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Audio key to post as Rain sweeps in

London's post-production scene is used to seeing established facilities close and newcomers open. In the latest cycle Pepper Post closed in June, while Rain will launch soon. Kevin Hilton gets a snapshot of the market and hears about the part audio plays in bringing in business.

Soho today is full of buildings that used to be something else. Originally they were built as warehouses, shops or factories. Now they’re offices, clubs, bars or restaurants. Or something to do with TV and films. Post-production facilities still abound but, much like the businesses before them, many famous names have disappeared, their places taken either by new facilities or, more ignominiously, by a coffee shop or bar where media types can get nostalgic and scare young upstarts with tales of Quad video and quarter-inch audio tape. The most recent post house casualty was Pepper, which had gone through a number of different ownerships and commercial problems before being closed for good in June by owners the Future Films group. Pepper was divided into two operations; video editing and finishing, including grading, in the former St James’s and Soho Working Men’s Club building on Greek Street; and audio in old industrial premises on Noel Street, housing a large dubbing theatre and smaller sound suites, including ADR rooms. Unconfirmed reports say Pepper had been struggling in the months leading up to closure. Future Films stated that the facility was not a core business and making it so would have taken a lot of money, time and effort. While Pepper is still up for sale as a going concern, a new post house is being built in Soho in preparation for opening within the next few weeks. Rain Post is backed by the Indian High Ground Enterprises film production and finance group and as yet unnamed American investors. The owners are planning to invest £10 million in the project, starting with a facility on Lower James Street, off Golden Square. The intention is to also open branches at MediaCityUK in Greater Manchester and in North America. Rain in Soho will target TV broadcast, including short-form productions, as well as corporate and medium budget film work. Facilities include a Dolby-spec audio mix room with acoustic treatments designed by Munro Acoustics, AMS Neve DFC console and a Dynaudio C3 7.1 monitoring system, as well as video editing and grading suites. Several former Pepper staff members are among the start-up personnel. In recent years the London post market has shifted from specialist facilities, concentrating on either video or audio, towards all encompassing, full service companies, known slightly derisively as “one-stop shops”. Leading examples of this are the big groups, including Prime Focus and Ascent (Deluxe), and the bigger independents, Envy and The Farm among them. But specialists are still important in post-production, shown by stand-alone audio facilities including Hackenbacker, Boom, Jungle, Grand Central and De Lane Lea carving a niche over the years. More recently there has been a trend for post houses to brand the different departments as individual operations, emphasising that it does have specialised knowledge and is not trying to do everything. An example of this UNIT Post, which started out in 2006 as London’s first all Apple Final Cut Pro (FCP) facility, concentrating on off-line editing. The company has gradually shifted into other areas, including audio. In February this year it moved into new premises on Great Marlborough Street, featuring three Pro Tools suites (Studio 3 pictured), two including voice booths, with space for a fourth. UNIT is divided into The Cut, The Mix, which includes audio, and The Finish. Each department has its own area and branding to give the sense of separate operations. Chief executive Adam Luckwell says this makes sense because the talent and what goes on in each department is very different. “The client also only deals with one in-house producer, so they don’t get the feeling they’re lost in some big organisation,” he says. Luckwell says that a lot of post companies still “don’t do everything”, citing Grand Central and Jungle as audio examples. Market separation is still important, he comments, which is why UNIT has been split into three sections. “We haven’t gone one-stop shop because the best post facilities are niche,” Luckwell states. Goldcrest Post Production has two buildings in London housing 50 cutting rooms, 10 HD/SD offline edit suites and a transfer department, with an audio operation comprising dubbing theatres, ADR, sound editing and, opening soon, Foley. Chief executive Keith Williams says Goldcrest has been “lucky enough to win sound projects on the back of video work” but audio is being promoted in its own right, offering a full range of services. Williams comments that there are few places set up for dubbing big feature films, with the first choice being De Lane Lea. “Pepper would have been second and then us and Pinewood,” he says. “Underneath that there’s a huge choice of rooms, especially when getting into TV work.” Like most in the business Williams does not know whether Pepper will re-open. “If it doesn’t it will be a benefit for us and others in Soho but it will be a bad thing for the UK film industry,” he comments. Rain’s arrival on the scene could restore the balance or change the situation yet again. A full report on the audio facilities and business plans at Rain will appear in the next Audio for Broadcast.