Is This the Death of the Post Suite?
With experience heading up some of the
biggest names in postproduction, from Golden Square through to Publicis’
in-house post facility Prodigious, founder of ewanme – Ewan Macleod, has an
inimitable knowledge of commercial post production. With the industry landscape
changing continuously, he shares his insights on the state of the market and
delves into the thinking behind his freelance ‘pop up, virtual’ post
model at ewanme.
Q >How did you first start out in postproduction?
Ewan Macleod > I started out as a runner at MPC in 1991. Post production was steadily moving from film to tape (MPC being the first tape led facility) and the signs that it was going from linear to non-linear were fast appearing with Harry, Avid etc. With non-linear, I clearly saw the craft and skill that post entails, editing on film or working with a four machine analogue suite and avoiding generation took some talent! The talent and craft is something that I think is not as appreciated today, nor acknowledged as much as it should be. There are very different tools and a lot more scope in terms of what can be achieved with post, but the same level of expertise and skill are required.
Having spent seven years there and learning at the best facility in town, I wanted to keep moving and gain new experiences, so I was lucky to get and executive producer role at Click 3X in New York; a reputable CGI animation post facility. It was a fantastic experience professionally and, after two years, I came back to set up Golden Square with my ex MPC colleagues.
Q > Tell us about Golden Square…
EM> It was a very grown up venture with significant investment and ambitions. We started with one account, Daily Mail, and grew steadily in size and reputation. We turned over £3 million in the first year which was promising. I was director of Production and New Business, which taught me a lot and enabled us to build up a fantastic client base and work on high profile brands.
A lot of post is about relationships and we had some very loyal clients who gave us whole accounts to manage; DFS, ASDA, The Sun and Reckitt Benckiser to name a few. They weren’t necessarily sexy accounts (and at the time they were brands that other facilities weren't interested in) but it was regular and profitable. We built a reputation for reliability and consistency, and developed strong client partnerships. Most importantly we had built a fun and friendly place to work for both clients and staff.
In this time, I also set up and ran Disqo, Golden Squares ‘digital’ production company. The first facility to venture into the digital arena. We introduced our editing and VFX expertise to the digital agencies who were starting to get into online video content and in turn we were able to take our digital talent to our traditional agency clients. It was fascinating to bring the two worlds together who had no idea how the other worked.
However Golden Square was ultimately too costly and running costs too high; the Georgian listed building wasn’t efficient, and with monthly overheads of £350,000 to cover, coupled with the 2008 recession, it was killing us. So sadly it closed in 2014, two years after I had already left.
Q> Prodigious, Publicis’ internal production unit, was a very different model to Golden square. What drew you there??
EM> Again, it was the opportunity to learn skills in a new environment. With this venture I was drawn in by the idea of working on the other side within a global agency network and not have to fight for every project coming through the door! To work alongside the TV departments as colleagues, as opposed to the ‘client’, was an invaluable experience and one that I want to emulate with ewanme.
I think clients, specifically those who produce high end content, working with challenging budgets require more of a collaborative process and an ongoing relationship from their post house. It requires more than just ‘clocking in and out’ of the edit suite, with no thought given to the entire brand the bigger campaign picture and can’t be billed by the hour as it would be too prohibitive. That’s not though what facilities are set up to do, time is billed by the hour and it is back to back. I want to be more of a production partner that is the first port of call for my clients, help develop ideas, find the solution and bring in the right freelance team to deliver the best project possible.
Q > You’ve worked in boutique, in-house and large post houses. What do you think the landscape looks like for these guys at the moment?
EM> I think that on the one hand, the large facilities will continue to do great work, have great reputations, and attract the best talent. Whereas the factory style facilities of the network agencies will slowly acquire more and more of the market share, particularly versioning and regular work. Unfortunately, I think this could ultimately squeeze out everyone else in-between - with the exception of a few small niche boutique facilities which have the support of production companies. To a certain extent this happened to Golden Square, we slowly lost our regular retail accounts to in-house agency set ups on cost and couldn't compete with the big post houses on the high end work.
I would like these set ups to work more collaboratively together, sharing resources and expertise to push back on the factory mentality set ups.
Q > Do the rate cards in postproduction accurately reflect the processes we have today?
EM> I don’t think they do, as they haven’t changed in twenty years and everything else has! But with the massive overheads that facilities have to maintain, how or why would they change the model? The hourly rates are constantly under attack and other tenuous revenue streams need to be exploited to keep going. We all know, for example, that there is no reason to charge for an mpeg. However, it’s a tradition that goes back to the days when clients were charged over £100 for a VHS with a 10 second spot on it. Even back then I felt awkward charging for physical deliverables, let alone for an mpeg that is generated digitally at the press of a button!
I want to move away from this, strip it all back and keep things simple. Clients pay only for what they can see, the artists rate (of any number or skill set required), kit hire and a ewanme management fee.
I think it’s important to say that ewanme is not in competition with the traditional facilities. ewanme is just a fresh alternative that takes advantage of two main recent developments in the industry: the wealth of experienced freelance talent that exists in the market place and the fact that the kit is so much more accessible, portable and less expensive.
Q > So what does ewanme offer that’s different?
EM> We are totally agile and can provide bespoke solutions to any project or account. First of all, we can provide freelance talent in the traditional sense - VFX artists, designers, online & offline editors etc - to existing establishments. This will also include the added bonus of ewanme project management. Alternatively, we can also provide the same talent that come equipped with their own kit. They can work remotely or on site, in a team or as an individual, dependent on need. Again, all supported by the producers at ewanme if required.
For example, I have a core team of six or so experienced smoke editors and flame artists who work regularly with our existing clients and travel from job to job with Smoke equipment in flight cases. The biggest difference with ewanme is that our clients only pay a flat day rate, regardless of what they do in that day.
For the high end creative projects, we can put together a ‘Pop Up’ Facility made up of the best suitable talent. This could be in the client’s space or any suitable location. The advantage of this is that it is dedicated to work solely on that project with no other distractions. This is particularly interesting for production companies who want to take on the post budget. With this model, a director can have their very own team at their own offices, the producer gets the best team at the best price (with the ability to make a margin on the flat day rate) and the whole process is managed by ewanme.
It’s of utmost importance to me that ewanme is flexible and nimble; I simply want to provide the best talent, managed professionally by experienced post producers, at the cleanest of rates.
Q> Where do you see this model working?
I think it can work anywhere (on the right project) for brands, agencies or production companies. We are providing the talent and expertise for our clients to take control of their post and material in-house. For the smaller jobs, when its less than a day’s work, the model is not always ideal as freelancers tend to only offer a day as minimum!
I’m presenting an alternative way of approaching post. It gives agencies, brands or production companies the opportunity to take control of their post and manage it in-house with the added benefit of experienced producers provided by ewanme.
Q > Do you think that everyone will be open to working without suites?
EM> No, not at all. It’s not pretty and there are no frills (and in some cases it just wouldn’t work!) Working without suites requires careful planning as everything from kit to talent has to be bought in specifically. There is a reason the big facilities exist with all the skills sets under one roof with research & development and so on. The larger, high profile VFX projects still demand it.
When additional skills sets are required, i.e. CGI, or physical space in central London, I have a partnership with Dave Throssell from Fluid Pictures. They act as my central hub and are brilliant CGI experts when a project demands it.
Q > Smaller post outfits tend to complain that it’s hard to attract the best talent with budgets squeezing. How are you attracting talent to ewanme?
EM> The lifestyle thing is the most exciting part about it – especially with the opportunity to work from home. Historically freelancers have serviced existing post production facilities but with ewanme they can work directly with the client.
It would have been unheard of five years ago for a flame or smoke op to have their own kit set up at home. Now a lot do. If they can work from home, why not encourage it? We've all been talking about this concept for years.
There is a generation of us who have spent the last twenty years in the industry learning our craft, working long hours in facilities, who are now thinking how can I make this profession work for me and what I want? Hopefully this model encourages the working remotely concept wherever you are.
Q > Why do you think this model hasn’t been done before?
EM> The timing is right. There was never this scale of impressive talent both with experience and creativity in the freelance market because the accessibility to software and streaming technology just wasn’t available. Now it is and we’re introducing clients directly to it, joining the dots and bringing it together under one roof.
Genre: People , Strategy/Insight , Visual VFX