A new world of post-production: Warner Bros De Lane Lea expands into full-service facility

The audio studio has expanded to be a full-service facility. But, as director Cara Sheppard tells Kevin Hilton, sound is still as important as ever
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Cara Sheppard

Cara Sheppard

Name and location count for a lot in business. De Lane Lea is among the best-known names in sound. It has also had, since the early 1970s, one of the best addresses in London, with premises on Soho's Dean Street. The name became grander in 2012 when the audio post-production house was bought by Warner Bros studios, although most people still refer to it by the original moniker. 

Since becoming Warner Bros De Lane Lea, the facility has broadened its operations beyond its core, historic sound offering. It now has a picture service department, featuring colour grading and dailies processing, with a link to Warner Bros UK's film studios at Leavesden, near Watford in Hertfordshire, most famous as the home of the Harry Potter film franchise. 

This expansion in services, which has been partly prompted by the increasing demand from film and television productions for a more integrated, digital and file-based way of working, will ultimately lead to a major relocation for Warner Bros Lea Lane and the building of what is claimed will be the only purpose-built facility in London. Work is already underway on the Ilona Rose House development, with major sections of the West End area between Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road being rebuilt to create premises for shops, bars and "the creative industries". 

The next phase in the growth and history of the 72-year old audio facility is being overseen by Cara Sheppard, the director of Warner Bros De Lane Lea. Sheppard took up her post in 2017, joining from Sky TV, where she had been senior manager for advanced postproduction and innovation and then senior manager of post-production operations. Prior to that, Sheppard had worked at another major London facility, Goldcrest Post Production, before which she had been a freelance postproduction supervisor. 

"One of my goals, when I came to WB De Lane Lea, was to see how we could update the facilities to cater for the diversification of the market that we've been seeing, particularly with the development of SVoD [subscription video on demand]," she comments. "It's creating a new genre of post-production, which has moved on from the days of old media, such as film, when everything was done on the movie lot." 

As Sheppard observes, the film business has evolved beyond the confines of the old studio's system, with big name directors forming working relationships with independent facilities. Some, such as George Lucas and Peter Jackson, have even established their own companies (Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light and Magic in the case of the former, and Park Road Post for the latter), which work with outside productions as well as on their owners' output. 

Television has also proved a lucrative and healthy market for outside post houses, particularly as many big national broadcasters – both public and commercial – have cut back their in-house facilities over the last 30 or so years. The advent of subscription on demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video has changed the broadcast landscape and is doing the same for film and TV production as both companies are now producing their own titles. 

"The film and TV areas used to be very strictly defined," Sheppard says. "Now there is this amazing hybrid where the production values, and sometimes the budgets, are the same. It's not just changed the game of TV but it has created this new genre and raised people's expectations. Because of that other facilities have opened up, including boutique operations, and they are providing the quality while at the same time handling the large volume of material necessary for a 10-part series, which can be up to a petabyte of data."

De Lane Lea was originally founded to meet a need for better audio quality and develop a cheaper and quicker way to dub films. The studios were set up in 1947 by Major William de Lane Lea, a former French intelligence attache, to initially work on dubbing Englishlanguage films into French. The company was known initially as De Lane Lea Processes Ltd and operated out of a laboratory in Soho. This developed the De Lane Lea Process for foreign language dubbing, as well as other audio technologies, including loudspeakers. 

In the 1960s, the studio moved out of the West End and shifted into music recording, with studios first at Kingsway and then Wembley. In 1970 the company moved into its present building on Dean Street, which had previously been a warehouse for the up-market department store, Fortnum and Mason. From then, De Lane Lea shifted back into film and TV re-recording, which remains a core part of the company today. 

The current building houses three Dolby Atmos dubbing stages, one of which Sheppard says is the biggest in London. There are also two ADR stages, 46 cutting rooms, a preview theatre, transfer bay, grading suites, and online editing rooms. Three dailies suites were recently added, which are connected over dark fibre to Leavesden Studios and Dolby's offices in Soho Square. 

The planned facilities at Ilona House, built on the site of the old Foyles bookshop, will include four dubbing stages, one of which will be the biggest Atmos room in Europe, plus an ADR facility, grading suites and 40 cutting rooms. "It will be the only purpose-built facility in Town," Sheppard comments. "There will be bigger theatres and more grading facilities. The foundations are being built around us as we speak and the idea is to have something on the same scale as in Burbank. With the tax breaks on offer, more Hollywood movies are being made in the UK and big studios are coming over here." 

Warner Bros bought De Lane Lea in 2012 but Sheppard emphasises that the studio is not merely an in-house facility for the parent group: "People think we are here just to service WB clients but we are a gun for hire, with many different clients and services." As to the company's commitment to audio, she adds, "It is still a very strong focus for us and as part of the expansion into picture we also opened a new Dolby Atmos theatre. Dolby Atmos is becoming more mainstream and we're seeing more television and streaming content request more technologically advanced audio delivery." 

WB De Lane Lea works on the Avid Pro Tools DAW platform and has a variety of mixing consoles, including Avid S6s and AMS Neve DFC Geminis. Sheppard says the company is starting to think about new equipment. "We have Pro Tools and there might be more S6 desks but that's not to say we wouldn't take products from other vendors," she says. "We have to look at what the market wants and what clients would be expecting us to use. There will be IP networks and we'll be increasing the amount of storage and the speed of connections." 

Building work is due to be complete in 2021, with the new Warner Bros De Lane Lea set to open either in the fourth quarter of 2021 or quarter one of 2022. 

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