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Positive Post News in Uncertain Times

It's been a tough time for all of us in the editing world during the past year. But surprisingly, even with new technologies at both the high and the low end challenging traditional business models, I keep hearing about forward-thinking post-production houses that have been able to ride above this ebb tide by finding ways to keep profitable. Knowing full well that many others have not fared so well, during our run-up to NAB2003, I hope it will be refreshing to hear from some in our community who not only are staying in the black, but are actually thriving above expectations.

EAST COASTEXPECTATIONS

Starting on the East Coast, the vice president of New York's Betelgeuse Productions, Susan Raia, tells us the company's linear and nonlinear online/offline services are growing very well. Serving primarily sports clients like ABC's Monday Night Football as well as TV productions such as "The Westminster Dog Show," Betelgeuse Productions also created the opening for this year's Super Bowl. "While a few of our clients have cut their 30-second teases down to 15 seconds to save on budgets, " Raia reflects, "several others such as 'The Ironman Triathalon' and 'The Exterra Show' have filled in. So for us, business has been good."

Encouraging new cost-effective perspectives in its customers' minds has been key for Betelgeuse Productions. "Clients come to me with a set budget and it's our goal to educate them on how they can meet it," she says. "For example, we try to move post producers from uncompressed linear online to finishing their projects with high-end digital nonlinear technologies. Sports shows always require a quick turnaround, especially for productions such as the NBA's Final Four on CBS, so we try to introduce them to the advantage of using an approach like multiple Avid Symphonys accessing a common database instead of a single linear bay loaded with tapes to save both time and money."

At the Big Apple's Broadway Video, Operations Coordinator Josh Morphew tells us, "In 2002 our tape-based online editing did drop off but since then we've seen an increase in nonlinear offline. The good side is that our sound business, especially audio sweetening and voice-over work, has really taken off."

Reflecting its business optimism, Broadway Video is in the process of giving its facilities a face-lift, has been replacing its linear bays with Inferno, Smoke and Avid suites, and has brought in a new sales team. "We think the economy has hit bottom and is already started back up," Morphew tells us. "As a talent-based post house, 2003 will be a great year for us."

Colossalvision, located right on Broadway in downtown New York, has specialized in high-definition work since 1985 and is currently undergoing a 44,000-square foot expansion. Its CEO, David Niles, attributes the company's success to keeping its HD rates competitive with what others charge for NTSC work. "By implementing hybrid solutions such as the Pinnacle CinéWave technology," he said, "our clients get access to expensive online services at close to offline prices."

Niles predicts the future growth for post production will come from the availability of new channels leading to greater demand. "There is a never-ending hunger for new content," he says. "We're always going through a six- to seven-year cycle during which some dinosaurs disappear and new guys come along. The trick is to keep up with new technologies while not trying to amortize their cost over too long a schedule. By constantly renewing ourselves, we concentrate on only investing in a carefully selected spectrum of equipment-especially the kind that can pay off in the short term. We try to use super high-end technologies that are what we call 'timeless' and are constantly exploring how we can develop lower-cost approaches that can integrate the bottom of the market into the top of the market."

WEST COAST SPECIALTIES

There's also a silver lining on the West Coast. With facilities in Seattle and North Hollywood, Calif., Victory Studios was one of the first to adopt high-definition editing systems. These days however, its CEO, Conrad Denke, has learned that the advent of sophisticated offline desktop editing alternatives such as Avid's Xpress or Apple's Final Cut Pro has moved his business toward specialized post-production services. "There was a time when post houses had market power because of the need for capital investment in costly editing equipment," he tells us. "Now there may be 200 to 300 boutique editing houses in town. But the need for high-definition services, technology-intensive telecine and specialized graphics creation is still giving us lots of new business. Today, people come to us for whatever they cannot accomplish at home, and most importantly, to access our recognized talent pool. Post houses that try to stay with the old model of just providing basic editing services are going to get buried. But those who can effectively market their specialized post-production capabilities are finding a wealth of new opportunities."

Forest Fulkerson of Burbank, Calif.'s facility, Straightline, which posts TV shows such as "Divorce Court" and "Texas Justice" for Fox, has found that the post-9/11 slump is giving way to rising expectations. "People are always going to want TV," he allows, "and once producers realized that life will go on, our business began to pick up around April of last year. Now we are a busy as we've ever been."

Straightline's independent film editing services are also doing well. "Producers of these films, often geared toward the Sundance Film Festival, appreciate our individualized support," Fulkerson says. "This helps us keep our 30 Avid bays busy. We've found that maintaining a relatively small management structure lets us service our clients on a personal basis, and that kind of reputation has attracted new customers. We intend to look seriously at new high-def equipment at NAB2003 since I feel that NTSC will be a thing of the past within the next decade."

Defining the cutting edge for mainstream TV and film post-production innovations, Hollywood's Laser Pacific Media seems to have been weathering the economic storm with nary a blip. Its president and COO, Emory Cohen, tells us that Laser Pacific Media's pioneering efforts in developing HD and especially 24p finishing processes has helped bring more than 30 TV series as well as over 20 major motion pictures into its shop in the past season. "We haven't been affected by what has happened to commercial or corporate productions," Cohen says. "And our business with high-definition dailies and digital intermediary services for feature films along with our new Digital Cinema theater has kept us quite busy."

Laser Pacific Media has also benefited from landing the high profile assignment of authoring and coding all the various home DVD releases for the "Lord of the Rings" first episode "The Fellowship of the Ring" mega hit. "Between our motion picture work and 24p post for TV, it would be very disingenuous for us to complain even in these times," Cohen allows. "Certainly we were touched by the aftermath of 9/11. But unlike the smaller houses who concentrated on commercial work, our diversity and reputation have helped us maintain the leadership position in the Hollywood post production community that we worked so hard to achieve."

So while nobody wants to venture that this is the best of times, it certainly isn't universally the worst of times either. The post-production industry has experienced a shakeout, but the cream is rising to the top. As we look forward to what NAB2003 will offer, it's good to see that for many people, the fundamentals of this business are still sound.