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Expansion and awards at Envy Post Production

London facility Envy was named Best Post Production House at the 2013 Broadcast Awards last week. Dubbing mixer Andy Hodges and managing director Dave Cadle discuss the company's continuing growth and clients' changing demands for audio in an ever more competitive TV market.

There’s a lot of cynicism about awards and awards ceremonies. Most of this centres round the idea that everybody will win eventually and that it’s all a massive slap on the back for the industry. The opposing view is that they are a barometer of how a business sector views itself, with professionals recognising their peers.

That would seem to be the case with Envy Post Production. The London-based facility won in the Best Post Production House category at the Broadcast Awards last week for the fourth time. This is notable enough but even more so given that Envy has only been running since 2006.

Envy was founded by managing director Dave Cadle, previously with the VTR Group (later taken over by Prime Focus). The company opened in a building on the corner of Oxford Street and Rathbone Place, housing online and offline video editing suites, finishing rooms and audio studios equipped with Pro Tools HD 4 workstations.

Since then Envy has expanded into other premises in the West End, most recently on Windmill Street, taking its tally of offices to five. The company now claims to have the biggest installations of ICONS in Europe and, in conjunction with its video operations, has moved into working on primetime light entertainment programmes, such as BBC talent show The Voice.

Expanding into this market has been a long-term plan at Envy but it continues to work on documentaries and other short-form programming. Over the past year productions have included sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, fly-on-the-wall documentary Coppers, Christmas animation The Snowman and the Snowdog and Top Gear, the BBC’s hit motoring with humour show.

Top Gear is the favourite programme of Envy dubbing mixer Andy Hodges (pictured, centre, with the Best Post Production Award). This busy, noisy production mixes studio links – featuring a live audience – with location footage. Hodges agrees that most people expect post-production on this to be very involved but says much of it is already done by the time the programmes arrives in the suite.

“The Top Gear production team has got this down to a T, so most of it is mixed at the studio and we just tweak things,” he says. “We add effects but these are genuine sounds from the original recordings. Because a lot of the basic work has been done I can spend time getting a nice balance between the music, effects and speech.”

More challenging were the factual series for Discovery UK How We Invented the World and Sky’s A Very JLS Christmas. Both were mixed in 5.1 and had their specific demands. “I did a lot of sound design on How We Invented the World, which was big and filmic,” comments Hodges. “I was also working with the composer [Rob Manning], who came and sat with me in the suite for a day. We had to deal with the music and the speech/narration, together with the 5.1 soundtrack and stereo down mix, which is very difficult to balance. But Rob and I got to know each other and he changed things in the score to suit the other cues. A luxury like that rarely comes along.”

Hodges found himself working with members of JLS and record company executives as well as the production company on the boy band’s Christmas special. “The songs were mixed in a music studio and then sent to me for the TV mix,” Hodges says. “At that point we found some of the pictures didn’t match the audio, so it needed to be re-recorded. We ended up going to another recording studio and got it done, so everyone was happy in the end. You’ve just got to take things like that in your stride.”

Dave Cadle says a major change in the last 18 months has been programmes being more “locked” in terms of when they are to be broadcast, with short turnarounds before transmission. “And sound is always the last thing to be done, so there is less time to do what we have to do than there was two years ago,” he says.

Hodges agrees but says more streamlined operations and co-operation between the different post-production departments helps get round this. “Everything has become more efficient and integrated between the editing, finishing and audio suites,” he explains.

On the audio formats side Hodges says Sky and National Geographic are still specifying programmes in 5.1 but adds that in the last six months he has seen more demand for stereo: “I think that’s sensible because most viewers are listening in stereo and not everyone has a special room for the home theatre system.”

Dave Cadle concludes that Envy is “busy, busy”, with the diversification into other programme types and the new building to back that up. As impressive as four awards in seven years is, continuing growth and expansion is the more tangible sign of success in a cynical market.