Rob Speight discovers how Brighton-based Brown Bear Audio are competing with London’s post-production houses
Outside of London, audio post houses come and go. It has always been a challenge for anyone involved in this area of the production process to in the provinces. Even with new technologies, which allow remote working and approvals, there appears to be an invisible barrier to success — especially when it comes to sound. Having previously run my own audio post house on the south coast for almost ten years, I can personally attest to the challenges anyone trying to compete with the ‘big boys’ will encounter.
Yet, Thomas Dalton and his company Brown Bear Audio are doing just that, the youthful post house is finding its niche, and slowly starting to break down some of the misconceptions of trying to work on audio remotely: “Brown Bear has been running for around three years and we launched the remote side of it in August 2015 mostly due to the fact that a lot of our work was already being done [that way],” explains Dalton.
Based around Pro Tools 12 and Source Element’s ‘Source-Live’ plug-in, Dalton and his team developed a specific workflow process hoping to demystify the process to potential clients. “Before I launched the service I did a lot of work to develop a workflow that was easy for clients and was flexible,” he says. Although Brown Bear’s workflow may not, on the surface at least, look much different to what you may expect, it is the introduction of the real-time, in-sync, direct from the timeline streaming to multiple clients in various locations that the Source Element’s software allows, that made all the difference. Dalton continues: “Source-Live, with the in-sync HD video was only launched around the middle of last year and when I saw and tested it I thought, this is a real game-changer. You couldn’t do that before. And better than that, it worked!”
The introduction of the plug-in, although revolutionary in Dalton’s mind, was not the complete reason for pushing the remote workflow: “Clients now feel like they’re in a session, not necessarily attending a session but watching it live, interacting with me in real-time and making changes as we go,” Dalton enthuses. This interactivity goes a long way to making remote working feel like a collaborative process once more, rather than a lone dubbing mixer making changes for a fourth time from a collection of faceless notes.
“The way that we do it, and this is dependent on budget of course, is that we complete the majority of the work in our dubbing suite down here in Brighton and then we may hire a studio closer to where the client is based for final sign off. Of course if the budget isn’t there we can always fall back to the FTP and QuickTime file approach,” he says.
Dalton is philosophical when it comes to the question of whether Brown Bear’s life would be easier if it was based in London: “It’s a longer process trying to persuade clients of our workflow rather than us not being in London. It’s a fairly new concept and it takes time to convince clients that it will work. You know the mentality, if it ain’t broken…”
These elements coupled with long established relationships between production companies and post houses are a challenge even when one is not trying to promote a somewhat revolutionary way of working. “It’s a slow process and it can take a lot of meetings and several months of explanations and demonstrations, but you end up getting them on board,” Dalton says confidently.
Of course clients are not just drawn by the new way of working, Brown Bear acknowledges and actively promotes the savings that production companies can make by embracing the new possibilities. Remote working is one thing but being able to demonstrate real bottom-line savings to a client (due in part to the lower cost of doing business outside of London) can often help to sway the deal. With Brown Bear’s clientele being split evenly between the capital and Brighton it would seem that they are making significant headway.
“My aim is for us, over the next three to five years, is to be the number one online provider of audio post services. I want people to know that they can get top quality, professional services from us and I’m aiming the company towards more commercials and television,” Dalton concludes.
With Dalton’s drive and the collection of high profile clients, including the BBC and EMI, already in its cave it may not be long before the Brown Bear rises up on its haunches and takes a swipe at the big boys.
Top pic: Thomas Dalton in the Brown Bear Studio. Second pic: Atlantic Heart feature film where Brown Bear undertook full post production duties. Last pic: Project for National Holocaust Centre, online promo with full post-production sound done by Brown Bear