In the present post-production market, clients' expectations and demands expand as budgets contract. It's such a common fact that it barely needs stating. This pressure-cooker environment, however, is forcing us all to think in new directions and tackle unchartered territory... with some refreshingly positive results.
While we all feel the pinch as budgets shrink, we rarely mention the fact that schedule allowances are plummeting at a similar rate. It's often those of us involved at the end of the production line that are the ones most likely to absorb the time cuts. In post-production, it's a real frustration when the job is put on hold owing to lengthy, multi-layered approvals. Notorious for our attention to detail, us Flame artists would much rather use that time to perfect the film.
The problem of shortened schedules has been worsened by the changes in approval dynamics. It could be said that power is being decentralised from the agency, gradually shifting more towards the client. We see anecdotal evidence of this in the Flame suite on a fairly regular basis: the agency wants "X" effect, the client wants "Y" effect... and "Y" often wins. An essay in itself, this trend has a knock-on effect on approvals in that more parties, client-end, will now be involved in the process - thus massively multiplying the infrastructure of approval. To us, this translates as more lost opportunities for perfectionism.
Technological advance is a likely culprit for people's expectations of compressed delivery times. So perhaps the solution lies in technology. We've been trying to address our schedule gripes by looking at ways of speeding up the approvals process in order to maximise the schedule, thus creating a win-win situation where all involved parties feel the benefit.
We now use ChilliBean's new SohoSoHo service. It's a fast, cost-effective and secure site that stores edits electronically to enable online access to work-in-progress edits. Such services have significantly helped in reducing approvals schedules, because anyone with access to the internet can instantly view the edit in question and relay their all-important feedback without being delayed by couriers and DVD-sharing. However, such online approval tools have been around for a few years now, so the time is ripe for evolution. So, we've taken the concept one step further... to mobiles. It's one thing to appraise an edit on your computer, but having the freedom to look at that edit on your mobile takes the idea of speedy, on-the-hoof approvals to a whole new level of flexibility and convenience.
Of course, "mobile" is an over-used buzzword at the moment. Everybody's talking about consolidating everyday activities - listening to music, sending e-mails, photographing, videoing, TV watching - into that magical machine the size of a couple of matchboxes. In Korea, mobiles now even include gadgets such as drink 'n' dial breathalyser protection, body-fat analysers and motion sensors to improve golf swings. On paper, it's so easy to jump on the mobile bandwagon. In practice, however, it's more problematic.
Some of our more forward-thinking clients started enquiring about the possibility of our sending their work to their mobiles. When approving post-production work, all details must be crystal-clear - especially when being viewed on a small screen - so high-quality images are vital.
But our research into existing mobile video distribution services showed that quality and reliability were far from ideal. Generally speaking, the video files were designed around the lowest common denominator in order to achieve maximum reach, so a slick mobile with a decent screen would receive a poor video, despite its capacity for a crisp-moving image. Worse still, after texting the nominated shortcode, we were often informed that our handsets couldn't receive the relevant video, even though we were testing with up-to-the-minute models.
Rather than give up, we decided to build our own system - an intelligent one that accounts for all the thousands of different video-enabled handsets that are in existence.
Months in the making, our new system - named Mobloom - automatically detects the receiving handset's spec and optimises the video encoding accordingly. We've also built it with the industry's latent technophobes in mind: no phone settings need adjusting - receiving a Mobloom video is as easy as receiving a text. Mobloom required a fair amount of investment, both in terms of time and finances. In order to recoup costs, we've started taking the system to the wider market - to much applause.
By transferring the high standards demanded in commercials production into another domain, we have built a system that outperforms the competition. We've seen anyone from record labels to festival organisers or content owners astounded by Mobloom's quality and ease of use. And by charging uploaders just £1 for each project that is to be distributed, we've turned Mobloom into a democratic tool for all - big brands and individuals alike. As a result, Mobloom is growing exponentially and has now become a stand-alone company.
The irony, here, is that we have gained an exciting new venture - and revenue stream - as a result of increased external pressure. It's comforting to know that, if you keep positive, these times of immense change and intensifying demands can reap some gratifying rewards.
Listening to clients' needs, responding to them positively and always keeping one step ahead seems to be the only recipe for survival in today's increasingly competitive post-production market.
Mobloom is an excellent example of how post houses - and, for that matter, any other suppliers in the commercials industry - can turn tectonic change to their advantage. Everyone in the industry is being monumentally affected by the rise of emerging media, so, just like agencies, post houses and their production counterparts need to learn to embrace and diversify. But, as Mobloom proves, that's nothing to be scared of.