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September 2018
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surveys

Facilities 50 2010 Back to Reports & survey Listing

The Facilities 50

The post production industry is in the midst of one of its biggest changes to date as it becomes ever more ambitious and begins to move up the production food chain. Jake Bickerton reports on a newly confident, but cautious sector.


Contrary to what might have been expected towards the end of last year, it hasn’t ended up being a bad 12 months at all for the majority of the post market. It wasn’t free of casualties but it was nothing like the blood bath of the previous few years, and many companies say they’ve prospered in the last year.

One of the reasons is most post houses had already geared up for the challenges ahead, with much of 2009 spent reducing outgoings and improving efficiencies to keep costs down and make it possible to clear a profit despite ongoing budget cuts.

There’s a sense the industry has matured greatly over recent years and most of the companies around today are well-honed, streamlined, tightly run ships that are here for the longevity. There’s even been some growth in the market, too, with boutiques such as Union FX, BaseBlack, Time Based Arts and (the soon to open) Red Sparrow some of the names new to the market since our last facilities 50 survey.

Closures and acquisitions
So, what else has changed? First, let’s get the bad news out the way. Welsh post, studios and OB facilities giant Barcud Derwen closed down, and most of the different segments of the company have since been sold off to different concerns. Corporate producers’ favourite, Covent Garden’s The Club also shut up shop, as did Dean Street’s Concrete. Soho’s Locomotion went into administration before undergoing a management buyout. Similarly, in August, financing and production company Future Films acquired Pepper in a pre-pack administration deal. Also on the acquisitions trail were newly formed CTMS, which snapped up 422 Manchester and Arc (previously a Barcud Derwen company). Halo bought what was previously the audio facility Spirit Studios and Deluxe Digital bought subtitling and audio description specialist ITFC from the administrator.

Expansions and moves
Quite a few post players underwent significant refurbishment and expansions and/or moved to larger premises over the year. Molinare refurbished and re-equipped many of its suites and has just unveiled an immense new grading theatre in what was one of its TV studio spaces, Unit expanded further and joined forces with editing house Content Post, and Evolutions launched an autonomously run commercials-focused vfx/post boutique called Earth.

Boutique post businesses
The Look and Finish both moved to newer, larger, swankier premises, and many houses opened data labs (to process rushes from data cameras and assist with file-based acquisition on location) and stereoscopic 3d services. Brighton TV dropped the Brighton to rebrand as BTV and set up an offshoot office in Soho, which it already plans to expand.

Over the coming year the vast majority of companies taking part in this survey say a priority is to continue to expand. Almost universally, post house execs are rather upbeat about the current post market and its long-term survival. Many have earmarked 2011 as the year they’ll make significant growth, either organically, or through the acquisition of a competitor.

Envy, never one to stand still for too long, is looking once more at bolstering its London facilities: “For the first six months of the year our split between long-form and short-form work was 50/50, which is much more short-form work than we expected, so we now need to add another building or another floor to look after the broadcast stuff,” says md Dave Cadle. “We desperately need more space and we’ve the choice of a stunning 10,000 sq ft building or taking over a 7,000 sq ft floor in our current building.”

Also planning a significant move in the next year is Unit, which will be upping sticks to new premises. Vfx facility uFX, which was previously MFX, is planning to “double in size” in 2011, while Pinewood-based grading boutique Narduzzo Too is planning to open a second grading suite with an additional colourist and Manchester post boutique Space Digital intends to “expand our 3d department and create a multi-purpose finishing suite capable of grading, online, audio and vfx reviews”.

Prime Focus plans to expand its vfx services and stereo 3d post production and conversion services and Finish is aiming to fill its new premises, which are three times larger than its old offices, by “expanding all service operations as well as our workforce”.

Regional growth

As well as widening their service offer, a handful of post houses are looking to expand into new territories next year, either overseas or in the UK. The BBC’s imminent move of key departments to Salford Quays has accelerated any pensively planned moves to the regions by quite a number of facilities, which look set to have regional bases by the end of 2011.

Evolutions (which was on the verge of being taken over by Prime Focus last month if consistent rumours are to be believed) is one of those looking to acquire or expand organically into new and as yet unspecified territories. As is kids post specialist Platform, which is “looking at the potential of opening regional facilities”. Bristol’s Films at 59 is planning on setting up over the border and “having a presence in Cardiff”, while Envy is also setting its sights outside of London. “Once our new building or floor is open, we’ll be done with Envy London,” says Cadle. “Then we’ll look outside to the regions. We’re likely to look to acquiring in the regions as we’ll probably have to buy in to the regional skill base.”

Foreign expansion
Outside of the UK, Prime Focus, already a huge global player with offices in London, New York, LA, Canada and India, hasn’t ruled out increasing its global presence. “With our global reach we look for growth into territories we don’t yet work in and look for symbiotic partnerships,” explains Prime Focus UK md Simon Briggs. “We are looking at lots of different things – some will come to light, some won’t. We always look to be proactive in growing the business, whether through company acquisition or company partnerships.”

Another UK post house with offices abroad – in New York and Shanghai – Smoke & Mirrors says 2011 will be about “continued expansion across the board including moving into new territories.” The Farm Group also singles out “international expansion” for the coming year. And so too does Absolute, which is “diversifying into overseas markets”.

Meanwhile, The Mill, which has large premises in New York and LA, is “expanding our LA operations, moving the office to larger premises to accommodate its growth.”

What is a post house anyway?
The post production industry is an ever-evolving beast, and the leading players are continually innovating.

And, as well as concentrating on enhancing the service side of post, some cg/ vfx-focused houses have also made concerted moves up the production food chain. A growing list of ‘post’ houses are now distancing themselves from the term ‘post production’ and subtly re-branding their offer to more accurately reflect what their business means today: “We’ve spent most of the year talking about the death of post production,” says The Mill’s md Darren O’Kelly. “We think post as a term comes from a very non-digital, non-integrated way of working. We can jump into the production pipeline at any point and we very often now produce content ourselves as we have the talent inhouse to do that.”

So, says O’Kelly, “We’re very conscious of positioning ourselves as a vfx studio/ production partner, which is an accurate positioning based on the activity we do. We’re focused on working with brands and directing our own content – we’re not going to try and step on our client’s toes, and of course we still work hand in glove with directors in a traditional way. One size doesn’t fit all.”

Likewise, Prime Focus’ Briggs, says: “We don’t really regard ourselves as a post house anymore. The old model of post is fairly inappropriate for the times. We’re a ‘visual entertainment service company’, which is meant to summarise how we service clients. On the commercials side we quite often behave more like a production company – we engage directly with clients as and when we’re asked to. Our business needs to be adaptable.”

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