Production Essays: Production gets serious

The economic downturn and resultant belt-tightening has made the production and post sectors leaner and meaner.

If talk of operating Flame reminds you most of the lamb you seared to perfection at the weekend, then welcome. Production companies will love you as a client.

But you are increasingly rare. As for the rest of you who know a thing or two about the production process (and I use the term lightly, to also encompass post), you are an irritating bunch.

Clients like you, whether agencies or advertisers, are growing in number as the world turns digital. And, not only do you think you know a thing or two about production, you also half harbour a belief that you, or your teenage offspring, could almost do the job yourselves. "There are a whole lot of frustrated directors out there," John Doris, the managing director of Mustard, and a guest brought to our roundtable lunch by the Advertising Producers Association, notes. "And a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

What used to be the complicated preserve of the edit suite wizards has been democratised; technology has spilled capability out to the masses and anyone with a Mac and a piece of software is the new king of production.

This is one part of the multi-faceted whammy that is hitting production companies hard right now, undermining their reputations and expertise - and a hot topic at the lunch attended by the contributors to this supplement.

Another significant part is costs, with digital the chief mischief-maker here too.

On the one side, clients are paying less by opting for a digital film, but still demand high production values; on the other, creative teams expect the same facilities and back-up when working on a viral as they do on a 60-second film.

As Liz Smith, the managing director of Film38 and one of the essayists, succinctly points out: "One week a creative team is given a £1.2 million commercial to work on; the next week, it's a viral for £15,000 and you have to manage their expectations."

The economic slump has brought its own version of misery to the production sector too. Companies that wouldn't have got out of bed for smaller production assignments are now competing for all sizes of job.

In addition, there's an oversupply of production houses and, unlike agencies, they have no guarantee of clients from week to week. Gloom. Gloom. And more gloom.

So where's the good news? Among our roundtable lunchers, there's a sense of times that are tough, but manageable. Belts were cinched in during the last ad recession (so they say), and it's an industry that's used to employing freelancers to scale rapidly up or down. What's more, this financial maelstrom has made more digital talent available. And the days of freelancers charging £800 a day and not turning up at the last minute are well and truly gone.

"There's no room for directors walking off sets, throwing toys out of the pram and hanging rushes over Waterloo Bridge," one luncher says with a wry grin.

So, to paraphrase a certain politician, if production companies are getting serious about their craft, it's because there's a lot to be serious about. Production is a skilled business that deserves more respect than it's currently receiving. And, as for those in post, they are among the only ones in the ad industry who can claim what they do is beyond the reach of many. The technology involved is that used in the defence industry. It literally is rocket science.