SOHO, UK — Soho is the heart of post production for independent film and television, with many of the post houses there battling for the opportunity to work on some of the world's top films, TV programmes and commercials. Post production facilities in Soho vary greatly in size and style.
There are large, international and well established firms, reeling out huge quantities of work in very quick succession. Then there is a handful of smaller, high end facilities delivering a bespoke service - the success stories in this tough industry. High end post production facility, The Look, based in the centre of Soho is a prime example of the latter.
The Look offers a highly skilled service to some of the television industry's top creative talent. There are only four members on The Look's creative team, yet the quality of their drama output puts them within the top five drama post production facilities in the country - the others have upwards of 100 staff. The Look has slick facilities offering clients superior grading suites, one with HD projection onto a four metre screen. Managing Director and Colorist, Thomas Urbye explains, "Being a small, but technologically advanced and creatively led facility means we can adapt our workflow for each job, and can train our operators and even our clients to understand new processes that we develop together."
2011 has been a sensationally busy year for The Look having worked on six of the UK's top primetime British dramas: 'Top Boy', 'The Fades', 'South Riding', 'Whitechapel', 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' and 'Monroe'. Urbye says, "because the UK independent film industry is struggling a lot at the moment - directors are increasingly looking to make good quality TV dramas instead". Nearly 30 hours of TV drama have been graded at The Look this year, yet astonishingly only two Quantel Pablo systems complete the high volume and high quality of work in such a short timescale. Urbye explains, "People look to Soho for the best post production systems. The fact that we can deliver such quality results in such a short amount of time highlights just how powerful the Pablos are. Using two of them on a GenePool is a great help as two of us can work on one drama, conforming or onlining on one Pablo and grading the other half of the programme on the other."
Urbye reports that The Look is continuing to expand its presence in the post-production industry: "Television drama seems to be very popular both in the US and over here, with the quality improving year on year. For Directors it is exciting as stories can be told over a longer period of time. Dramas are now attracting a much younger audience with many aimed at adults aged 20 and above." The Look has recently graded Channel 4's 'Top Boy', a compelling drama about gangs in Hackney, London. Urbye says, "This series, shot with an Arri ALEXA and transmitted with a 2.40 crop - was a bold move for Channel 4. Its look and feel, we believe, has not been seen on UK television before. The Director, Yann Demange ('Dead Set' and 'Criminal Justice 2') and DoP Tat Radcliffe didn't want the piece to look gritty and grey, the usual look for London 'street' dramas. They wanted high contrast and strong colors to give the drama a very distinct look." The series trended on Twitter as the second most talked about topic for the week it aired, and it pulled in an audience of well over a million. Urbye's skills and eye combined with the flexibility of the Quantel Pablo Neo gave the series critically acclaimed reviews in the national press. For example, The Metro newspaper's review reported "'Top Boy' is much more than a bleak, kitchen-sink drama - it's beautifully shot, unhurried and uses color imaginatively and subtly".
2011 was The Look's most successful to date. Primetime BBC drama, 'South Riding' was graded at the company earlier in the year. Shot with the new Arri ALEXA, 'South Riding' brought strong acclaim to The Look when DoP Alan Almond BSC ('Desperate Romantics') won a BAFTA for Best Photography. Urbye adds "Our success comes from the relationships we build with our clients It's all about partnerships, between the colorist, DoP and Director and also between me and my Quantel system. We work very closely with the DoP and Director giving a much higher level of personal customer service than larger facilities can offer. It's the DoP who usually points towards the post house he would like to work with; therefore a good relationship can increase our chance of repeat work. Our clients are looking for something different; they want to win recognition and awards and then return or progress into features when the UK market picks up again. By working with them closely and respecting their craft, we go with them as they move onwards and upwards."
BBC Drama 'The Fades', which aired in November, required the use of The Look's in house VFX company, Lexhag, to put together over 400 VFX shots for the series. Urbye explains, "Both The Look and Lexhag worked closely together to produce higher quality visual effects than the usual TV standard. This was our most ambitious project to date so an efficient method was developed allowing us to handle the conform, grade, online and delivery of the drama in one place. We could use the Pablos for effects such as smoke or dust, and then our VFX Supervisor Alexis Haggar and his team added the more dramatic visual effects. The Fades marked the start of our future in heavy visual effects projects."
The Look is already geared up for a busy 2012. A major four-part primetime drama is set to be graded in February - using their Quantel Pablos. Recently completed and transmitting in early 2012 is a new series of six one hour episodes of ITV's popular drama 'Whitechapel', produced by Carnival Films (Downton Abbey). Each 'story' (two episodes) of the series has a different Director and DoP allowing The Look to work with various styles and approaches to the drama. The BBC's adaption of the famous Charles Dickens book 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' was also completed at the end of 2011 at the facility. The moody, dark and stylish look of the series will be a great contrast to the BBC's 'Bert and Dickie', a colorful TV Film starring Matt Smith (Doctor Who). The series looks at British scullers in the 1948 London Olympics, and is set to be broadcast this summer.
The future looks very promising for the small and thriving facility. "We naturally want to continue our success. It's been our best year ever, both in terms of the quality of work and in revenue. We don't undercut on rates to win work - established rates have been falling slowly over recent years and as a result we needed to become more efficient as well as producing excellent results. Our success is based on our ability to deliver high levels of creativity and a personal service, not just the price," Urbye concludes.