Mid-Atlantic Business Stabilizes and Grows
Where there is change, there is opportunity. Moving from a second-floor
Baltimore row house in tony Federal Hill to the auction-evacuated
12,000-square-foot remains of Big Shot Productions, owner Gregg Landry
says Blue Rock Productions has held its own during the recent hard
times. "This space was a big jump for us, but we felt it was a risk
That risk resulted in a contract to produce and post Just B TV, a
local, half-hour, weekly magazine format show airing on Fox 45. Landry
says the weekly broadcasts have established Blue Rock as a capable
facility. "This is our first time doing both production and
post-production for a TV program," Landry says. "We’re also shooting
and posting some of the commercials inside the show."
At Producers Video, the largest production and post-production facility
in the area since the closing of Flite Three in September, President
Rip Lambert says things are getting back to normal. "Losing the
Baltimore office of Doner Direct was less catastrophic than expected,"
according to Lambert. "Their producers are freelance now and we’re
still doing overflow work for them. Agency business became more active
at the end of September. Their clients know they need to be out there."
But Lambert says continued corporate consolidation and a loss of
corporate headquarters in Baltimore have hurt, so he has repositioned
Producers Video to offer film, HD and video production, post and new
"We’re not seeing 16×9 spots, but we do see it for trade shows and
corporate. If you don’t have a plasma screen at a trade show, you look
like you don’t know what you’re doing," he says. Lambert sees a slow
multi-year recovery, with everyone keeping belts tight.
At Interface Media Group in Washington, D.C., VP Jeff Weingarten says
diversity has been a savior for the past two successful years. "You
have to be willing to experiment with new workflows, new ways of
approaching things," he avers.
Interface’s work for HBO’s K Street, the DV episodic,
executive-produced by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, makes the
point. Based on real political events each week, the shows offer a
fly-on-the-wall look at the process by which politics, policy,
regulation and law are affected by paid consultants.
Weingarten says HBO leased space on K Street and built a set and
production offices. "We put in three offline post suites on location so
they could work during the week and then come back here on Friday so we
could sweeten, mix, add film grain, titles and color correction and
finish each week’s show."
With additional series work for PBS, Discovery, projects for Homeland
Security Agencies, and politicals, it’s obvious that Interface’s board
has been very full.
Having successfully completed the company’s reorganization plan in
April 2003, Henninger Media Services President Rob Henninger is upbeat.
"In 2002 we were good to October," he recalls. "Then, following an
industry-wide trend, business fell off the cliff. In 2003, business was
good mainly due to our focus on full-service production and cable
programming. New contracts are underway with the National Park Service
and the Smithsonian. Additionally, we’re utilizing our GSA schedule for
growth in new markets."
According to Henninger, high definition is reaching critical mass. "We
acquire in HD, shooting 24p to future-proof," he says. "Multiple
distribution formats, including DVD and broadband, are all active
methods for delivering the content that is produced and edited in our
facilities." Interactive applications, Henninger adds, "will combine
with HD so that computer and TV screens will meld. That’s already an
increasing part of our business- a new-media slant to conventional
Two years ago, Atlantic Video accelerated its efforts to transform from
a traditional post-production house to a three-legged facility
comprised of Atlantic Creative, Atlantic Production Services and
Atlantic Post-Production. Growth from that launch led to the need for
new studios in DC and New York.
According to Atlantic’s Marketing and Design Manager, Austin Murphy,
"We shoot Pardon The Interruption and Around The Horn. Both are daily
live-to-tape shows for ESPN. Atlantic Creative has several works in
production, including The Kennedy Project for Discovery and a
documentary for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment."
Atlantic’s other strategy was to reach beyond D.C. Murphy says
Atlantic’s new HD/SD facility is New York’s Atlantic Video-Manhattan
Center. "We’re providing production management, staffing and facilities
for Cold Pizza, a two-hour, weekday, live morning show on ESPN2, and
Sports Reporter 2 Prime Time and Cheap Seats on ESPN Classic."
At 24/7 Editing in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., owner John
Spiropoulos confirms the improving trend. "This past August, September
and October were the best in two years," he says.
Spiropoulos is confident that work will remain up, but with smaller
budgets. "There’s a lot of DVCAM work right now," he says. "The old
$1300 -a-day Betacam budgets just don’t work anymore. In a complicated
shoot where it’s about the talent of the camera operator, or if it’s a
tough lighting or audio job, you’ll need more budget. But you can do a
lot of work with Minicam and DV."
Shooting Days Up In Mid-Atlantic
The number of shooting days logged by a film commission in any area is
often a good bellwether for the local economic health of the industry.
Comparing figures from different localities can be misleading because
of the different ways in which shooting days are reported. Some
localities count a minimally staffed run-and-gun or exterior beauty
shot crew the same as they would a full crew working on a feature film.
Sharon Pinkenson at the Greater Philadelphia Film Office reports that
shooting days have increased over the last two years. Getting an
accurate count is difficult because in Philly, permits for shoots are
not required as long as traffic is not impeded.
Rose Green, executive secretary for the Baltimore Film Commission,
notes that, due to the heavy use of locations by multiple production
companies, some coordination is essential. Permits ranging from $55 to
$85 per week per location must be issued if the shoot takes place on
public or city property. Small productions may only be required to have
a hold-harmless release. Larger productions are required to sign a
production agreement, and the largest shoots are submitted to the City
Board of Estimates, depending on how much city support is required.
Catherine Batavick at the Maryland Film Commission reports an increase
in feature film shooting days from 110 in 2002 to 218 in 2003. TV days
went from 128 to 144 in the same period. Batavick also notes that
producers can apply for a recently legislated sales-tax exemption by
email or fax before the shoot to further reduce expenses.
In Richmond, VA, Mary Nelson, communications manager for the Virginia
Film Commission, reports that while 2002 figures showed an increase
that had continued for the preceding eight years, 2003 business was
off, with activity just beginning to rebound in October 2003.
Spiropoulos says freelance rates for editors are also readjusting. "I
have 20-something Final Cut Pro editors with AfterEffects experience
who will work for $20 per hour," he says, "and more experienced editors
who want $60 per hour. The budget is usually the deciding factor."
Following an unsuccessful sealed-bid auction for Roland House in D.C.’s
Virginia suburbs this past November, the facility’s video operations
will be auctioned by Joseph Finn on January 14. The audio portion of
the facility was acquired by Brian Cunneff and now becomes PostOps.
Think Outside the Box
In Philadelphia, Howard McCabe, President of Blue (formerly Blue Visual
Effects), has profited from pitching outside the market. "We recently
opened a NY sales office in Chelsea," he says.
McCabe isn’t seeing a DVCAM revolution, but finds it useful. "We needed
some exterior boardwalk footage to fit in an HD studio shoot. The DV we
shot needed some color correction and Smoke work, but it worked
seamlessly. We also have added an Inferno suite for agency work and
high-end graphics. We’re doing a lot of graphics work for Animal Planet
in D.C. "
Like Atlantic Video, McCabe has his sights set on business originating
outside the Mid-Atlantic region. But he’s also found there is still
room to grow locally. "We hired two new designers and another Smoke
editor," he says. "We just finished a 35mm, three-spot campaign for the
( Philadelphia) Phillies and an HD shoot for a Mercedes dealership
association. The Philly market is stronger than it’s ever been. Local
post houses are doing national-caliber work."