Production/Post-Production: Post across the pond

The city that never sleeps is waking up to the talents of London's renowned post-production houses, as Lucy Aitken reports. Andrew Robertson, BBDO's worldwide president and new chief executive, isn't the only Brit to shine in New York.

In post-production, a significant handful of UK facilities companies are establishing themselves across the Atlantic. By having a physical presence in Manhattan, they are cementing relationships with American contacts they've built up over the years from their London bases.

But surely the city that never sleeps doesn't need a coach-load of Brits to post-produce its ads? Well, perhaps surprisingly, it does. New York has never been as well served as London when it comes to creative post-production. Historically, it's had only finishing houses and small visual-effects boutiques. Finding both under one roof has, until recently, been nigh on impossible.

London, meanwhile, has for a long time boasted a rich seam of post-production talent, helping to put the UK on the map when it comes to delivering highly regarded creative work for both domestic and overseas clients.

So, being better equipped than their New York counterparts, facilities houses in London and Los Angeles are used to receiving the lion's share of New York's post-production jobs.

But now the need to fly across the Atlantic or from the East to the West Coast is being challenged, as the trend for London facilities shops to open in New York looks set to continue.

The Mill was the first to take the plunge; it officially opened in New York in February 2002. Now, having stayed very much afloat in a city buffeted by recession, The Mill New York has moved into bigger premises on Broadway and is in celebratory mode.

Robin Shenfield, the chief executive of The Mill in London and New York, believes that there's a definite market for their creative expertise: "The reputation of existing New York post-production houses is more functional whereas, in London, you have to be able to contribute creatively. They really wanted that in New York."

In this digital age, though, does The Mill really need to have a physical presence in New York? "A lot of it is done by rapid delivery and Beam TV," Shenfield says, "but this is still a face-to-face creative business."

Jon Collins, the president of Framestore NY, agrees: "There's work that requires some level of communication and that's always aided when people are sitting next to you in the room."

It's not easy, though, he warns: "I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more post-production houses opening up here, but I don't think anyone should think that it's easy to crack New York; you still have to prove yourself."

One of the ways in which post-production houses must prove themselves is by taking their talented teams to New York: the vast majority of staff at The Mill and Framestore CFC have worked in London. Also vital is a certain flexibility in adapting to the New York marketplace.

Alistair Thompson, the executive producer of The Mill New York, describes the US outlet as "a thoroughly modern hybrid of a London-style facility with pretensions to American need as well". The Mill New York has post-produced big-budget ads for the likes of Levi's, Pepsi, Nike, Mercedes and Audi.

Companies also need to be sensitive towards different ways of working in the two cities. In New York, for instance, editing houses such as The Final Cut play a big role in the post-production process, while directors tend to be more prominent in Europe and Los Angeles.

Penny Verbe, the chief executive of Smoke & Mirrors, which opened in New York in April 2003, says: "Directors in the US aren't as involved in post-production, so agencies in New York have to be respectful when they work with English directors and keep them in the loop."

But all that is starting to change, particularly with more European directors working on US ads. "The directors call the shots," Mark Benson, the deputy managing director of The Moving Picture Company, says. "The growing impact and influence of directors such as Traktor, Frederic Planchon, Walter Stern and Ivan Zacharias, who live and breathe post-production as much as production, has impacted on the way that US agencies view post-production."

The Moving Picture Company, which is also one of the UK's most established post-production houses, has worked on commercials as big as Nike's Brand Jordan spot, directed by the legendary Joe Pytka. It has not yet opened in New York, although Benson isn't ruling it out. "It's not something we're about to do, but we're always bearing it in mind. Our work with the US is increasing all the time," he says. "But you can't necessarily beat being there."

Most London post-production houses, even those with a New York office, still work on US ads and, occasionally, New York jobs are serviced out of London. Verbe says: "We did a job for Saab with Lowe New York and the London suites were quiet so we used the time difference and threw all the suites at it. When Lowe came into work, the job was done."

Verbe says having a team in New York "has really opened us up". She adds: "It's such a cliche, but the world has become a much smaller place."

And it seems like London can only benefit from having highly exportable expertise. As Collins puts it: "I'm not trying to steal work from post houses in New York; I'm simply trying to help establish a high-level visual-effects community."

And it's expressly London talent that is building that community, a task some critics say is long overdue. Thompson sums it up: "New York is one of the best and greatest world cities. It should be a centre of post-production excellence."


Facility Est London Staff London Est NY Staff NY

The Mill 1990 175 2002 25

Framestore 1986 450 2004 10

Smoke & Mirrors 1995 30 2003 5