Soho has long been the indisputable centre of the post production world in London – whether for films, commercials or television.
But now more than a few companies have started to trickle outwards from that centre to form new pockets of post. Some have gone east and now nuzzle up to the new media start ups that have sprung up around Old Street’s digital roundabout. Because of Soho’s powerful gravitational pull, outfits like Splice and Time Based Arts seemed like brave pioneers for setting up shop in what is, after all, just another bit of London a little bit up the road.
And while those pioneers don’t represent a flood, it’s a trend that has some serious pressure behind it.
Soho, like much of central London, and like many of the central and very fashionable parts any big UK city right now, is changing.
Property prices, and commercial rents are rising at an astonishing rate. No grimy backstreet is immune from the unstoppable force of gentrification and for Soho’s grimy back streets, that goes double.
For businesses beyond the post world, the broom has already swept through. The Save Our Soho campaign is a desperate rearguard attempt by a coalition of performers and long term residents to try to keep at least some of the area’s iconic performing arts venues alive. Many of the basement bars, strip clubs and ‘models upstairs’ that made Soho such a grubby but always interesting place have already been swept away under a tidal wave of design led restaurants and duplex apartments. Jeffrey Bernard is dead.
Those same pressures exist on the post world too – because residential flats and restaurants make more money for landlords than businesses do.
Raised by Wolves, the company formed by Tareq Kubaisi and Jon Hollis, has a Soho address but is one company seriously thinking about a move out east to join the Shoreditch gang. “30 years ago, Soho felt like it was a big video and film industry now it feels like a bunch of restaurants and tourists,” says Hollis. “It doesn’t feel like the industry’s here any more. It’s boutique hotels, restaurants, everything will get paved soon. The Mill’s old building is a Wagamama now.”
Colourist Kubaisi agrees: “Small companies like ours have to make a big commitment to stay here. Out east it’s a bit more interesting. There are great agencies out there too. It’s a different social atmosphere. In the last ten years Soho has become a bit bridge and tunnel. You need a stimulating environment. Maybe I’m just getting old but Soho is becoming less stimulating, a bit generic. It’s a lot tidier but the spark is going.”
The Mill moved last year from its Great Marlborough Street location in Soho after 24 years to Windmill Street in Fitzrovia. London md Darren O’Kelly reckons the move out of Soho has “re-energized The Mill London to a certain extent” due to “being in a part of London that has a relaxed, local community neighbourhood. It’s cool without being hipster. It’s an area that has start-up businesses and not been totally overrun by chains. Our next door neighbor is a guy that makes bespoke leather products, and that’s inspiring. Much like when you sell your first flat or house you think you’re going to miss it, but once you’re in your new pad you can’t believe you didn’t do it sooner. So I’m loving it and I’m pretty sure our staff and clients are loving it too.”
MPC’s senior EP, Jonathan Davies agrees that Soho is undoubtedly changing “Soho is going more residential so a lot of business is being pushed out by landlords. It was nice that it used to be a little bit seedier. It’s becoming a lot more foodie and touristy. It is losing a bit of its character but it’ll be fine.”
Because, he says, the essential creative buzz of Soho still exists. “There’s a creative vibe here as well. Clients not based in Soho like to come in to Soho.” And there’s still that post community feel. “On this street [Wardour Street] there’s Nice Biscuits, Finish and a few others. There’s us this side of Oxford Street and Framestore, The Mill and D Neg the other.”
Soho or bust
But a major pull is simply that for clients “it’s just assumed that you’re here in the middle of town,” says Davies. “We’re an established brand and though there are companies in Shoreditch and a few film vfx houses out west, generally everyone’s in Soho or just across in Noho. It kind of doesn’t make sense to be here in terms of cost but everyone expects you to be here and the workforce expects to work here.”
Though a smaller player than MPC, Coffee and TV also reckons Soho is still essential despite the high rents on its Kingly Street studio. “I don’t think you can afford to be anywhere else,” says md Derek Moore. Because although agencies tend to be spread a little wider than central Soho “by being central you open it up to everyone who’s coming through. As long as you’re near restaurants or sound houses and editing companies, however expensive it is we need to be here.”
And besides, says Moore, it’s not always cost effective to move somewhere cheaper. “If you look at the cost per year of your rent and what you would save by being in Shoreditch, that probably adds up to two or three large-ish jobs. Your opportunities are substantially better by being here rather than there overall. I think moving is shortsighted.”
And there’s also the fear that the big talent might not come with you either. “In Shoreditch or Farringdon, you could be a lot more cost effective , but would you attract the top guys?” says Moore. “Unless they happen to live east already they’re not going to schlep past The Mill, Framestore and Electric Theatre to get further out.”
And for big players, moving anywhere is prohibitive. “Technically we could do it but in terms of shifting everything further away the costs of that would just make it not worthwhile,” says MPC’s Davies. “The infrastructure’s been here so long and relocating that’s not simple.”
I need some space
But there is another big pull away from Soho, and that’s architecture. The Mill’s move was at least partly fuelled by the desire to “embrace a new, more open-space way of working” as O’Kelly puts it. Soho is defined by its close streets and Victorian town houses. And so most commercial property is made up of small rooms linked by stairways. That was fine in a different age, but post houses and their clients are now embracing a more open plan studio approach. MPC’s modern building in Wardour Street allows that but not much of Soho does (hence The Mill’s move across Oxford Street.) “Traditionally you’d have lots and lots of suites but we’re breaking that up into more open plan areas.,” says MPC’s Davies. “The technology and the client needs shape your building. There’s less machine room, you don’t make many tapes now there’s more open plan project areas. Years ago everyone was really obsessed with confidentiality. Any discussion of a job and you’d be in a little room. Clients are more chilled out about coming in and having an informal chat about projects and they’ll see other clients in which they like. It’s more relaxed in that sense.”
And that fuels much of the desire to move east too. “There’s not much price difference out east but it’s the kind of space you can have,” says Raised by Wolves’ Hollis. “Most of the buildings here are Victorian with small floors and tons of stairs. It’s not ideal. I’d rather we were all on one big floor. Out east you’ve got warehouse floors - all the old rag trade stuff.”
But in the end, it may be more contemporary ways of working that could mean more companies choose to stay in Soho. The increasing possibility of having artists working remotely means a Soho base needed be that large, or that expensive. “Lots of artists live all over and they come in when they need to, often at the start when we brief a job, and then they go back and work remotely,” says Coffee & TV’s Moore. “So we can afford to keep the Soho space small.”
“That’s one of the reasons we’re holding off a little bit,” says Kubaisi. Because if remote working really takes off “this place works beautifully.”
For BBC1’s The Outcast, film director Iain Softley decided to make a big movie for the small screen. Jon creamer reports
Director Iain Softley has spent the best part of his career making movies including K-PAX, The Wings of the Dove, Hackers and Backbeat. So was directing a BBC1 two parter a big learning curve?
You’ve spent your career in movies, did you question the idea of making a TV drama?
It was a question in my mind before I read the script. The big attraction was that I was making something I really wanted to make and I was aware immediately of the positives. The process of greenlighting and casting would be much quicker and there would be more freedom. Creative decisions are to the fore in that it’s fully financed by the BBC. They didn’t need to test it commercially in the market whether that’s for the script or the casting.
Did you approach it differently to a movie?
I just saw it as either two 90-minute films or a long film in two parts. I approached it as a movie. In my mind it had the same scale from the way we shot it to the score and the sound design. The generalisation is movies tend to be shot with wider shots and television is more of a close up medium. But things like True Detective are shot like a film. Close ups are not used as much as in the past. And I was making it for a film company and BBC Films as well. We all approached as a film for TV.
But you have to move along more quickly in TV?
A lot quicker. But then in America I was just doing a low budget film – as more and more independent films are in the States. I’d just shot a 90-minute film in four weeks albeit a more simple shoot than The Outcast. On The Outcast I did two 90s in eight weeks. It is very demanding. I don’t think it’s something I could have done at the beginning of my career. I was drawing on experience and tricks of the trade I’d learned along the way in order not to compromise.
But some scenes have obviously had time spent on them?
It’s important that for the moments that were complex emotionally or technically or visually that we didn’t cut corners, for example the drowning scene. I spent a lot of time on those scenes – as long as I would have done on a bigger schedule, which meant other scenes had to be shot even more quickly. If they’re rushed those scenes don’t land.
There’s a different look to the different periods in the show? For memories of childhood a lot of the time I used film. We shot on 35mm, which is softer but also more colourful because film has a bigger colour range. Also I used a hand-cranked camera where you can vary the speed. There’s a dream like effect you get that is difficult to replicate with post effects. But about three quarters of the film is HD.
What look were you after?
I wanted it to be graphic. Digital can be rather muddy – either that or quite brash. I wanted the intensity of colour that you get from film and partly we got that by colouring the backgrounds at the locations. Mike [Eley, the DoP] came on a lot of the locations for that reason. We repainted the Aldridge house with a deep turquoise blue. Blue appears sharper anyway and it meant the characters were more graphic and more defined against it. I also wanted the house to feel empty after the death of the mother so I wanted the rooms to be big so we could shoot through rooms and the actors could move within the scenes.
What did you shoot on?
We shot on an Alexa and an Amira and we used the oldest lenses we could find. They’re just more optically interesting, less digital looking. In digital there’s almost an edge enhancement feel. You get a combination of both sharpness and diffusion with the old lenses and it’s actually a more realistic look. It’s less hyper real and more actually real.
Where was the post done?
At Molinare. I used Ewa J Lind as the editor. She’s Swedish and even though it’s a very English subject matter I didn’t want it to be feel culturally and narrowly English. The sound post was at Molinare. We had a fantastic team. Nigel Squibbs led the mix and sound designer Jeremy Price did a great job. They got excited by the idea that it was a filmic approach. We mixed it and track laid it as if we were doing it for a film. It’s very multi-layered and complex and I was keen for Jeremy and my composer Ed Shearmur to work together. Because the soundscapes go inside Lewis’s head I wanted it to be a mixture of effects and music so there was an interesting crossover.
The Outcast is scheduled to TX in July on BBC1
details The Outcast is a 2x90-minute adaptation of Sadie Jones’ novel for BBC1. It tells the story of a young boy in the post war years who faces a terrible family tragedy and the fallout that follows for him and those around him Production Blueprint Pictures Commissioner
BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore, ex-BBC drama head Ben Stephenson Executive producers Christine Langan and Beth Pattinson for BBC and Pete Czernin and Graham Broadbent for Blueprint Pictures. Producer Celia Duval Writer Sadie Jones Director Iain Softley Cast George Mackay, Hattie Morahan, Greg Wise, Jessica Brown Findlay Art director Keith Pain Production manager Beth Timbrell Composer Edward Shearmur DoP Mike Eley Costume designer Louise St Jernsward Production designer Richard Bullock Editor Ewa J Lind Colourist Asa Shoul Post supervisor Alistair Hopkins Cameras
Arri Alexa and Amira