Production Essays: The personal trainer

Making post-production houses an integral part of the ad process will only yield positive results.

Going under the knife may not be the big issue most of us wrestle with as we make our way to work every morning. I'm usually more preoccupied by last night's footie results in the morning paper.

But on a crowded train, an overheard discussion about the relative merits (or otherwise) of the low- budget, confidence-building make-over of How To Look Good Naked and the botox-driven, acid-bath reconstructive surgery fest that is 10 Years Younger got me thinking.

I found myself comparing the issues I face every day in post-production with the pros and cons of the make-over shows.

Like Gok Wan, we are often entrusted with the task of subtly teasing the very best from resources that are already showing potential. We refine, tweak and finesse until, bit by bit, the girl-next-door transforms into a supermodel.

Like the scary South African presenter of 10 Years Younger, we are also often faced with more formidable tasks. Complete overhauls are often necessary on projects that have gone way off track because the brief has changed too late in the day. Like any post house, we like nothing more than a good challenge, and the feeling of achievement after successfully turning Dave from Peckham into David Beckham is hard to beat. But it's an expensive process and one that all concerned can learn lessons from.

There is a third way, which, while it wouldn't make such compelling gossip, would make the process of any production run smoother. In this third way, no drastic overhauls are called for and even Gok Wan is surplus to requirements. To continue the analogy, everyone would have a personal trainer at their shoulder giving them good advice at every turn; encouraging them to ease off the wine, stop smoking, get more exercise and lay off the doughnuts.

This is the role that a good post-production partner can fill on your project; offering the guidance, expertise and collaborative enthusiasm that keep things ticking along nicely, with minimum drama and maximum results.

So, in this period of flux for the creative industry and the uncertainty it brings, perhaps now is a good time to evaluate our creative processes and examine how to make our creative relationships work more effectively.

The personal trainer approach is about building a relationship of trust with someone who has paid to make you better, stronger, faster and fitter. It's about sharing expertise, recommending fresh solutions and planning effective methods to achieve specific goals. In post terms, it's about understanding your needs, safeguarding the brand and providing advice on the best solutions that will make your assets work harder to make your work look stunning.

In fact, the analogy works really well when applied to post because we are in the business of making brands beautiful. Whether through tweaking and finessing, reconstructive fixes, or planning and advising, the goal is the same.

A good post partner will relish the challenge, yet the most satisfaction comes out of a positive relationship grounded in advice and planning.

It's not simply that we can save clients time and money when we are involved from the outset. In our experience, involving a post partner at the start of a brief enhances the production and post processes and strengthens the brand.

3D or VFX magic are nearly always essential elements of successful productions and knowing what your post partners can achieve expands your creative horizons. The collaboration between an agency creative and a great VFX producer means that a man can pick up and carry a shadow to the beach and, in doing so, create a memorable beer commercial. In the commercial context, isn't the "wow" factor what makes brands memorable?

Broadcast production has its own set of challenges, with the proliferation of content produced by the YouTube generation. The need to get the audience's attention from the outset through great titles, and then to keep them stimulated and engaged throughout the show, calls for the same kind of relationship between producers and their post partners.

Take CSI. The success of this series clearly demonstrates the collaboration between production and post with its graphic and bloody animations.

In both commercial and broadcast, where so much time, budget, brand value and reputation are at stake, key to success is that producers are confident in their relationship with post facilities. In achieving the best creative, collaboration is imperative.

Of course, not all post houses are cut from the same cloth and we believe the best ones take on talented creatives who, while technically brilliant, also share a creative language with producers and directors. Having a strong design core at the heart of a boutique post house allows closer synergy and affinity with agency or production company creatives. Having a strong technical team that is conversant in digital platforms and formats also ensures that workflow, pipeline and delivery meet any challenge with creative flair and technical integrity.

There is no greater reward for a post house than knowing we have been intrinsically involved from conception to completion. Similarly, producers are happy when they know the money spent in post is achieving their vision, not fixing problems.

If the news is to believed, and the industry heads into an economic downturn and agencies grapple with the challenges of converging platforms, multiple deliverables and repurposed content, perhaps now is an ideal time to consider new workflow models between agencies, production companies and post houses.

So, naked, younger or fitter? I'm happy to discuss over a pint or two.

- Danny Coster is the managing director of Locomotion.