State of the Industry 2009 Post Production

by Steve Harvey. There is a school of thought among economists and business advisors that companies should continue to invest in capital improvements, R&D, advertising and other areas during a downturn so that they are primed for growth once the economy turns around. A number of post-production houses did exactly that during the last 12 months and are already reaping the benefits.
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Producers Video Corp. audio
Engineers (l-r) Bob Bragg,
Mike Brilhart and Tim St.Clair
with one of their new
Fairlight
 Constellation XCS consoles.
by Steve Harvey.

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There is a school of thought among economists and business advisors that companies should continue to invest in capital improvements, R&D, advertising and other areas during a downturn so that they are primed for growth once the economy turns around. A number of post-production houses did exactly that during the last 12 months and are already reaping the benefits.

"When we set the wheels in motion to do this we didn't realize that there was going to be economic calamity," admits Vince Werner, co-founder, along with Peter Barnes, of Clatter&Din in Seattle, WA. The pair relocated into a new multi-room, multi-function facility put together by the Russ Berger Design Group (RBDG), opening for business on February 9. But, he adds, "I feel like we were fortunate to move when we did."

Barnes chimes in, "As things softened in the market, we had a buzz and some new capabilities and ended up doing some things we couldn't have done at our old place. We might have been in a world of hurt if we hadn't done this. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than smart!"

For Jon Ehrlich, who relocated only a short distance to a new location in Santa Monica, CA this past year, it was a question of being in control of his own economic destiny. "I couldn't get my landlord to negotiate with me far enough out," says Ehrlich, which prevented him from improving the property. Chris Beck, a friend and fellow film and TV composer, had also recently moved, partnering with some real estate investors. "They partner on buying a building, and the artist owns a piece of the building that they occupy."

Ehrlich, who composes for House and upcoming series Parenthood, for NBC, and White Collar, on USA, struck a similar deal with them: "For them, it's just development; for me, it's security. I know that whatever I put into it can't be taken away from me."

The 5,000-square-foot building houses three control rooms, a live room, a machine room and two writing rooms, which Ehrlich shares with writing partner Jason Derlatka and engineer Steve Kaplan. "I took as little as I could, and the rest is being leased out. My sense is that this size facility is the anti-studio. It's much harder now to build a studio and expect to have people come in on an hourly basis. I feel I could rent these spaces pretty easily on a monthly basis."

According to senior audio engineer Bob Bragg at Baltimore, MD-based Producers Video Corporation, an upgrade to a pair of Fairlight Constellation XCS consoles represented the final step in the full-service facility's upgrade to HD capability. But, he notes, in light of the economic climate, "We didn't really do anything in terms of cosmetic improvements. These were retooled, existing rooms, so we didn't spend additional money or time working on them. And I made use of some existing wiring; rather than pulling the wiring out of the conduits we cut and re-terminated it. It was much faster, and cost-effective, too."

The upgrade process, which included wiring and installation of the consoles and network, plus a new subwoofer in the 5.1 room, in addition to a training period, was spread over five weeks. "Just as we were finishing the first room, business was picking up," Bragg reports. "In the scheme of things it was a good decision. If you wait for business to pick up again, it's hard to pull that sort of thing off."

RBDG not only met some acoustical challenges at Clatter&Din's new location on the top floor of a post-and-beam building close to Safeco Field, but the architects also came up with a design that allows the facility to attract more diverse business. "We have a couple of rooms, for instance, that can be used as smaller offline Pro Tools rooms for lay-up for films or voiceover or whatever, but they can also become Final Cut Pro rooms," explains Werner. Two surround mix rooms can be closed off during mix or sound design projects, allowing the largest of the three recording spaces to double as a soundstage for music projects or even to be used for meetings.

"We've wired it with SDI and have done video shoots in there," reports Werner. "We've done a few projects where we've had a band tracking to Pro Tools and we're also capturing video to one of our Final Cut Pro suites. That's an area we're hoping to grow over the next year."

"We're also open between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. doing music recording, nights and weekends," notes Barnes. "The people who are just doing audio post, I feel like they're limiting their options."

Ehrlich had Doug Magyari and Golden Acoustics treat his control rooms and live area and had technical design company, Paul J. Cox Studio Systems, interconnect all of the rooms, allowing larger ensembles to be recorded throughout the facility. Ehrlich is impressed with Magyari's work: "I don't want to be hyperbolic, but they're the best-sounding rooms that I've been in. It's almost changed the nature of my work," he reveals, noting that the TC System 6000 reverb gets little use these days alongside his trusty Digital Performer and Ableton Live setups. "Everything just sounds so clean and pleasing. I don't want to change it or place it anywhere other than where it was."

For Bragg, the new Fairlight systems, which can transparently accommodate a myriad of audio and video formats, and sample and frame rates, have truly become time and money savers. Previously, he says, "We found ourselves doing workarounds to accommodate workflow, down-converting reference video files to do our editing and mixes. We were spending a lot of time prepping for sessions, and we couldn't bill for that time."

The Constellations have already demonstrated their worth, he says, allowing him, for instance, to quickly edit an HD Quicktime file to mimic the expected Avid online edits so that he could make changes to the music stems. "I was just trying to help the workflow. We're not editing video in the audio department, but if you need to edit scenes and get a sense of timing, you can do that."