Why might large post houses be heading for the elephant graveyard?

My friend James Gardiner wrote an interesting post “Are large Post Houses a sunset industry?” and it set me thinking. Now James is writing from an Australian perspective and “large post house” and “boutique” post house have quite different expectations of size than the Australian context. (For example, Alpha Dogs in Burbank bill themselves as a “boutique” post house but in Sydney or Melbourne they’d be one of the larger post houses.)

In general principle he’s right. The economics of the large post facilities (really factories) of the size of IVC, FotoKem, Ascent Media’s various facilities are changing. They probably always have been. And certainly there are signs that the very large post-focused facility in New York and Los Angeles are threatened. Long-term post Burbank post factory Matchframe sold a majority stake for just $300,000 (mostly because of long term debt it is presumed). The costs of maintaining the “heavy iron” of a big post facility can be millions a year.

In general principle I agree with James: these large facilities are probably a sunset industry. But he identified one point that I wanted to expand on.

What a big post house bring to the table is more then just services, they bring know how and knowledge.  You KNOW it is going to work.

That alone is the reason that there will (almost certainly) be facilities like these big post factories: at least in LA and NY. These facilities are large enough to be able to experiment and invest in discovering the best workflows (as, indeed, do the people at Alpha Dogs et. al.) and technologies.

But knowledge gets shared. This is one of the absolutely best things about the current Internet Era: knowledge is freely shared in ways it never could be before.

Look at RED workflows. The RED Digital Cinema camera is a big step forward in performance-for-price and a new class of digital cinema camera. When it was first released the tools and workflow where completely unexplored. None of the major NLE companies had native support for the new wavelet codec and working between NLE and color correction caused nightmares.

Two years on and there are established “best practice” workflows across Final Cut Pro, Media Composer and Premiere Pro. Pretty much anyone who does a little research can find a workflow that’s tested. Where did the posts you find when you do that Internet search come from? People who have solved a problem, sharing the solution with other who have the same problem.

Frankly, this information sharing is what made my reputation. As a very early adopter of NLE (specifically a very early adopter of Media 100) I ran into problems earlier than those who purchased later. I also discovered email groups in early 1997 and benefited from the shared experience of the Media 100 Email List of fellow travelers dealing with NLE in the mid 1990’s. (All digital for more than a decade now.)

I don’t know what form the future post-house/factory will be, but what will survive are the “centers of knowledge” because ultimately that’s more important than expensive, but infrequent access to high-priced technology.  The latter will continually get cheaper and people will find smarter, faster ways to do things, that ultimately become best practice and the “norm” again.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out two of our own tools that can give a FCP facility and edge: Sync-N-Link synchronizes dual system video and audio in minutes rather than hours, or if you’re working with an edited Sequence replacing camera audio with multi-track in hours instead of weeks. Sync-N-Link is already being used across a lot of Network and Cable series.

Producers have been printing out EDLs and trying to match them to a spreadsheet to report clip usage or music usage: a tedious task for sure, but one that can be automated with Sequence Clip Reporter, which just takes the pain out of creating a video, audio or combined report, including a reel-by-reel report if that’s what you need.