PRODUCTION REPORT: Introduction

Tough times call for adaptability and more creativity than ever, if the companies examined in this report are an example of how to survive a recession. The embattled industry is also about to get a voice with a trade body under the aegis of the Advertising Producers Association.

It wasn't our intention, but the underlying theme of this year's production and post-production report has turned out to be triumph over adversity. Times may be tough but, ironically, this is having a positive impact on several areas of the business.

Take the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase, published here exclusively (p10). This year, for the first time, the top ten includes two Argentinians.

The collapse of Argentina's economy is creating a booming commercials production industry as foreign companies take advantage of a weak currency.

This is giving local directors the opportunity to get involved in foreign shoots with some of the world's leading agencies and production companies. The situation is similar to that of South Africa some years ago, where a favourable exchange rate contributed to a flourishing commercials market. The knock-on effect is a raising of national standards to an international level, not just in terms of local directing talent but across the board, from production to service companies.

The post-production industry is also undergoing significant changes as a result of difficult market conditions. Shrinking budgets, increased competition for jobs and paper-thin profit margins are affecting even the bigger players (p5). Among Hollywood's elite, Walt Disney closed its effects unit, Secret Lab, last year while Centropolis Entertainment closed its division after its German parent, Das Werk, filed for bankruptcy. Now London's Glassworks is in the midst of a management buyout from the German company (which acquired a majority stake in November 2000). And London's The Mill closed its film effects group only a year after hitting the headlines for its Oscar-winning work on Gladiator.

There is expected to be more of a shakedown in the industry but the hardy ones are adapting to survive. One move is to find untapped markets where international productions are common but post-production is currently completed back home - cheaper markets such as Poland, South Africa and the Czech Republic. Hence London's Condor has just launched Condor Cape Town while the Prague-based Soundsquare, which opened in April, is rapidly establishing itself as a major player, servicing both eastern and western European clients.

Others are keeping the Flame suites busy by expanding into new areas such as film and TV effects work.

But perhaps one of the most important outcomes of the downturn in the UK is the recognition that the post-production industry needs a voice.

It has never had its interests represented or defended by a trade body.

But now more than ever, something is needed. Burning issues include spiralling, footballer-style salaries; massive equipment and development costs; not to mention the increasingly vicious undercutting as post-production houses scrabble for jobs. Which is why the Advertising Producers Association is about to announce it will take on the task. Will it be able to triumph over adversity?