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WB De Lane Lea balances technology and talent

Now firmly under the Warner Bros. banner, De Lane Lea is targeting TV work as well as features after a recent upgrade. Director of operations Helen Alexander discusses work, the need to keep on top of technological trends, bringing on new talent and plans for the future.

Some companies have a solid but hardly spectacular history. Others have a more colourful background. One of the big names in UK audio post-production, De Lane Lea, was founded in 1947 by a former intelligence major initially to dub English-language films into French.

After two moves round London and a successful dalliance with music recording in the 1960s, the facility established itself during the 70s in editing and dubbing for TV and film at its now familiar premises on Dean Street in Soho.

It closed due to a fire in 2009 but reopened and then was bought by Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden three years later. Under the shield of the Hollywood studio Warner Bros. De Lane Lea, as it is now branded, has benefited from what director of operations and business development Helen Alexander describes as “significant investment in technology and talent” into the facility.

The main building has been redecorated, with new suites added and 18 cutting rooms in Royalty House next door, but, says Alexander, business is not that different to before: “The clients we deal with haven’t changed in the slightest, we still work with all the major studios, a lot of the leading broadcasters and many of the independents.”

Alexander adds that the staff base is “more or less the same” as it was before the acquisition, allowing for some departures and new arrivals. Alexander had been with De Lane Lea as finance director up to February 2010. She rejoined in March 2013 and is now responsible for the day to day running of the facility, reporting directly to Warner Bros. in Burbank. Alexander explains there is a “dotted line” between her and Daniel Dark, senior vice president and managing director of Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, which owns De Lane Lea.

“We are definitely the post-production arm of the longer process, starting with filming at the studios and then bringing the post here,” she explains. “But equally they [Warner Bros.] understand we do all the studios – Sony, Fox, Universal, which is exactly what Leavesden does and what happens in the States.”

The stated aim is to make the UK WB facilities on a par with those in the US in terms of quality and so money has been spent, Alexander explains, “to make De Lane Lea and Leavesden the places where people want to come”. The latest round of investment in Soho has seen the addition of 18 Pro Tools HDX and HD native workstations with D-Command control surfaces and a range of plug-ins. Improvements have also been made to the MADI routing and ADR streaming set-ups.

Of the new facilities ADR 1 has been designed around the more American way of replacing dialogue, with a live room where actors and voice artists work to images on a screen while the engineer records tracks in the control booth next door. ADR 2 is based on the British way of working, where the operator at the mixing desk is in the same space as the talent. Both stages feature 24-fader D-Command control surfaces connected to Pro Tools HDX1 recorders.

Another new suite is a 5.1 TV pre-mix suite, built into the old Studio 5. “We’re planning to pick up on the broadcast side,” Alexander comments, pointing to other TV projects including The Politician’s Husband, Game of Thrones, Veep and da Vinci’s Demons.

The second, 10-episode season of the latter was mixed in 7.1 by Doug Cooper in Stage 2, which features a 24-fader AMS Neve DFC Gemini console with Encore2 automation and a 24-fader D-Command. Stage 1 (pictured above) has an 80-fader DFC Gemini, has a 64-fader version, while Stage 4 houses a 24-fader D-Command. Alexander says an upgrade is planned at some point for De Lane Lea’s DFCs; like the move to HDX that will be part of the facility’s policy of keeping up with the latest trends and changes in technology.

“It’s an ongoing programme,” she explains, “because obviously manufacturers keep producing the next generation of machines. One of nice parts about being part of Warner Bros. is that we understand that we need to keep on top of the game technically, so there is an ongoing investment.” Another upgrade was due this month, in addition to improvements to the screening room.

As well as putting money into technology and equipment, Warner Bros. is also throwing its considerable financial weight behind new and young talent in the TV and film industries. The first season of its Creative Talent scholars, apprentices and trainees programme was announced in December; the company is collaborating with a number of leading training institutions, including the National Film and Television School, the University of Hertfordshire and Ravensbourne College. Among the scholars is Sam Hughes, studying for a MA in Post Production with Sound Design at the University of York.

“We’ve taken responsibility to look after people, the talent, and there are definite advantages and career opportunities of being behind the Warner Bros, shield rather than a small private company that couldn’t afford to do that,” Alexander says.

The drive to find and nurture new talent in audio coincides with the public realisation of what sound can bring to a TV show or a film such as Gravity, which was mixed in 5.1 and 7.1 at De Lane Lea. “It’s quite exciting, sound design and sound effects,” Alexander observes. “And as sound develops into 5.1, 7.1, even in gaming, and right up to Atmos, people are understanding how much more the sound can add to the atmosphere of a film and it’s becoming recognised.

We need to recognise that there are a lot people who can do it but they tend to be from the freelance market and so can’t afford to take on an apprentice or a trainee. Warner Bros. is able to step in and can invest in the whole thing. De Lane Lea as done that in the past through its runners programme, where people work their way up, and Warner Bros. understands that’s the best way.”