Demand for high-end tools takes off abroad

When the digital intermediate process was introduced a few years ago, only a handful of facilities could handle it, so it was mostly reserved for big-budget movies.

But the spiffed-up color of those Hollywood productions, along with their advanced visual effects and slick sound, raised audience expectations around the world. That put pressure on filmmakers in regional markets to raise their own production values beyond what their budgets could support.

Over the last few years, however, DI and other high-end post facilities have proliferated and costs have come down; meanwhile, Hollywood is making fewer movies, thus depressing domestic demand for DI.

So today, foreign filmmakers are keeping DI facilities humming in their home markets. And even though the dollar has bounced back, American DI shops are courting overseas productions.

Jackie Lee, VP of feature sales for Santa Monica, Calif.-based Company 3, is a native of Australia, where, she says, clients from Africa and across southern and eastern Asia have created “a huge demand to come to Australia for post.”

Company 3’s parent company, Ascent Media, has outposts in Singapore and Japan, but its main facilities are in North America. Now Company 3 is

gearing up to capitalize on the growth of DI in those other parts of the world.

“Technology has moved so quickly that we are now able to put up satellite offices so we can work or color-correct from L.A., and the client can see us from anywhere in the world,” Lee says.

Company 3 gained experience working via the Internet by offering the service within North America, then expanded it to the U.K. Lee says Ascent wants to expand those offerings to the Asian territories that have gone to Australia for post. “We have a secret list of countries we’re going to go into first, and that’s going to become reality within the next 12 months,” she says.

If that happens, it would be the opposite of the usual runaway production tales — high-end post for Asian films coming to the U.S. via telepresence and fiber-optic connections.

Brand-new overseas facilities often have state-of-the-art equipment, but Lee’s pitch is that the hardware is secondary.

“The talent (in post-production) is definitely growing in those countries, but they’re not as experienced or sophisticated yet,” she says.

That may be a jab at competitors like Technicolor, which is opening post facilities alongside its many international labs, including the one in Bangkok. But Technicolor says its local post shops are very busy, despite the shrinking number of Hollywood productions using them while on location.

The processing giant made a strategic decision to put DI first in North American facilities, then in Europe and finally in Asia, says Technicolor Creative Services prexy Joe Berchtold: “Our expectation is that since we’re able to offer the full suite of services, we expect we’ll be able to grow our regional customer base. If we’re doing our post there, it becomes natural for them to do their film prints there.”

The plan is to create a virtual cycle for Technicolor. It has long catered to local production through its labs, providing dailies to location shoots and printing to regional shows.

Now Technicolor aims to provide a full suite of services for those regional clients: dailies on the front end plus scanning, DI, film-out, release prints and different versions for different markets. (High-end theatrical sound mixing remains the big hole in Technicolor’s offerings, and it has announced plans to move into that area.)

In Europe, Technicolor hasn’t seen a big jump in the number of productions, but a larger percentage are asking for DI, says Pino Filardi, COO of Technicolor Creative Services. Filardi is based in Italy and works with TCS’ businesses in London, Madrid, Rome and the rest of Italy.

“DI has grown a lot in the U.K. and in Spain,” Filardi says. “Spain is very peculiar in technical use. Whatever is newest, Spain likes to get. Unfortunately, Spanish budgets are not big.”

The bottom line seems to be that Ascent, Technicolor and other big players in post-production, regardless of their physical location, expect to benefit from the rising expectations of filmgoers around the world.

As Lee says, “They want to see that Hollywood sheen and finish. There’s a constant demand for films to be finished better. As long as that’s increasing, we’re going to see increasing demand for our services here.”

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