become Agencies, the shock, the true shock, is the hand holding that clients need.  For years, an Agency has taken all the responsibility for feedback, explaining to the client that now that they’re in the grade that its not possible to put a new pack shot in because it was never shot, the client is educated by their longstanding Agency Manager.  Production Companies now have to handle all of this, chasing down the key people, understanding the client’s brand, what they are doing in their other media campaigns – suddenly, the Production Company instead of just executing the best possible work for the Agency, and taking their guidance, are waiting on emails, Marketing Directors are in meetings, the CEO doesn’t like the edit, but isn’t sure why, the Creative Director thinks the music is wrong but can’t explain what he/she really wants, and no one can get them all in a room or on a conference call at the same time, that was the job of the Agency bigwig, they knew them all and could ‘make the call’ – enter Don Draper.  The end result, a final product that the client isn’t that happy with, the Production Company has wasted literally hours waiting for feedback when they could be looking for new work, they end up reluctantly doing the audio and grade in-house because they have run out of time, even though they had to confirm bookings on audio and pictures suites in Post Production Companies and incur cancellation fees from all angles.  All because the client wasn’t sure if they liked it or not, or if it was what they wanted in the first place.  That then, is what Don Draper and the Agency does.

Agencies then surely don’t need Production Companies.  They can hire in the staff that know about Production.  They can buy the editing and graphics kit – it is after all as cheap as chips.  Sometimes though, the freelance Line Producer you like to work with isn’t available.  Unfortunately, the in-house Director you have isn’t really cutting the mustard for the client, the work is, a little substandard.  The Agency needs a bit more creative edge, a fresh look, but how can we ask for ideas from Production Companies and their experts because we’ve cut them out of the equation, we need to make the right markup on the job.  Well, the Agency know the brand well enough, and the clients, so surely its not that difficult.  Only problem is, the quality of content goes down, the edit goes wrong because the rushes weren’t supplied right, the Agency Junior Production Manager hired the wrong drives and none of the monitors in the whole building seem to be calibrated right – why does it looks so dark?!  Now everything has been encoded wrong – its not her fault, what does she know about film shoots and camera equipment?  In the end, they fix it, don’t really make any money on the job, but its done, and if a Production Company and Post House had been involved surely they would have made a loss?

Ah, but is producing average content, really the big loss?  Does a good campaign breed another?  Does a failed campaign encourage or discourage further investment for the next?

If Post Production Companies are to try the same ideas, do they not come up against all the same problems as the other two, if not worse?  If, as a Post House, you find yourself winning a job over one of your regular Agency clients, you can’t be surprised if you suddenly loose their whole contract – why hire a competitor?  If a Production Company steals a client away from an Agency or vice versa, don’t expect to have them booking you for work in the future.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you just to get a nibble on something else.

Sometimes in life, things have been the way they have been since the beginning for a reason.  Sometimes the chain is there because that meant everything got done properly.  Yes there was cost wastages, yes, sometimes the process was over complicated, but most of the time, the process worked because everyone was able to focus on their core abilities.

My predictions?  In a few years, things will start to return to the older route, CLIENT, AGENCY, PRODUCTION COMPANY, POST PRODUCTION COMPANY.  The ‘content’, which to me always sounds a bit like ‘web filler’ will be done by everyone, but great work, great work which clients really see value in, still needs all the right people involved.

Thomas Urbye


The Look


Goodbye to the Noughties – Hello the Teenies. Looking back, and forward to the next decade of media production and post….

The year 2000 doesn’t seem that long ago – and what’s for certain is that as you get older ten years is a very short space of time.

A decade is a long time in technology though.

In 1999 most people didn’t have a mobile phone and weren’t even on the internet at home, painfully slow dial-up was the only option for most.  A decade on, the internet is at the core of personal and business transactions – whether it be by email or via some kind of social networking site, and most are using a pretty fast connection at home and certainly at the office.

One thing we can all agree on is that things change faster now than ever before as technology follows Moore’s Law.  So where will we be by 2019, other than ten years older?

How we consume media will be the biggest change, with deals being struck with YouTube and the like for streaming of television series, Spotify,, Virgin and Sky offering music and movies on demand, and in the latter case in HD – it seems natural to assume by the end of the decade the act of buying music and films in a disk form will only apply to a minority of the public.

With the removal of the actual ‘media’ it opens up the chance of ever higher quality content being viewed on laptop screens and LCD’s in the home (a lot of TV’s already ship with internet built-in) as the only limit is the pipe you can send it down rather than the manufacture of goods.  iPlayer and its HD offering has shown that image quality matters yet again – and the argument for DV being good enough does not carry in this HD digital age.  For certain, one thing this decade has shown is that audiences do crave high-quality movies and drama (The Dark Knight, Heroes, Lost, 24, Mad Men, The Wire etc.) and will flock to it in their millions.  Within a short amount of time streaming to mobile phones (iPhone etc) will be a real reality – wherever you are, via wi-fi or 3G.

The big change in cinema will be 3D Stereoscopic.  2010 will see the next big leap since the introduction of colour in the 1940s and 50s.  ‘Avatar’ and ‘Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland’ will mark the first big change in live action movie production, and Sky’s 3D summer of sport will be the catalyst to the slow process of getting 3D to people in pubs and in their homes.  Expect ‘3D at home’ in the latter half of this decade.

It is the 3D Stereoscopic and digital projection standards which will drive film and programme makers to produce high-quality material – and it could mark a wholesale change as the industry shrinks as consumers demand better and switch off if their attention isn’t kept.  If the internet has shown us one thing, its that people will not just watch anything when you can quickly click a link to something better – the sooner companies realise this and start spending money with agencies again to create unique content for internet users the sooner this industry will begin to get back to work.  2009 has been a year of people leaving the industry, its wholesale shrinkage has meant the removing of wheat from the chaff.  Many will not be able to return, and I doubt advertising will ever return to the rates and demand it enjoyed up till the middle of this decade.  While the internet killed live transmitted advertising, it will resurface in a new online form.  While advertisers have already woken up to social networking sites and the power they now control (X-Factor vs. Rage against the machine for example) can only be exploited with content worth watching, and worth forwarding or ‘sharing’.

The gulf we’ve seen between high quality and airwave fillers will get greater, as more focused channels come to air.  As more channels will be introduced, quality will continue to drop across the network of 100s of channels, traditional live advertising revenue will continue to drop with the exception of ad breaks in ‘X-Factor’ and the like, the only advertisers left on TV will be supermarkets and ‘under-the-sink’ brands.  What will replace it is the insertion of ads at the start of on-demand programmes which will help to keep the market from slipping quite so fast – but I predict by the end of this new decade television advertising will not exist in the form it does now.  Content will be viewed online and on-demand – and subscription or pay-per-view will grow for movies and high quality HBO type series, advertising will feature in the form of product placement, ad’s over-layed at the bottom of your YouTube stream, and forced-in commercials which are still used to ‘break’ up long shows.

What was, and what will be, the big change in the art of movie and programme making?  Well in the late 1980s and early 1990s Avid was the big advancement in the world of post-production, along with other digital non-linear systems such as the Quantel Paintbox and Henry, and later the discreet Flame.  Non-linear would have summed up the big change of the 90s, but shooting on film was still the only real option for medium to high-end production.

This decade?  Well its been the advancement of High Definition pictures and digital cameras, and their over-taking of film in general use.  Certainly most high-end commercials are still shot on 35mm, and the same goes for feature films – but its obvious by 2015 the majority of production at the high-end will be digitally acquired as the cameras surpass film quality.

The other big change was Final Cut Pro.  Now available with a comprehensive editing and post production toolset for only £700 it smashes the price of HD post production, along with Adobe it has changed the landscape for good.  Talent will be the only thing left in this industry, without it you’ll find yourself looking for alternative work.  ‘Edit Hire’ rates for Avids and suites is over, unless you’re posting Stereoscopic work at 4k resolution or have a suite which meets the demands of high-end clients, expect your rates to continue to drop unless you’ve got the best creative talent.  The shrinkage is set to continue.

So, how will us creatives make it through to 2020 and make a decent living?  The same two things as always:

If its not on the script its not on the screen.

Be the best, work with the best, make the best.

Happy New Year!

Thomas Urbye

MD, The Look

Soho, London