Dennis Weinreich, who recently left the position of joint managing director of film and television post-production at Pinewood Studios, talks to Kevin Hilton about his continuing role with the studio group, future plans and views on the current state of the UK audio post market.
There's always a flurry of phone calls and hushed conversations in Soho bars and restaurants whenever high profile figures in the film and TV business leave companies unexpectedly. The industry rumour mill has been particularly busy since the announcement nearly two weeks ago that Dennis Weinreich had left Pinewood Studios, where he'd been working since his Videosonics audio facility closed after going into voluntary liquidation in May 2008.
Weinreich said when he joined Pinewood the situation was "kind of like having the best job in the world [Videosonics] and losing it, then finding there was an even better job". Speaking this week he says the decision to leave that even better job was "very much my own".
Part of this was, he explains, because he had left Videosonics before it closed officially. There were also more practical considerations, like the journey from his home in north London to the studios in Buckinghamshire and the slight culture shock of being in his first salaried job since 1968. But the situation with his former company, which he set up with his wife in 1984, was still on his mind.
"I'd been working for myself and setting my own agenda," he says, "so when I was offered the job at Pinewood I discussed it with my family and agreed that if I wasn't still loving every bit of it after two years I would reconsider."
In the last few years of Videosonics Weinreich had been looking at how to incorporate other areas of post into the facility's activities to create a more integrated offering. While Videosonics was in voluntary liquidation Weinreich went to see Pinewood's chief executive, Ivan Dunleavy, for advice about handling the end of the company. The upshot was Dunleavy asking him to join Pinewood and implementing similar integration measures, only on a larger scale and with everything already on site.
"When they hired me there was a job that needed doing," Weinreich comments. "The audio post department had a great reputation but didn't do much else. All the departments - picture editorial, TV Studios, as well as the film stages (audio) - operated autonomously. There was a traditional reason for that but what was really needed for today's market was for someone to expand on what was there and reach out so that each division did more as part of the Pinewood group as a whole."
The goal, Weinreich says, was for a client to walk on to the Pinewood lot with a script and walk away with a finished production. To achieve this the lines of communications between departments were opened up and new technology implemented for specific projects.
Weinreich worked closely not only with his co-joint MD, Giles Farley, who is now managing director for post-production, but also Nigel Bennett, facility manager for film and television post production, Paul Derbyshire, MD of the television division, and group director of technology, Darren Woolfson.
"My experience at Pinewood was excellent because there are many innovative people working there," comments Weinreich, "and everyone was getting more involved with everything that was going on. When the two years I had set were up in July 2010 it was weird because I felt I'd done pretty much everything I had wanted to do there. It was time to either set new goals or move on."
Weinreich is hearing his name mentioned on the industry grapevine, often associated with big upcoming projects. "I'm not part of anything happening now," he states. "A lot of people have talked to me but I'll probably shy away from big PLCs. Now, Pinewood is a PLC but it's run like a small company, which is what appealed to me."
The post-production market, and the audio sector in particular, has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. It has polarised between boutique facilities with low overheads and only a few salaried staff at one end and big super-post houses or media groups at the other.
Medium-sized companies, as Videosonics was, have been squeezed hard. "A real problem is if schedules change," Weinreich comments. "When a production is put back the facilities are faced with the problem of what to do to fill the gap. If you're small you can pick up three or four small jobs. A big company needs something of substance. So does a medium-size facility but the problem is that the overheads can be almost as great as with a big player, so any shortfall causes difficulties. You need the flexibility to move things around different dubbing suites and sound stages. Somewhere like Pinewood can do that - a medium-sized facility very often can't."
The future for post facilities, Weinreich observes, is more in making money from a lot of activities and skills, not just one core offering as in the past. This, he says, does not always mean being a one-stop shop; the media village approach, as Pinewood has built up - with sound design, picture editorial and colour grading specialists on site and able to work with the in-house facilities - is a model he sees working in a changing marketplace.
As for his own future, Weinreich continues to work with Pinewood in a consultancy role and is enjoying considering his options. Before opening Videosonics he was a mixer and producer in the music business and while he does not necessarily want to get back into that full time he is working on a few projects, including one with lyricist Pete Brown, best known for his association with Jack Bruce and Cream.
Other than that Weinreich is enjoying the chance to relax, after running Videosonics for 24 years and then going straight into two and a half years with Pinewood. "I've got fingers in many pies right now but I'm also taking the opportunity to stop, which is proving very satisfying," he concludes. "But it's unlikely that you'll find me playing golf on the Algarve."