(Image (L to R): Dean Mathiesen, manager client services, Company 3, NY; Marcelo Gandola, SVP, Creative Services, NY; and Randy Swanberg, creative director, Company 3’s Beauty division (which specializes in VFX for commercials/videos) enjoy a stunning sunset on Company 3’s rooftop lounge.)
You’d be forgiven for missing Company 3 at first.
There’s no huge logo emblazoned on the West 18th St. building in Chelsea. Unless you’ve been relying on them for telecine, color grading or DI, you might not realize that Company 3—after some 10 years in other digs in Manhattan—has been sitting in fine style on top of a classic but now totally refurbished telco building for over a year.
Company 3 might also be easy to miss at first glance since the Santa Monica-based company didn’t issue the usual flurry of tub-thumping press releases or host a flashy opening party that might bring you to their airy space on the 11-13th floors (the eleventh is occupied by sister VFX company Method Studios. Company 3’s 13th floor rooftop penthouse and deck offers sweeping views of the NY skyline.) Chalk it up to modesty. After all, colorists and those working in DI—much like editors—will often move to the background, ceding the bright lights to directors and producers.
That would be a shame, since there’s some real talent here working on top line projects across features, commercials and music videos.
If you’re not familiar with the name yet, you might take the time to note that Company 3’s president is Stefan Sonnenfeld. Practically since the company’s start in 1997, he became one of the top go-to industry colorists for music videos and commercials. A few years following that Sonnenfeld moved Company 3 into feature-film grading and DI work.
Tom Poole did final color grading on Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Drive” at Company 3’s DI suite in Chelsea. The film won Refn a Best Director award at Cannes.
We’d argue that it’s the DI work that built the reputation of Sonnenfeld and Company 3. No real argument: the company wooed top directors even while it aggressively embraced the latest color manipulation technologies. Color grading had started in the 1980s with devices such as the da Vinci Classic controlling the output of telecines like Fernseh’s FDL 60 and the Rank Cintel. That gave some control over the signal in post, but it was based on analog technology which had considerable limits. Not until the release of the da Vinci 2K in 1998 did computer technology enable colorists to gain enough control and subtlety to inaugurate a new stage of postproduction that was soon christened DI or digital intermediate.
Now a colorist could go beyond tweaking the general colors in a scene to imperceptibly change the colors of a costume or a background, or add lighting where there was none or paint a wall when there wasn’t the time to do it on set.
There’s DI work from a swath of epic-sized productions (Super 8; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; Alice in Wonderland, the first two Transformers films, Star Trek) to smaller scale (Bridesmaids) or even animated (Rango).
Sonnenfeld might equally be regarded for his ability to keep a post facility growing and relevant in an ever competitive, ever changing industry. After beginning as an independent, the company became part of Ascent Media’s wide-ranging empire. Just this past December, Deluxe bought most of Ascent Media’s creative services and media services holdings, including Beast, Method, Rushes, Encore and Level 3 Post. (Sonnenfeld now also holds the title of president of creative services for Deluxe.)
Billionaire John Malone owned Ascent Media, which itself was spun out from previous owner Discovery Communications. But even his fabled management failed to make a profit in 2008 despite group-wide yearly income of over $200 million, according to reports in the Hollywood Reporter and TVB Europe.
(Known for years via the end title “Color by Deluxe” on thousands of feature films, Deluxe actually started in the NYC area in 1915 as part of the Fox Film Corporation in Fort Lee, New Jersey, then a hub of filmmaking. The Deluxe Entertainment Services Group is now a worldwide operation that offers everything from digital intermediates, mastering and subtitling services and digital restoration to media deliverables from Blu-ray to 35mm theatrical release prints.)
This past year, Sonnenfeld’s ability to draw top commercial and music video talent to his facilities was among the reasons he’s garnered a first-look producing deal with Paramount Pictures. Reporting to Paramount Film Group president Adam Goodman, Sonnenfeld and his Sunny Field Entertainment is said to have several film and television projects in development.
Indies & Music Videos
The 18th Street facility has been busy. Besides the many commercials and music videos that have passed through the suites recently, Indie features are picking up, and gaining notice. One example: Tom Poole provided final color grading for Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, which won the Best Director Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. “I flat out loved this smart throwback to the neon lit, stylish and smart genre movies of the ’80s,” says Filmmaker Magazine’s Scott Macaulay in a review. The film releases theatrically this September.
Tom Poole at the controls in Company 3’s DI suite.
Company 3 also recently finished color grading on a project from long-time New York institution the Beastie Boys. Spike Jonze directed their latest music video “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” done up as an 80’s-style action movie like “First Blood”, according to press information. Company 3 Colorist Tim Masick, working closely with Jonze and DP Wyatt Troll, handled dailies and final color on the video.
Company 3’s rooftop lounge offers great views in a relaxed setting.
There’s a Method to their Management
Down a floor in the same 18th Street building sits Method Studios, one of Deluxe’s visual effects divisions. Earlier this year, Deluxe combined Method Studios—which has four locations, including New York and Los Angeles—with its CIS Visual Effects division. The multiple facilities will be networked to enable shared work. Sonnenfeld was quoted in the Hollywood Reporter as noting that the integration would provide clients with “a broader range of visual effects services with an integrated workflow across Deluxe’s multiple locations.”
Integrating Deluxe’s many divisions over high-speed links is part of the newly configured company’s strategic plans. Tapping into Deluxe’s wide-flung operations also enables Company 3 to offer Virtual Services. Virtual Services is an amalgam of technologies that allows Company 3 colorists—whether in Santa Monica or New York—to collaborate, for example, with sister company Beast Editorial in Chicago to offer live grading sessions. Maximizing resources makes sense: a smaller market facility like Beast can offer access to name colorists, while Company 3 has a way to spread the salaries of top talent across a wider group of clients.
You’ll get a laid back vibe from Company 3’s reception area.
Chicago’s virtual outpost is situated in Beast’s recently installed Smoke room, which features a calibrated high-res monitor along with a video-conference system. This combo allows the Chicago creative’s feedback to reach the Company 3 colorist in L.A. or New York without delays or worries about possible color discrepancies. This setup and technology is also used for streaming in visual effects from Method Studio.
Hourly rates on the Virtual Telecine are said to be the same as a regular telecine session and competitive to rates charged in the Chicago market, with the service also on tap at Deluxe-related outposts in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Minneapolis, Tokyo and London.
“We do a lot of virtual sessions between East Coast and West Coast,” says Jackie Lee, Company 3′s vice-president of feature services. “We have outposts around the country and overseas. Facilities use our decoder in each location so that everything is secure during transmission. This now means that clients simply don’t have to worry about the expense of flying to LA, New York or London.”
Company 3 and Method Studios are now offering an integrated workflow for stereoscopic 3D feature film digital intermediates. Method’s dedicated stereography division enable fixes of left/right “eye” alignment from stereoscopic cinematography.
Working together, Company 3 and Method Studios will be able to offer a “uniquely streamlined approach” that integrates the work into the DI process, says Steven Shapiro, lead stereographer and director of software and pipeline at Method Studios. If alignment issues that occurred on set are discovered during the color grading process, notes Shapiro, the closeness of the two facilities—whether in the New York or Santa Monica facility—allows a stereo technician to view the problem footage in Company 3′s DI theater, and “ascertain the problem, fix it and drop it back into the timeline while the color grading session continues.”
Deluxe is serious about getting a strong position in other aspects of stereographic post; it recently purchased 2D-to-3D stereo conversion specialist StereoD.
Joining up with Sister Companies
We spoke with Marcelo Gandola, SVP, Creative Services, NY. Gandola oversees Deluxe NY, Company 3 NY, Beast NY, Method NY, EFILM NY and Riot Atlanta and is keen to make use of the expanded infrastructure he has to work with under the Deluxe umbrella. Besides the top-rung feature work, Company 3 has strong roots in commercials and music videos. “We probably touch more than 50-percent of the Super Bowl commercials in one-way or the other,” says Gandola. “I think we probably touch 90-percent of all high-end music videos. In fact I think we’re one of the few if only facilities that works on high-end feature films, high-end commercials, and high-end music videos and manages to do those really, really well.”
The infrastructure is a given, Gandola adds, you just have to have that. “But Stefan has set a real high standard for talent, and we believe it’s that that sets us apart from everyone else.”
Company 3, which sponsors an annual party for Tribeca Film Festival contestants, awards the winners post services worth many thousands of dollars.
Reaching Out & The Post New York Alliance
Community building shows itself in various ways. Company 3 is not only an active sponsor of programs directly related to their business industry event–the Tribeca Film Festival and Independent Film Week–but Stefan Sonnenfeld and Missy Papageorge (the couple started Company 3 together along with colorist Michael Pethel) are also active in other areas of the industry. Earlier this year they were honored by Scenarios USA at its REAL DEAL Awards & Gala for supporting an educational initiative that “facilitates a unique partnership between teenage writers from marginalized communities and professional film directors to produce short films for national distribution.”
For his part, Gandola has worked to build the Post New York Alliance (PNYA) and currently holds the post as the organization’s first president. As the PNYA statement has it on their website, this association of film and television postproduction facilities and labor unions operating in New York “coalesced around the belief that a unified industry presents the post production community better opportunity to develop and promote public policy that benefits the film and television industry as a whole.”
What that translates into is that this young organization has already sent a busload or two of its members to Albany to help secure the passage of the new Empire State Film Post Production Credit. As the first legislation of its kind in the country, it offers a 10-percent tax credit on postproduction costs, as long as a project spends 75-percent of its total postproduction budget in New York. The film or TV project doesn’t even have to shoot in New York, only do post work here.
“It’s an inspiring time in New York, especially on the feature film side for postproduction,” says Gandola. “With all the tax incentives, the talent base, and the infrastructure, New York is becoming an even better place for filmmakers to produce, to use for backdrops, and now increasingly for postproduction.”
That sort of vision isn’t something you’d normally associate with a top facility that must stay competitive in an ever-changing post environment. But that’s what you’ll hear. “We want to build the community up, and educate politicians as to what postproduction actually means and how it’s different from production in its needs,” says Gandola.
That includes education too. “We also want to be involved with the school systems, including SUNY and CUNY,” says Gandola. “PNYA hopes to build a pipeline of young talent outside of the traditional film schools–where [the focus is] mostly writing, directing and film production–and instead emphasize postproduction and visual effects creation. We even think we can have a farm-team like system, and grow these specialties here, which will help secure the long term growth of postproduction in the New York market.”
Company 3’s Jackie Lee and Marcelo Gandola before their talk at the Tribeca Film Festival.
A Meeting with Jackie Lee
Jackie Lee, Company 3′s vice-president of feature services, is a voluble, energetic force in the facility. I had a chance to talk with her earlier this year about Company 3’s quiet start, why the company is more a boutique than outsiders might think, and other questions to help situate this recently reinvigorated facility. Here are her edited comments.
(I hadn’t heard much about Company 3’s new facility. Was this a soft opening?)
We haven’t had a big opening, but we have had a lot of parties, so yes, you could call it a soft opening.
We have already had many different groups, directors and so on, come through the facility on a regular basis (since the fall of 2010).
It actually took three years to construct the new space, which is in the old Verizon building. The building owner had financial problems so they had to stop construction for a while.
Company 3 had already operated for 10 years in the New York post community. It wasn’t really a smaller space, but the same size. But we didn’t have Method as part of our operations at that point. Nor did we have a big DI theater.
(How are things shaping up so far?)
It looks like a good year for us with five or six independent features in-house already. There’s the Tribeca Film Festival too, of which we are big supporters. We gave out awards at the festival for best cinematographer and best new director. The winners each received $50,000 worth of posts services from us.
(Is this a good time for a big, high-end facility to open, as many previous high-end facilities were brought down by, among other things, disruptive technologies that allowed smaller boutique operations take much of that business?)
We strive to be the best there is and we want to stay at the top level. Those of us who work for Company 3 don’t feel like we work for a big facility at all. People from the outside might think that we’re a large company and that we do so much, but we think of ourselves as a boutique. We always have. There’s only a limited amount of shows we can do a year.
For example, we have one (DI) theater here in New York and three in our facility in Santa Monica. That is much less than our competitors traditionally had.
We have a small team too, while we are very flexible in the way we work. We react to the community and to our clients so that we can give them what they want, what they demand. We make every effort to keep up with technology and with workflows.
I wouldn’t say that we are always the first ones who always come up with a new concept, but we certainly are within the top two or three companies that lead the way in terms of workflow, new ways of doing things. Company 3 is all about efficiency. That’s how we can do independent films in the New York market, because we are efficient.
As with many creatives, Halloween is considered a major holiday, and fully celebrated by the locals.
([Cont’d] Can you give me more detail?)
Well, we don’t have a big team, but we’re always busy. We work 24 hours a day, yet you can come to Company 3 and be in and out in one hour. We’re not a facility that insists you book an eight-hour day every single day or whatever it is like some other facilities. We are flexible that way.
We have a single client contact (for each job). You go to that one person and they take care of everything for you.
Once you start working here you get to know that team intimately. Our DI team for example, consists of about 10 people. So in house we have producers, a conform artist, colorists who do both features and commercials, people in the back room to scan film, engineers that set everything up, and data people. That’s about it, maybe 50 to 60 staff in total in New York.
That includes Method Studios, which is on the 11th floor. We work on many projects together. Again, it’s efficient to have them in the same building. If you’re working on a feature and have something that needs to be cleaned up or have a visual effects shot, we can deal with it right here and now.
(How do you see the New York market at this point?)
I think production is going to increase, and we’re ready for that. Thank goodness. We’re in a new space at the right time and everything is up and running.
Many of you might be surprised that Company 3 (the name might be from that of the original three founders, Papageorge, Pethel, and Sonnenfeld, but a spokesperson denies this) has been in business for over a decade in New York. The company’s recently opened 18th Street facility, however, with its airy luxe style so echoing that of high-end LA houses, adds a level of distinction to the post scene. Face it, many New York facilities struggle with tight spaces and tight budgets that don’t allow much stretching room.
But of course there has to be talent to back up all that interior design. Company 3 has it in spades.
If you would like to arrange a tour of the facility, please contact Marcelo Gandola at mgandola [at] company3.com.
But What if You’re Hungry?
If you’re visiting or working late night sessions at Company 3’s Chelsea digs, you can find some great restaurants and bars in the vicinity to solve those food and drink urges. Here are a few of our suggestions.
Bar Veloce 176 Seventh Ave. (near 20th) offers “well-crafted panini and tramezzini” that can be “washed down with easy-drinking wines” according to New York magazine.
For that caffeine connection, try Café Grumpy 224 W. 20th St. between Sixth and Seventh Ave. This local favorite offers a variety of single-origin roasts from North Carolina’s renowned Counter Culture Coffee, each ground and brewed to order using Grumpy’s unique Clover high-tech brewer.
Le Zie 172 Seventh Ave. (near 20th) Le Zie delivers, so that’s one more reason to have this “Venetian trattoria’s” tremendous spaghetti and meatballs (“Best in Manhattan” says Newsday/NY Press), fish dishes, or just about any of the lunch specials.
Socarrat Paella Bar 259 W. 19th St. between 6th and 7th Ave. Socarrat offers traditional tapas (gambas al ajillo and patatas bravas) as well as chef Felipe Camarillo’s paellas and fideuas (the latter substitute Spanish noodles for rice) in a casual communal-table setting. Paella Bar next door offers tapas, Serrano ham, artisanal cheeses and a large selection of things Portuguese to drink.