PRODUCTION AND POST PRODUCTION: The director’s dream post team

Campaign asked 20 top directors who they would pick to make up their ideal post-production team.

Campaign asked 20 top directors who they would pick to make up their

ideal post-production team.


Smoke and Mirrors

In just over a year, the upstart company, Smoke and Mirrors, has managed

to establish itself as one of the commercials industry’s busiest and

most creative post-production outfits.

High points to date include the complex compositing on Vaughan and

Anthea’s ‘planet’ commercial for Levi’s through Bartle Bogle Hegarty,

demanding high-profile spots for the likes of BMW, Reebok and Kiss FM,

and even the occasional sortie into Hollywood for high-resolution

effects work on last year’s Batman Forever and the US box-office hit,

Tom Sawyer.

The company’s success is based on two major factors, the emergence of

Discreet Logic’s Flame, Inferno and Fire software as an industry

standard, and the calibre of its owner-operators, who brought a

substantial client base to the new set-up with them. Founders Sean

Broughton (formerly of Rushes), Jon Hollis (one-time head editor at the

Mill) and Chris Roff (co-founder of the Mill) are all Flame specialists

(or ‘Flame artists’ as they grandly style themselves), and the company

has invested almost exclusively in the Canadian-developed system.

‘It’s by far the most flexible system,’ the S&M director, Penny Verbe,

claims. ‘The software can be updated, and you can add on whatever

features you like.’ Smoke and Mirrors set up with one Flame - which runs

on a Silicon Graphics Onyx ‘super’ computer - but quickly increased its

capacity to three as demand mushroomed.

Housed on six floors in Soho’s Beak Street, S&M eschews the ‘designery’

ambience favoured by many of its competitors. ‘We’re very down to

earth,’ Verbe says. ‘We encourage an easy-going atmosphere and even

chose all the sofas and lights ourselves.’ This, she adds, gives the

impression that client money is being spent on expertise and man-hours

rather than fancy decor.

Tom Sparks, yet another award-winning Flame operator, joined the S&M

board earlier this year.

The Mill, Robin Shenfield’s more-established upmarket operation, ran S&M

a close second in this category.


Jon Hollis Smoke and Mirrors

‘He’s a great person to bounce ideas off and always adds a lot

creatively as well as pushing the buttons,’ says the Brian Byfield

director, Mark Denton, of Jon Hollis, Flame supremo and co-founder of

Smoke and Mirrors.

It’s a quality that has led a posse of more experimental directors to

Hollis’s door, boundary-pushers such as Tomato and Jonathan Barnbrook,

though the unassuming Hollis seems keen to play down this aspect of his

work. ‘I may be unintentionally creative,’ he admits. ‘There is a lot I

can bring to a project, I always try to step back from the kit and think

about it more broadly.’

This kit is inevitably Flame, the impressive post-production software

that is the cornerstone of S&M. ‘It’s an incredibly elegant way of

working,’ Hollis says. ‘The whole idea of a software-led package is

wonderful. It’s almost irrelevant that Flame is driven by Silicon

Graphics Onyx. You can add funky bits of software as you need them;

sculpt the machine to create a specific effect. The subtleties of the

colours you can achieve are incredible. You can work on a hundred

layers, all of which are colour correctable.’

Hollis’s progress has been relentless. He did a year-long media course

at West Bromwich College of Commerce and Technology before landing a job

at SVC as a tape operator, where he moved through the ranks to become an

on-line editor. From there, he went to the Mill, where he was quickly

appointed head of editing. When he saw the potential of Flame, he was

convinced the time was ripe to set up his own shop. ‘I’ve been at the

right place at the right time,’ Hollis says. ‘I was at SVC when they

brought in the first digital disk on-line suite and at the Mill for one

of the earliest Flames. Who knows what technology might bring us next?’

There wasn’t a close second in this category but others nominated

included Rushes’ Verdi Sevenhuysen, S&M’s Sean Broughton, Perry

Wainwright at the Moving Picture Company and the Mill’s Jean Luc Azziz

and Ant Walsham.


Andy McLellan The Tape Gallery

Like many of his ilk, the Tape Gallery’s Andy McLellan has recently

switched over to the more esoteric job title of ‘sound designer’. ‘It’s

a bit of a sore point,’ he says. ‘In effect [the Tape Gallery] has been

doing it for ages and then suddenly all these people sprang up calling

themselves sound designers as if they were somehow different.’

McLellan reckons 99 per cent of his workload is commercials based, but

occasionally he does also turn his hand to corporate videos. Though

‘sound is often the last consideration’ of creative teams, he maintains

there is still plenty of room for creativity in his chosen field, and

that a fresh pair of eyes (or ears) can often bring that crucial extra

10 per cent to a project.

His forte tends to be ‘comedy stuff rather than full-monty film type

stuff’, and he’s recently worked on humorous spots for Lynx and

Polaroid, both through Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

McLellan’s favourite piece of sound equipment is the Synclavier, which

he describes as ‘a very powerful digital sampler capable of weird and

wonderful effects’.

McLellan has been installed at the Tape Gallery for nine years, though

his career started inauspiciously as a teaboy-cum-gofer at Piccadilly

Radio in Manchester. He’d soon picked up enough technical know-how to

move on to the operating desk, which was when he started to become

interested in the making of commercials.

His next job was at Hereward Radio in Peterborough where, in something

of a sideways move, he was appointed copywriter in charge of local

commercials. ‘I was churning out 40-odd commercials a week,’ he recalls.

‘I was producing, arranging the voiceovers, engineering - a bit of a

one-man band, really.’

McLellan then went back to Manchester to Pluto Studios, which handled

ads for Granada TV and various local radio stations, before relocating

to London and the Tape Gallery.


Mick Vincent VTR

Telecine - the transfer of film to digital video tape - is an essential,

though often underrated, part of the production process.

However, according to VTR’s Mick Vincent, it is undergoing something of

an image change. ‘People are slowly beginning to realise its value,’ he

says. ‘Telecine has become much quicker and more sophisticated over the

past couple of years.’ If you lose quality at this early stage, the

results can be flat and uninspiring, jeopardising the rest of the

project. Accurate grading is a must, and special effects, particularly

colourisation, are possible during telecine.

‘Poor telecine is a bit like getting David Bailey to takes photographs

for you and then getting them developed at Snappy Snaps,’ Vincent


Vincent is head of the team of six in the telecine department at VTR,

where he has been for the past ten years. On average, he works on four

to five commercials a day. Vincent - who trained as an electronics

engineer- spent three years working in the radar industry before moving

into film, joining Rank Cintel as a service engineer.

‘Knowledge of electronics can be easily adapted,’ he explains. ‘My first

love is telecine operating, but my engineering background does help me

see things in a broader context. I know how to get the best out of a


VTR provides Vincent with a ‘nice balance’ of pop promos and commercials

to work on. Recent big-budget videos he’s contributed to include George

Michael’s come-back single, Jesus to a Child, as well as films for the

Britpoppers, Blur, Pulp and Oasis. Commercials include Bartle Bogle

Hegarty’s send-up spot for Lynx, a Sure commercial shot by Patricia

Murphy, plus spots for Vodafone, Weetabix, Budweiser and Nike. VTR is

soon to take delivery of the first Datacine Spirit in the UK, a new

film-resolution telecine machine developed by Philips and Kodak. ‘It’s

the next generation of telecine machine,’

Vincent says. ‘It should open up a whole new area for us.’

Adrian Seery of Rushes was the runner-up in this category.


Sam Sneade Sam Sneade Editing

Sam Sneade must have one of the most difficult jobs in commercials post-

production. Imagine having to snip, chop and prune at exquisite footage

delivered by virtuoso film-makers such as Tony Kaye, Frank Budgen and

Daniel Barber every day. It must require the kind of decisiveness and

bravery usually reserved for the battlefield.

‘Editing is so instinctive,’ Sneade says. ‘It’s like sculpting time, and

if it’s done well it should be seamless. It’s all a question of pace and


In the finite world of commercials, where 60 seconds is considered

something of a luxury, the pressure is at its most acute, but this

doesn’t seem to faze theunflappable Sneade, who remains distinctly cool

even when the going gets tough. And he did it the hard way too.

The young Sneade arrived in London straight out of college, armed only

with an English degree and the vaguest notion about wanting to get into

films. When he was offered a position as a runner at Jim Bambrick

Associates, he made it his business to learn all he could about editing

techniques and equipment. His big break came in 1986, when Tony Kaye

begged some free editing time for a film about the Optician’s Council.

His association with Kaye has continued over the years, notably editing

the director’s comeback commercial, ‘unwind’, for British Rail through

Saatchi and Saatchi, and his controversial anti-cocaine film, which

shows a man shooting a revolver through his nostril.

After ten years at Bambricks, Sneade set up in business on his own last

year, under the no-nonsense name Sam Sneade Associates. ‘I didn’t want

to call it Snips or anything cheesy like that,’ he explains.

He’s since worked with Frank Budgen on the recent Volkswagen UFO

commercial, as well as spots for Orange, Allied Dumbar, Virgin, Johnnie

Walker whisky and Graham Fink’s new Persil ad.


Tim Burke and Rob Harvey The Mill

Tim Burke and Rob Harvey met at college in Norwich - where they studied

graphics and animation - more years ago than they’d care to remember. In

the late 80s they resumed their acquaintance at the post-production

house, Cell, and during their tenure proudly invested in the country’s

first Quantel Henry. ‘We were a year ahead of everyone else which stood

us in good stead, but Henry has come on in leaps and bounds since then,’

Harvey recalls. ‘The new software is blinding.’

Harvey believes Henry’s library system still gives it the edge over its

rivals. Many different versions of the same sequence can be stored, so

that earlier versions can be returned to if the director feels he or she

has been heading down a blind alley. ‘It is just so fast to edit on if

you use it in conjunction with Flame, you can have the best of both

worlds, but generally I don’t find Flame so user-friendly,’ he says.

Though Flame has undoubtedly dented Quantel’s (the Newbury-based maker

of Harry and Henry) dominance in the post-production market, Harvey

believes the real threat lies elsewhere. ‘Macintosh systems such as Avid

are incredibly cheap compared with something like Henry,’ he says. ‘They

are definitely worth keeping an eye out for. Having said that, Quantel

is always moving the goalposts, always bringing out some amazing new


‘Rob and Tim are good problem-solvers,’ says Doug Foster, a director at

Blink Productions, who has worked with them on spots for Guinness,

Strepsils and Stena. ‘They can foresee things before they happen, which

is a big plus when you’re forking out for expensive post-production


Burke and Harvey, together with Karl Mooney, are preparing for the

launch of an (as yet unnamed) company, a joint venture instigated by

Ridley and Tony Scott and the Mill. It will specialise in high-

resolution commercials and feature films. ‘It’s going to be a one-stop

house,’ Harvey says. ‘We’ll do everything from shooting to 3D work to


An honourable mention goes to Barnsley at the Mill, who came in a close

second in the Henry category.