“A lot of us have gone through difficult times and change in the market requirements will force change in the supply market. I foresee that the post-production process may be required to be more directly or indirectly involved in production at some stage but it’s a difficult one to predict accurately…” – Steve Harris
Post-production has come a long way. I remember the days of cutting 2” Quadruplex tape with the aid of a blade, a microscope and fine iron filings! And if film was the originating format, having to telecine using a photoconductive machine with very little colour correction capabilities – and this was state of the art back then!
The big changes came with Flying Spot telecine’s with colour correction and non-linear off line editing. Who remembers endless EDL’s and hoping and praying that the EDL would match the on-line edit? Nowadays of course most of this has changed and with the phenomenal technology spurt into the digital domain, film cameras are virtually a thing of the past and 4K origination with its infinite range of adjustments and imaging is the norm.
So too with post-production. Large facilities opened. They had the ability to transfer negative and grade it. They could also provide all the required off line and on line editing, digital effects and sound post-production facilities, and provide deliverables under one roof. The capital outlay was huge. Many items of equipment cost several million rands and thereby precluding small time competition. This also changed over time and currently for commercial post-production in the main, these large all-in-one post-production facilities are almost a thing of the past.
Bladeworks Steve Harris has an interesting take. “I think that Bladeworks is one of the last two post-production facilities for commercials in the country,” he says. “There are still a few smaller facilities that offer boutique type services, but no one offers the whole package as Bladeworks does and I doubt there will be a need for this going forward… Bladeworks will keep a core of talented people as we always have, so we won’t be out of television commercials but the heydays of commercial-making are no-longer. The simple fact is that agencies have gone in-house, and off-line companies are, largely, completing the process in-house. I think there is still hope for larger local post-production facilities in terms of long-form work.”
“A lot of us have gone through difficult times and change in the market requirements will force change in the supply market. I foresee that the post-production process may be required to be more directly or indirectly involved in production at some stage but it’s a difficult one to predict accurately… But times are tight so money is tight, and we have had to regroup to deal with the reduction in work and budgets. An interesting ride is ahead for advertising, and the supply chain to advertising,” he comments.
Whilst this may apply to commercial post-production, how do things look on the long-form front? Refinery Cape Town’s Lauren van Rensburg is positive: “The group purchased Waterfront Film Studios (WFS) in the middle of last year, which included the post-production arm. Thereafter massive renovations were done to get the facilities up to spec. The teams from WFS and Searle Street Post Production (SSPP) were then merged as part of the restructure. We moved in September and the decision was made to rebrand as Refinery Cape Town. This made the most sense in terms of the history of post-production here at 1 Port Road.”
“We are a generalist facility. We run two DI grading suites for both film and television. The cinema grading suite now includes a fully post-production calibrated 4K Barco monitor. We do still service commercials, but have experienced a downturn in this market. We are strongest on dailies processing for the international clients and deliveries and finishing for our local market.”
“I think there is always a negative perception when it comes to the local market, that being a larger facility we are more expensive. We aren’t,” she continues, “And our experience in fact saves producers on their bottom line. We have a good split on the work – the international clients mostly utilise a different set of services to the local filmmakers…”
“There is a realisation that with the post rebate there are more opportunities to finish here than just the VFX work which has also seen a sharp increase over the last two years. We don’t have a large VFX team in Cape Town, but our Johannesburg branch has an extensive VFX team, and that is certainly an area we will look into in the future,” she concludes.
One individual who is bucking this trend is well known post-production supervisor Barry Strick.
Enter Pop Up Post: “It started with an idea to start a post-production crew agency in Cape Town,” says Strick, “So a year ago I founded Post Production South Africa, partnering with accountant and tax practitioner Michele Bailie. Our initial intention was to provide an agency and support structure for creative crew – editors, assistants, VFX crew and sound editors… Our new concept is what I call a Pop Up post facility. I don’t have permanent space or equipment so I work with Worx Digital, who have a lot of high-end hardware available and technical expertise in the form of Reg Nance-Kivell, and are able to provide everything I need for high-end digital cinema post-production. So I rent office space short term, Worx comes in and puts in all the kit, and I use my crew from the agency to complete the package. We literally Pop Up and create a post facility for the duration of the project. When the project is completed we simply send the equipment back and effectively scale down until the next project,” he says.
“Doing this, the overheads are kept at an absolute minimum as nothing is permanent, and if the client has space in their own offices we can even set up there so there are huge cost savings for the client. I am able to undercut a traditional large post facility by as much as 40 per cent… Since there is somewhat of a monopoly regarding big post facilities in Cape Town there was a need to do a bit of lateral thinking to secure work from the only large Post House here,” he adds.
“I am not pitching myself as able to handle big NBC/Universal type action movies, and trying to do dailies for Warner Bros – I am focusing on local content – local features as I believe there is a need for cost effective quality post-production… The barriers of entry have been dropping for years and anyone can set up in their spare room – but are they able to do deliverables and will they be accepted internationally. These days it’s not so much about the technology but about the people.”
“Sound is more difficult for Pop Up Post to handle as suitably treated rooms are required for sound mixing. There are several sound facilities both in Cape Town and Johannesburg that have spare capacity and there are many sound editors available, so once again for me it is about matching the right person to the production and then finding suitable space for them to work,” he continues, “And there are many studios available in Cape Town – I think we have more Dolby Atmos mixing studios than cinemas in the Cape at present!”
“I think large facilities have their place in the filmmaking landscape globally – but in South Africa, unless they are very busy, the overheads are just too large. There is a lot of work around in Cape Town at the moment and there are several movies being shot, but again most of the post goes overseas. Keeping overseas crews here for extended periods does make economic sense with the extra 25 per cent DTI rebate on all the post and we have the people and equipment here to do it. I don’t think there is anything overseas that you can’t get here, but big studio productions feel more comfortable working with post crews they know and facilities they are familiar with, which is why so much post returns to LA or London.”
There seems little doubt that by continually improving the standard and skills of our local post-production offerings, we will gain the trust of international producers and more and more productions will choose to finish here – and we have the tools and skills to compete world wide…
By Andy Stead