Feature

The Insider's Guide to Production: Outsourcing - The Soho lifeline

Prime Focus London offers a secure business model in post-production that uses both Indian and UK talent to provide a service to fit any budget.

The creative visual industries are being turned upside down. And it's a change that will affect everyone associated with the process of getting pretty pictures on to the box (a box that comes in many shapes and sizes nowadays).

Traditional advertising still dominates the market, and therefore the structure of the market that services it. But digital and online are attracting more and more of clients' spend. This would be fine if the extra budget were available for this work, but that is not always the case. Agencies and post houses are therefore having to rationalise their businesses accordingly; offering staff and equipment to provide a dual service to the client.

Post houses are also finding they are increasingly working with many different types of company. From ad agencies to digital hothouses, from PR companies to marketing companies, all are now able to get an ad on air or online. And, in some cases, clients are even decoupling and just doing it for themselves.

The pressures on post houses of servicing this fluid client base are huge. For some clients, we are expected to internalise the services usually provided by the ad agency. For others, we are called upon to provide proof of concept of the ideas themselves, and to help find a suitable director. Such assistance is increasingly expected as part of a service that is still predominantly billed on a per-suite, per-hour basis. Add to this shrinking budgets apportioned over multiple disciplines, and client demands for more and more "bang for the buck" as awareness of VFX techniques becomes more prevalent, and it becomes clear why so many post houses are struggling.

Furthermore, with the demands of feature film productions and big commercials projects, post houses need a vast array of staff with a remarkable technical knowledge in order to produce work to the required standard. To counter the cost of retaining large teams of highly qualified and experienced staff in the studio, the vast majority are hired on a per-project basis.

The problem with this is when the project ends, and all that knowledge and experience walks out of the door to the company up the road. The post house loses out because it remains stagnant, unable to grow from project to project. And the itinerant workforce loses out because there is less chance of being able to build a career, and no support and encouragement of a benevolent employer keen to see its staff reach new creative heights.

Prime Focus London is a major new post-production facility that launched recently following the merger of three well-established Soho post houses - Clear, The Hive and VTR. It has the latest kit, top-flight creative talent and the all-important Soho location - just like two or three other top-end creative post houses in London. But Prime Focus London is different in that it is owned by India's largest post-production group, and its launch marks India's first foray into the London post-production market.

Prime Focus London offers all of the services, skills, experience and technical know-how of a high-end London post house. But it also offers much more - namely, a front door to the huge infrastructure and cost efficiencies that can be realised by offering a totally secure post-production outsourcing business model to India.

So how can India help with this? What are the benefits to UK agencies?

Globalisation. It is hardly unusual for companies to have a global presence these days. Manufacturers have been outsourcing overseas for years to take advantage of tax breaks, currency fluctuations and cost benefits. Post-production is just the next industry that has to look beyond its familiar domestic confines in order to thrive.

What is essential in the whole outsourcing process is to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and understand the nuance of the creative process in both territories. The creative shorthand that is an integral part of many of the creative relationships in our market is also vital for our business, and we aim to ensure that it makes no difference to the client whether our staff are working on a project in India or in London; if its source is London, the bulk of the process is still undertaken in London and vice versa.

Budgets that are challenged when they come to us, be they £20,000 or £200,000, can now be facilitated because we can divide up the suite time between India and London, allowing the creative to take precedence by removing the economic pressures that might otherwise prevent it. This allows us to reflect the economics of the market. If high-profile, high-budget projects need Soho suite time with some of the best creative talent in the business, then we can provide that. If the brief requires us to explore a more cost-effective route, we can accommodate this. Or we can apportion the budget as best befits the job, taking advantage of both the cost efficiencies of per-seat costs in India and the talent, proximity and convenience of Soho. And, of course, every job we undertake for the UK market is overseen by a top creative here in London.

The benefit is that we can maintain a creative and commercial relationship with our clients and the wider market. Budgets need not define these relationships, thus deepening our understanding of our clients' processes and needs, and allowing us to streamline and improve the creative shorthand.

Staff no longer have to be hired and fired as the production slate dictates. We can maintain a much larger workforce in India that will survive the ebbs and flows of the market, improving the knowledge and experience of our staff.

In short, by evolving and adopting this business model, Prime Focus London is geared to offer clients a zero-risk method of addressing the budgetary and logistical concerns that are part and parcel of almost every project nowadays. And it does all this without compromising the creative process. Outsourcing may just offer Soho the lifeline it so desperately needs.

- Simon Huhtala is the managing director at Prime Focus London.

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