The Creative Issue: Are producers utilising the IT revolution to its full benefit?

Chris Jenkins discovers if IT has a larger role ahead in attracting more clients.

Chris Jenkins discovers if IT has a larger role ahead in attracting

more clients.



In the future, advanced communications systems may become as essential a

part of the production process as directors and cameras. However,

production companies have been slower than agencies to take up the

opportunities offered by information technology. Many are small

businesses, with neither the manpower nor the capital to indulge in

complex systems; but others are finding that simple IT applications can

offer an edge.



As executive producer, partner and head of the London office of

Paris-based Planete, Amos Manasseh has more need than most for IT. He

argues that many companies are 18 months behind current developments,

and he’s already looking ahead to the time, a couple of years hence,

when satellite links will allow broadcast-quality video to be

distributed via the Internet.



Meanwhile, Manasseh, a long-time proponent of internal networking, is

installing an ’Intranet’ system for Planete. ’The software lets you

search inside a company in the same way a Web browser lets you search

the Internet,’ he explains. ’Casting data, call sheets, location

information and so on are available instantly to anyone in the company

To access it, all you need is a Web browser.’



Where necessary, Websites can incorporate security measures tailored to

specific clients: ’For instance, one job for Mars required costume

approvals the day before the shoot. By putting images on our Website, I

was able to get responses from Paris, London, Lyon and Luxembourg within

an hour.’



While Planete uses IT to facilitate a transparent pan-European service,

Abby Hunt, head of commercial development at Partizan Midi-Minuit, sums

up its other advantages in word: ’Speed. Agencies are spending more time

on account management and strategy, putting pressure on production

companies to produce budgets and treatments almost overnight.’ With

offices in London, Paris and New York, Partizan finds IT essential in

coping with this pressure. ’We get scripts and ideas from all over the

world, so if only to overcome the time-zone differences, e-mail and the

Internet are essential. One time, 24 hours before a video-conference

with Singapore, a director came up with an idea for an ad based on

triangular buildings; we were able to recce locations and put images on

the Internet in time.’



With the installation of scanners and an ISDN digital data transfer

system between the three offices, Hunt hopes that a researcher in Paris

will be able to work just as effectively for directors in New York. But

Robert Campbell, the managing director of the fledgling production

company, Outsider, is unconvinced: ’We’ve never had brilliant results

with it, though it’s quicker than putting someone on a plane with a

tape. We’ve had material delivered from Sweden by ISDN in three hours,

but it was only reference quality; the cost of equipment to produce the

best quality is considerable.’ Campbell suggests that Outsider will find

the technology more useful when it becomes cheaper and faster. Meanwhile

e-mail and the Internet have their uses: ’E-mail is good for keeping up

with agency contacts, and we’ve used the Internet extensively for

research into locations and props - for instance, one job demanded the

use of an exotic car, and we found one advertised for sale, together

with a picture, on the Web.’



Peter Harrison, the managing director of BFCS, insists that British

companies must invest in IT to maintain their competitiveness. He says:

’I am surprised at the number of companies that aren’t wired up. The way

the industry is moving, we have to be computer literate in the way

post-production houses are.’



Campbell concedes that the larger a company becomes, the more it is

likely to find uses for IT. ’The problem is that when you’re a small,

busy company, you don’t necessarily have the time to install the

technology. But I think it’s something we’ll make more use of in the

future,’ he says.



Certainly it was a gradual progression for Blink, which has produced

work for Vauxhall, Saab and Sony. James Studholme, the managing

director, admits: ’A couple of years ago, I felt we were falling behind

everyone else. We had laptops for budgeting and so on, but it was all

organised in a very ad hoc way. So we had a complete Apple-based system

installed.



Now it turns out we weren’t so far behind after all, and other companies

are trying to catch up with us.’ Again, Studholme argues that with

shorter lead times, access to information is becoming crucial. ’If you

collect all the information you gather about locations, contacts and

resources, it can save an awful lot of time.’



As for communications systems, Studholme sounds a cautious note. ’Though

we don’t have much use for them yet, we’re not afraid of applications

like e-mail, the Internet and ISDN - but I think they should be there to

serve an end, rather than being an end in their own right. We’ll start

using them when we need them, but the only way to keep your clients is

to maintain the balance of speed, price and quality. I have yet to be

persuaded that having a computer will get you a job.’



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