Post Houses Keep Evolving

Audio post houses working on long-form projects for release in theaters, on television and on disc are having to find new efficiencies in their workflows as the recession puts the squeeze on production budgets.
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Audio post houses working on long-form projects for release in theaters, on television and on disc are having to find new efficiencies in their workflows as the recession puts the squeeze on production budgets. In order to stake their claim to as much of the budget as possible, some post houses are evolving into onestop shops and others are forging ties with like-minded specialists, while still others are rationalizing operations and abandoning bricks and mortar altogether.

Rick Larimore, co-director of Jet Stream Sound and a 25-year industry veteran, has hands-on experience with almost every aspect of audio. As a result, Jet Stream can handle projects very nearly soup to nuts, he says. But when a client requests an additional service, Larimore is happy to oblige.

For example, he says, “We’re being asked to color; I’ll take a sliver of a profit and turn the job over to one of my friends who is a freelance colorist.” A project earlier this year required editorial services; happily, Jet Stream shares space in its new building with Ignition Post, who handled that work.

Larimore does what he can to hire top talent and maintain quality yet meet the budget: “We catch them between their union gigs and ask them very nicely if they can adjust their rates. These guys come in, and they knock it out of the park.”

At Post Haste Sound, founder/ president Allan Falk is currently considering diversification, investigating the addition of video services such as DI, says Falk. Currently, “We do a lot of foreign language laybacks so, having the video machines, we have capacity to do final laybacks, as well as the final audio and video QC, which in the past we had to take to a third party.” The company has also started making J2K files, master files and the subsequent broadcast files for overseas distribution by clients.

“We post a lot of new features and television currently, sometimes on a ‘four-wall’ basis and sometimes we handle all aspects. But we also do a lot of re-mastering and restoration of catalog titles. It’s good to be able to offer those tools for new productions.”

Those services can help stretch a small budget. For example, he offers, “If we get dialog stems that have some issues, with our experience and the tools for restoration we can bring them to an acceptable level, and there’s no need to bring the talent back in for ADR.”

Some production companies are bringing as many services as possible in-house, observes Woody Woodhall of Allied Post. Thankfully, he notes, “They typically will still fix the audio out of house—knock on wood!”

Woodhall, who is no longer running his Santa Monica studio and has instead gone “virtual,” working out of other facilities (currently, 48 Windows), reports that his TV clients are typically looking for a one-stop shop: “They want to come in, get their online, color and audio mix, and walk out the door with a master tape.”

With budgets shrinking, post houses are finding ways to increase workflow efficiency, comments Falk. “One benefit is that technology is getting so much better and cheaper, so you can do things much more efficiently than you could several years ago. You can edit and mix so much quicker, and the tools are so much faster and more powerful. That does help.” Frustratingly, on small-budget indie films, he says, “Usually, by the time they get to the audio portion of the film, the budget is already gone.”

But as Woodhall notes, lack of an audio budget is usually down to poor planning: “You’re not saying it’s a no-budget film, you’re saying you haven’t set aside a budget for the post sound—because somebody got paid.”

With DLSR cameras costing less than $3,000, first-time filmmakers can shoot a film that will look great on any cinema screen, says Woodhall, but “they don’t know anything about audio. They don’t understand the importance of audio until they meet with their sound editor or their mixer and they hear the tracks for the first time.”

Woodhall has therefore accepted the role of educator, establishing the Los Angeles Post Production Group, which meets monthly, and speaking at colleges and organizations nationwide. He has also written a book, Audio Production and Postproduction, which is being adopted by educational institutions across the country.

Filmmakers invariably have a vision for the picture that doesn’t include fixing things, he points out. “Whereas the post audio experience seems to be about technical and fixing, rather than how can we take the story and, through the use of sound, enhance that story and make it better.”