How to Get Into and Survive Film, Advertising and TV Post-production – The Alternative Guide
Over the last 10 years there has been a growing trend in setting up in-house post-production facilities. Some have been more successful than others due to a number of factors, the key one being that the decision has not always been fuelled by creative needs, but rather by the financial considerations. Creative agencies and production companies are trying to balance the clients’ demands for video content on lower budgets and the pressure for increasing profit from their own shareholders. As a consequence the creative benefits of in-house post-production facility are often overlooked or belittled. This is a great shame as the close relationship between creatives and digital artists bring a number of benefits to agencies, production companies and clients, who all gain from a deeper understanding of the brand and a continuity in the work created.
The accessibility of professional post-production software since its move to desktop systems combined with a core post-production team that can be expanded and contracted with not only local artists, but also through a collaboration with artists across the globe makes in-house post-production both tempting and viable.
However, setting up a post-production department requires careful planning and a number of considerations. Going out and buying few work stations and hiring a few junior artists just won’t do anymore (it actually never did). It also requires effective management that ensures everyone is working to an established set of standards, and in a streamlined workflow that helps deliver work on time, within budget, and hopefully exceeding clients’ expectations.
I have broken the process into 7 simple steps that I deem crucial in building a successful and creative department that will keep the staff, the management, and the clients happy.
While having an in-house post-production facility may sound like a good idea, the first question to ask oneself is ‘why?’ To get a clear answer one has to have a look at one’s current business model and the possible benefits such a department would bring, both creative and financial. The possible creative benefits of in-house post-production facility are: higher quality pitches, the proximity of the post-production to the creatives (the most efficient post-production starts at the creative stage), the ability to experiment and test ideas and the quick access to the technical know how. Of course one mustn’t underestimate the amount of R&D and training that independent facilities invest in to retain their high-end output.
To asses the possible financial benefits one has to look at the current post-production expenditure – which needs to be broken down into different segments covering all aspects of the post-production needs from pitches and mood reels to finished ads and versioning – and then its post-production requirements – from transcoding, editing, grading, motion graphics and VFX to deliveries. Once such a breakdown is done it gives an insight into the viability of such a department and enables some crucial decisions to be made: what work should move in-house, whether VFX work should be done in-house and to what extent (will the in-house department be able to match the quality of work the independent facilities do); what talent would be needed; and what hardware and software would be required.
The management is unlikely to be able to make all the decisions by itself and will need to seek advice from specialised consultants, who can advise on a tailored made post-production facility that will suit the business needs of the company. They will assess the current work the company does and suggest the best solutions to effectively create that work in-house – from the infrastructure to the talent required.
This comes in two forms, the inter-departmental workflow, and the post-production facility’s internal workflow.
Having a clear process in place that will track the jobs from concept to delivery with the set standards, naming-conventions and good housekeeping should be clearly laid out in a document that is accessible and understandable by all departments. The integration of the post-production department depends on the workflow set with the existing departments, and its success depends on the effective communication with the rest of the company.
Its own internal workflow is set-up separately, and built in line with the existing infrastructures of the independent post-production facilities.
Post-production is a highly specialised technology driven segment of the moving image industry. To assume that the current staff in the agency or production company will be able – or willing – to set the workflows that will help integrate new department without additional instruction and training is one of the most common mistakes the management makes when creating an in-house post-production facility. This is because traditionally, agencies’ and production companies’ producers, when working in independent post-production facilities, often pass the post-production work to the post-production facilities’ post-production producers and may have relatively limited insight into the post-production workflow.
Also the creation of an in-house post-production department is sometimes met with resentment – and occassionally fierce resistance – by current staff who may feel threatened by such a move, which can cause numerous problems in workflow and efficiency, not just in the new department but in the company as a whole. A clear explanation by the management of why the changes are being made, and a clear instruction of what is expected of the current workforce to make these changes, and the new department successful, are essential.
What software or hardware is decided on largely depends on the type of work that is going to be done in-house and what equipment has been used so far in the independent facilities to do the same work – though that may not be the equipment that is suited for an in-house department, or that would be suitable given the available budget. This decision is often a fine balance between the requirements and the affordability that will not compromise the quality of the work created.
The success of independent post-production facilities lies greatly in the talent they employ, train and nurture. The same formula needs to be embraced by any in-house department. The right level of senior and junior staff ensures that the quality of output is maintained, and that the junior staff is mentored and trained by the more senior staff. In this way, the consistency of the work created is maintained.
Communication between the departments and between the staff is the most important aspect of any successful business. Poor communication is the most expensive part of the business, and the one that causes an unhappy workforce. Establishing and maintaining regular departmental (daily), inter-departmental (weekly) and company (monthly) meetings is essential, not just for passing information, tackling problems and offering praise, but for creating a team spirit and sense of involvement for everyone. There should be clear briefs on the jobs coming in, their schedules and their delivery requirements, and any background information should be shared (and not hidden) so that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same common goal which is to keep the clients, the management and the staff happy.