Post-Production Without Borders … and L.A. Jobs

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As broadband advances, “Hollywood as a physical location is fast becoming a thing of the past.”

"Hollywood Meet Bollywood," read the marquee at a lavish bash at the Henry Fonda Theater recently for a Mumbai-based post-production conglomerate. When it comes to the post-production landscape, it was a sign of the times.

Most movieland observers are aware that production has tiptoed out of Hollywood over the past decade. But now, the same has occurred for post-production facilities, too.

Technology in general — and big-piped broadband in particular — has broken down geographical barriers in post-production, allowing not just multi-city but multi-national businesses to stay open 24/7 while sharing resources and work. In the case of Mumbai-based Prime Focus, the company has pronounced itself a one-stop shop with a global network of resources.

"Hollywood as a physical location is fast becoming a thing of the past," said Larry Chernoff, CEO of post equipment developer MTI Film and the founder of post houses Encore Hollywood and Riot. "A flat world, where bandwidth is king, does not recognize borders — except when the process is tied expressly to physical disposition of personnel and materials."

The change has come at some expense to local industry.  While technology now allows filmmakers to work remotely with their favorite Hollywood-based editors and colorists via broadband connections, the reverse also is true. Filmmakers, even in Los Angeles, can work with the best the world has to offer. And often they can save money by sending work to be performed in lower-wage markets outside L.A.

So far this decade California has suffered a loss of an estimated 6,000 post-production jobs, according to data from the California Employment Development Department.

Though part of that decline can be blamed on a struggling economy, many acknowledge that number is likely to grow as globalization continues. Technicolor now offers post-production and lab services across the world, as does Deluxe, another Hollywood mainstay.

"The promise of post-production in the near future is the ability to be location-independent," Michael Jackman, vice president and general manager of Deluxe New York, told TheWrap. "You want to be able to shoot a film in Sydney, conform in New York, review in London and final in Los Angeles."

One of Hollywood’s largest post houses, Technicolor, already has felt the sea-change. "With the availability and cost of bandwidth, we are able to stream high-resolution imagery in real time, which wasn’t possible a year or two ago from a technical or cost point of view," said Ahmad Ouri, the company’s head of strategy, technology and marketing. "Technology has made this possible and affordable."

Ascent Media Group, a younger, publicly traded business headquartered in Santa Monica, has become a leading force with post-production facilities on three continents.

And Mumbai-based Prime Focus has 15 locations worldwide, connected via a private network. (See accompanying story, "Post-Production’s Big 4.")

Another sign of these companies’ growth: Technicolor is moving into a newly built facility on the Sunset Gower lot, and Deluxe opened a new facility on its Hollywood lot, which houses extended lab and post-production infrastructure, as well as corporate offices.

As for the many smaller post houses that used to dot the Hollywood landscape, most of those have disappeared. They have either been replaced or gobbled up in the last decade by the few large businesses that had the deep pockets needed not just to retool but to keep up with technological changes including high-def, digital cinema and mainstream 3D movie production.

Indeed, among Prime Focus’ latest developments is a 2D-to-3D conversion process, which could be used to turn titles such as James Cameron’s "Titanic" into a 3D movie. And Technicolor recently developed a 3D projection system for theaters that works with existing 35mm projectors.

What’s more, the larger companies have gained the ability to apply technologies to expand into new areas, setting themselves apart from the competition. Ascent Media, for instance, recently launched a global website — a sort of an online MIPCOM television market — enabling buyers and sellers to market and license film and TV programming.

Still, some feel the little players might be poised for a revival — thanks, again, to technology. As broadband availability and capacity grow, smaller IT-savvy ventures also can play in the global market.

"Large post houses might have some advantage in this period of globalization, but it will be short-lived as bandwidth becomes more commoditized and accessible to talent, who will, in time, provide their services virtually from any location," MTI Film’s Chernoff told TheWrap.

"Labor competition will only be more fierce as bandwidth increases."