Archive Page 2

17
Dec
11

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

MD

The Look

12
Jun
11

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.

http://www.pepperpost.com/

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 http://secure.duedil.com/business#/b/pepper%20post) 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

MD

The Look

07
May
11

“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:

CLIENT > AGENCY > PRODUCTION COMPANY > POST PRODUCTION COMPANY > BROADCASTER / PUBLISHER


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

MD

The Look

19
Apr
10

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
MD
The Look
London, UK

09
Feb
10

3D Stereoscopic – A shot in the arm for the industry, or the new DI bubble?

I’m excited.

Ever since I first saw decent 3D Stereoscopic (3DS for the rest of this blog) at the iMax, and then at IBC, I’ve wanted to be involved. The thought of a 3DS showreel to wow my clients has been a bit of a Holy Grail, the next stage on from HD images.

So, with the release of ‘Avatar’ suddenly everyone is talking about 3DS in Soho.  There are 2x Projectors and 3DS grading systems shipping to all sorts of places, and its all quite exciting. However, for all the hype, there is another side to the coin – and by a coin I mean a £250k+ investment in projectors, systems, screens, various add-ons etc. per suite.

I’m still keen – maybe its time to invest, surely the rates will be high, there aren’t many people who offer it yet. So just before I get the cheque book out, let’s take a moment here. Already this month, large and small post houses are gearing up for 3DS, even though the work isn’t there yet, and Sky, who are the only ones looking to do high-end stuff (outside of the big screen – and our film industry is on its backside) do quite a bit in-house. Ouch. So, what’s left?  Fashion launches, music promos, low-budget test stuff, concerts?

If all of us in London post production invest, will we cover the cost of that investment in under three years (I prefer two), or will 3DS go the way of DI?…Market saturation, continual heavy investment and poor rates, the result – its better to just shut the department down.

Everyone wants to be a market leader, but my concern already is with so many entering the market, at so many different levels, will 3DS really be the shot in the arm post houses across Soho need?

What is everyone going to charge?  £900 per hour for commercials in the top facilities and suites?  Maybe £500 per hour for long-form – would make sense to me from a business point-of-view.  I’m concerned that with market saturation at all levels you’ll see half those figures.

Let’s see where we are at the end of the Summer when the BBC and Sky are really demanding more content, and let’s hope this time people don’t give their new 3DS services away for nothing and we can all keep our rates at the right price to run our businesses.

Get your specs on (if you are sure which type you should be installing!)

Thomas Urbye
MD
The Look

20
Dec
09

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, LOVEFILM.com, 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

www.thelooklondon.com

03
Sep
09

UK DI market begins to shrink back

Its a sad day when the company that pioneered Digital Intermediate in the UK is forced to shut its DI department.  Framestore CFC were there when I first joined MPC in 2003, and have remained in my opinion, the UK’s leader in quality vfx and digital intermediate grading (their CV certainly speaks for itself).

With so many facilities competing for the supposedly lucrative film DI market in 2007-08, it materialises that actually there is not much profit in DI at all for a department with more than a handful of staff and decent high-end kit (see my post last year on costs for running a DI department).

The remaining four or five players (which I won’t mention in case I miss anyone out and get a snotty email!) who all have a track record of delivering 35mm DI, are now competing for what is a desolate film market place here in the UK – William Sargent nails it in his comments below.

Lets not forget, true digital intermediate is the process of scanning film negative, despotting and grading it, and then outputting it back to 35mm negative and striking prints that match the image seen during the digital grading process (and that’s the bit that separates the quality players from the wannabes).

The following article is taken from Broadcast – September 2009.  Very good comments from my old friend Phil Green who has re-emerged onto the scene after an absence from the industry (they all come back in the end!).

At The Look we have just completed ‘Desperate Romantics’ for the BBC, and are mid grade on another major 5 x 1hr series for BBC1 (due for TX in October) – though I can not give the name away just yet.

As a short note, I have not been asked for a quote to grade a film for three months, up to that point, we were starting to turn them down because the rates being quoted by some of those major players above was lower than I was prepared to do the work for.  Not surprising that the market is shrinking very quickly when people are writing off their operators, producers and equipment repayments in order to secure the more lucrative vfx work, or some strange UK / European tax break finance investment deal which cares little for the script or the film’s release success.

http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/technology/what-next-for-di/5005140.article

The Oscar winning Soho effects company Framestore stopped taking DI bookings last month. It was a decision that caused quite a stir in Soho and beyond.

With too many competitors offering ‘silly prices’, all 23 members of its digital lab team were put in consultation and the department was closed. Most are likely to be seeking re-employment elsewhere and some have left already including head of digital lab Greg Barrett.

Chief executive William Sargent said Framestore will now concentrate on its booming visual effects business.

He pinpointed too many big companies in a small market as being a major issue for DI, even allowing for Deluxe Digital London having closed its DI division in January.

“I’ve changed my perspective on DI,” he said. “We had a significant share of the market when it was small. But when it grew and [other players] entered who also wanted to capture the film distribution work at the same time, the prices for doing the DI got very silly. We’ve been subsidising the department for a couple of years.”

One former Framestore member of staff agreed, saying that it is hard for the non-lab affiliated facilities to make any kind of money from it. “The big boys can run DI as a loss leader for bulk prints and digital mastering and still be able to pay the best talent to do the job thereby pulling in all the big name productions and DoPs,” he said.

Not the first

Framestore is not the first company to give up on DI this year. Deluxe pulled out in January, at a time when tax breaks for films – something that made turning a DI profit possible – were changed.

Add to these factors the high-cost of DI equipment and the usual staff overheads, and the DI market starts to appear particularly tough.

Freelance DI specialist and colourist Phil Green told Broadcast that these problems could go deeper still, especially since companies from both film and video backgrounds have jumped on the DI bandwagon allowing producers to playing houses off each other, forcing rates down.

“Productions soon realised the DI could be milked, demanding even more bang for their buck,” he said. “The editorial process was never locked. Unlike a traditional neg cut it was a moveable feast. A new edit would appear daily creating more work for the DI house, especially if it was within a fixed price. Savvy producers will find ways to leverage this to reduce their own production costs.”

“With more DI houses,” he continued. “They had greater flexibility to under cut each other, playing them against each other.  Lowering the rate card further until it was either break even or ultimately ticking over at a loss for the facility, because ultimately it was better to take on a project at a loss than pay staff to sit around and twiddle their thumbs.”

But while undercutting and producers asking for more for their money are not exclusive to DI – and are part and parcel of the facilities business – other sectors do seem to find it easier and quicker to adapt.

And as if to illustrate the importance of this flexibility, on the Digital Cinema Society’s website is the following quote from Charles Darwin. “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” Which is very apt.

Many positives

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it in fact.

Dave Blackham, the chief executive of the post-production and hire company Elite, is very upbeat. “I think it depends on how you define DI,” he says. “If the workflow is thought through carefully, much lower cost technology now can offer at least equal results to equipment once thought inaccessible to many facilities. People costs still remain much the same and it is their expertise that is the critical element here. Rates most likely reflect the job in hand and are probably workable in most cases.”

He’s not the only one. According to one independent film professional, who asked to remain anonymous, there is still very much a space for smaller shops and boutiques to make money despite the current ‘shaky’ times.

“They have to do it on their own terms and not try and compete with the big boys,” he advises. “Allying with a lab or a bigger facility capable of doing your scan/shoot for you could be a good idea or rolling your feature/commercials team together and keeping them at the cutting edge to deal with whatever comes through.”

The idea of teaming up is one that resonates. On his website, Phil Green discusses

‘The Ultimate Boutique One Stop Shop’ (http://www.pgreen.co.uk/DIequipment.htm).

His suggestion is to have audio facilities alongside the DI/grading process as the two run in tandem towards the end of the production.

“In my opinion it would make the final process easier because the production would be able to see their film finalised with the incarnations of new sound and grading treatment together, gradually updating as the project nears completion,” he says.

Traditionally audio and DI post houses are entirely separate with the film watched under entirely different resolutions and formats. But this could change, suggests Green.

“Personally I believe if this happened together more seamlessly,” he says. “It would also allow the director/DOP to concentrate their efforts in one place, thus not flitting back and forth between facilities in the last, often vital moments before the deadline when the two are married together.

“The final pieces of the DI puzzle would be able to offer the film finals as well without having to go to a traditional lab – this ultimately would keep all of the work under one roof which will control everything within the loop.”

It’s a fairly radical suggestion but one that could well be at the forefront of many a post facility manager’s minds come the end of 2009.

With major facilities pulling out of DI, those that are left may have to re-think the way they approach what is still one of the most intriguing and creative elements of the post-production process.