Move Expands Local Hero's Service Portfolio While Giving Real by Fake a Stronger Hollywood Presence

Montréal’s production, post and VFX specialist Real by Fake is acquiring Santa Monica post house Local Hero, giving Real by Fake a Hollywood presence and broadening Local Hero’s portfolio of service offerings.

“We’ve really expanded the portfolio of services and products that we can offer to our clients, and we’ve expanded our footprint physically into Montréal as well as our capacity,” Local Hero CEO Steve Bannerman told StudioDaily. “And, by the way, we also have an entity in Atlanta — so we have the ability to offer tax credits in California, Canada and Georgia.”

VFX will continue to be offered under the Real by Fake brand, while all other post services will be offered under the Local Hero banner. Marc Côté will continue as president of Real by Fake, running the company’s Canadian operations, while Bannerman remains in place as CEO of Local Hero, running U.S. operations. Local Hero founder and Head of Imaging Leandro Marini will continue to manage creative services and customer support.

We talked to Côté, Bannerman and Marini about the acquisition, the two companies’ international bi-coastal workflow, and the business climate for VFX and post in the era of peak TV.

 Local Hero founder and Head of Imaging Leandro Marini, Real by Fake President Marc Côté and Local Hero CEO Steve Bannerman

From left: Local Hero founder and Head of Imaging Leandro Marini, Real by Fake President Marc Côté and Local Hero CEO Steve Bannerman
Local Hero

StudioDaily: Real by FAKE and Local Hero worked together on Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects. Was director/EP Jean-Marc Vallée the matchmaker for you two?

Marc Côté: No, not at all.  Since the beginning of 2000, I’ve taken care of post and VFX work for him. When Big Little Lies started our relationship with HBO, I wanted to find a place in Los Angeles that would make HBO comfortable working with us in Montréal. I wanted to make sure the relationship would be seamless and simple. That’s where I met Local Hero.

Steve Bannerman: It was kind of like we met on and fell in love.

MC: Since then, we have started exploring ways to get a remote connection, so we can be working from Montréal or from L.A. and be able to see content in real time — either editorial or color or any other creative portion of the workflow. The connection was bidirectional, so we were able to show things to the HBO folks at any moment they wanted. Local Hero is just two blocks away, so it’s very close for them. They could access a color session or check out what was happening in the editorial suite. And, after two of these big shows, we’re pretty much set up.

StudioDaily: What’s the business strategy behind bringing both of these companies together? Is it economies of scale, or just being end to end in production and post-production?

MC: The integration from end to end was already in place in Montréal, but having a place in Los Angeles where we could also offer the exact same thing is an advantage. The culture of Local Hero matched our culture, and I realized Local Hero could benefit from our expertise in VFX and sound. It made a lot of sense for both of our companies — for us to expand to L.A., and for them to expand their services.

SB: From our perspective, Fake gives us a significant amount of scale in VFX and a pretty large company in Montréal, at a time when more of our business is starting to turn toward VFX. We know we can offer our clients access to film and television tax credits out of Montréal. It gives us a tremendous advantage when we’re trying to win business in a competitive market.

Leandro Marini: The moment the deal was signed, we were in heavy production on lots of shows and movies. It was really not much more than, “High five! Now let’s go back to work.” It became obvious that, if we were one entity, we could do end-to-end on a scale that the clients really wanted. A lot of my clients and Marc’s clients would splinter dailies and VFX and DI and, to be honest, I’ve had this vision that finishing and VFX were problematically separated in the industry. You’re doing a grading and VFX come in with three days to go before the premiere of the film or show, and they don’t look good or the continuity’s wrong. For years, we thought we should have our own VFX department, so a director could sit in the theater and say, ‘Oh my god, we need this visual effect’ and then go down the hall and sit over the shoulder of an artist, say, “Move it to the left!” or “Move it to the right!” and then see it on the big screen. We were doing it to some extent before this deal, but now we have a world-class FX team merged with the DI. That’s been my dream for many years.

MC: I’m trying to position us as a producer. We want to seamlessly integrate VFX, to make them a solution for the most demanding directors and locations and situations, so we can make sure we cover the creative aspects of what they need without spending too much money. We constantly evaluate what they need as they shoot, prior to shooting and after, using our expertise with everything in post.

Big Little Lies VFX breakdown
Real by Fake

LM: I know a lot of people say that, but you’ve got to see the behind-the-scenes of Big Little Lies Season 1. There are a tentpole feature’s number of VFX in Big Little Lies — 1400 effects shots — and they’re not simple paint-outs. Every single one of them is invisible. One of the main locations is a cafe at the end of a pier where Reese [Witherspoon] and Nicole [Kidman] are sitting outside and running around. When we show the behind-the-scenes of Big Little Lies, every one of the filmmakers we showed it to was like, “That was a green screen?” The whole thing is on a stage [not on the water]. I don’t think there’s any way to tell. People say, “What? How is that even possible?” It was designed by Marc on set, not as an afterthought. That’s a real-world example of what he’s talking about — being part of the production team. He is the producer on those projects, bringing VFX that you would never know were VFX.

Local Hero's DI theater

Local Hero’s DI theater features a 25-foot screen, a Barco DP2K-P Projector and a Dolby-certified 7.1 surround system for color grading, VFX review, and final DCP picture and sound sign-off.
Local Hero

The VFX industry faced a reckoning in 2013, when Rhythm & Hues completed Life of Pi, filed for Chapter 11, and won the visual effects Oscar, all in the course of about six months. I was wondering how the economics have changed since then. These television programs require truly seamless effects work, because if you’re watching Reese Witherspoon talking to Nicole Kidman and thinking, “Is that a green screen?” you’re already not listening to the conversation. You don’t have as much wiggle room as you might on a superhero film, where everybody knows certain things are effects, because you’re really trying to conceal the nature of it. Has the amount of work required for television become a positive business influence?

MC: Real by Fake almost went bankrupt in 2008. That’s where we decided to go and find another business model, where we could integrate ourselves as a producer, not just as a VFX service at the end of a process where we would get beat up because they didn’t have a budget. We set up a project called Dallas Buyer’s Club and accomplished what we should have been doing in 40 days in 21 days, by giving the director ways to recolor in post instead of lighting on set and to do everything handheld instead of using dollies. All of this was part of the new approach and new design. But TV right now is lucrative for what we’re doing. Big Little Lies is like making three movies one after the other, and it’s the same thing for Sharp Objects. For us, it’s an excellent position. Right now, since we had a great experience in film, we can exploit the UHD world, where we work not in video but in frames. We don’t address it as television material, but really as a feature.

LM: I’m noticing a trend where VFX is the way films and TV are made now. It’s only gaining momentum. The feature tentpole world is obviously basically one big visual effect with a bunch of live-action elements in it. But these invisible effects and set extensions and changing things that are not supposed to be there, nowadays you’re on set, looking down Broadway, and everybody is going, “Oh god, that’s all wrong back there,” and you’ve got to make a split-second decision about whether it’s more expensive to shut this day of shooting down and do a company move down the block, or to replace that background. We have crossed that threshold, I believe, where it’s less expensive to replace backgrounds. Marc has a really interesting philosophy about backgrounds. He has said in the past that things that the actors are touching are very expensive to replace. Things beyond 20 or 30 feet from the actor get into a grey zone where you could do it as a visual effect and it might be on the same budget level of doing it for real. So if you think about it, everything past 20 feet that an actor isn’t touching you could do as a visual effect and it wouldn’t really impact the budget or the quality of what you’re seeing. That’s a game change. So we’re just moving, as an industry, to a way of making films where those kinds of invisible FX are just commonplace. They’re how you make movies and TV.

And it makes what used to be the VFX company that had a specific, limited job in post more integral to the entire process of conceiving and executing a shoot.

MC: I work in harmony with the art directors and the people who find the locations. My role when we do scouting is to find the cheapest way to make it happen for production. So the first thing is location. The sandbox where the actor will end up working needs to be set at the beginning as cheap as possible for production, and also to give the exact emotion they need for them to work. That’s what we have accomplished in our last four or five productions with Jean-Marc Vallée — to minimize the time the actor has to wait for any changes we do on set. So we’re spending more time on set with the actor. That’s the only moment we can have them, and we want to have their performance. That’s the reason why we’re watching. We’re trying to find the essential, and to bring all of our knowhow and technology and expertise to the production.

Local Hero's kitchen

Local Hero’s kitchen: the whole facility is designed to be well-lit and relaxing.
Local Hero

So that’s one of the reasons it makes sense for companies like yours to combine, because increasingly you’re moving across processes, rather than working on individual tasks.

LM: If one company is doing all the tech on a movie — all the dailies, the edit suites, the sound, all the VFX, the design of the VFX, color delivery, archival — you’re starting to look more like a production partner than just a couple of vendors. That’s the trend that’s happening.

SB: It used to be that when we were bidding on shows, we would immediately go to IMDb and make certain assumptions about the budget of that show based on the actors in it. You can’t do that anymore. Even shows with well-known actors are budget challenged, and they want to put as much of the money in the budget as they can above the line to get those actors in those shows. So it’s important to keep the budget down and also offer the tax credits — in many cases, tax credits are the only way these shows get made. Having that combination of being a post producer that gets involved before they start shooting a single frame and then what we do after the fact in post and taking advantage of tax credits is very powerful. There’s so much synergy between our two companies.

MC: Our goal is not to take control of the production as producer, but is really to serve production as much as we can. To make sure we give them all of our  tools with all of our knowledge so we can accomplish a common goal — to arrive at the perfect TV series or the perfect film. By having this connection between Montréal and L.A. we can involve the producers in all the creative aspects, work with them, and make sure the decision-making is fully transparent and easy to accomplish. We don’t want to take over their job. We want to work with them to accomplish the best product.

Thanks for taking the time to fill us in on the acquisition. Is there anything you want to add that we haven’t discussed yet?

LM: Just a couple of specific examples of our day-to-day and how it works. Right now, we are delivering a really fun Japanese samurai epic called Samurai Marathon. It’s not the biggest movie we’ve ever worked on and not the smallest, but a fun one. Very VFX heavy, as you can imagine — backgrounds, swords, arrows, people getting their heads lopped off, things like that. It’s a fun movie. That is a movie where, like Big Little Lies, Sharp Objects, Home Again and all kinds of things we’ve done, we were involved from day one. We managed everything and we designed every single visual effect. The color is happening right now here in L.A., along with the VFX supervision, but pretty much every pixel is being pushed in Montréal. It’s all happening seamlessly. Every morning, the director comes in and sees 35 new shots that get dropped into the DI. And even though it’s happening in two locations, no one would even notice that it’s not being done right down the hall. On the other hand, Sharp Objects was kind of the inverse of that. Almost all the work was done in Montréal, but Jean-Marc Vallée spent a lot of time here in L.A. cutting the show, and all of HBO’s reviews and interactive sessions were here. We’ve had a lot of experience recently, truly doing the two-office, two-country thing, and it is working very smoothly.

MC: And we will probably announce, in a week or two, our next project. I think it will be amazing.

Local Hero:
Real by Fake: