NYC Production & Post News kicks off its Talks from the Top series by calling upon Michael Cioni, CEO of Light Iron. The Hollywood-based company opened its New York offices last year. Light Iron has quickly gained a reputation for delivering gear that enables feature productions — including ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ — to save time and money by employing the latest best practices in metadata management. We’re grateful that Michael, who highly values education, has agreed to write our inaugural report.
A VIEW of NEW YORK from LOS ANGELES
If you’re producing film or television, New York has a lot going for it. However, let me tell you why that rosy view of the production scene faces specific challenges.
I’ll begin with talking a bit about Light Iron, the company I run. It’s headquartered in Hollywood, California, where I have lived and worked for over 10 years. When Light Iron expanded to New York in January of 2013, I relocated to Manhattan to oversee the process of construction, business development, staff hiring, and training for both company employees and the production community.
I expected to identify notable differences between the New York and Los Angeles markets. Now, after living here for all of 2013, I recognize characteristics that make these two major markets distinguishable and somewhat forecastable.
Since California has so much physical infrastructure, some in local government believe that it will always be a desirable place to shoot and obtain post production services. After all, the Los Angeles area includes tens of thousands of employees that can be called upon. Meanwhile, with a tight state budget, government incentives for productions to remain in California are skimpy.
In fact, there is not a post production-specific program in California to encourage customers to use California-based post companies because it assumes this anchored workforce will keep productions local. Which, for the most part, is accurate.
In contrast, New York has taken a different approach than California by offering a significant rebate program to encourage customers to receive post production services in New York. In July of 2012, the 30% post production rebate was both increased and extended to the end of the decade. This is a bold step for New York especially when compared to other production-friendly, tax-incentivized states.
But unlike other opportune cities, New York offers more infrastructure in terms of production resources, talent, stages, equipment rentals, faster rebate returns, and desirable locations. It is largely due to this incentive that Light Iron made the choice to expand into Manhattan. And the tax incentive is working: we’ve filled our bays to capacity after merely 6 months of operation. Because of this, in December we decided to double our total real estate footprint.
But spending what turned out to be a very critical and poignant year in Manhattan revealed another difference between New York and Los Angeles that I find incredibly valuable for the future.
In October of 2012, the largest and most significant sound mixing group in New York, Sound One, closed the doors of its 40-year midtown Broadway offices. Most of the Sound One employees moved on to other groups as competitors quickly saw an opportunity to add noteworthy talent to their own rosters.
But because the better part of the Sound One talent was split up amongst smaller groups, there is no longer a single New York leader that creatives and content owners can get behind for top-end, large volume, sound finishing. Instead of a single sound entity with a dozen rooms, there are now a dozen entities with a single room. In LA, there are a number of major sound entities such as SONY Sound, Universal Sound, Technicolor Sound, Todd-AO, and Formosa Group / Audio Head that routinely provide the talent, technology, and infrastructure required to take multiple major sound projects from start to finish.
Comparatively speaking, without Sound One, New York no longer has an LA equal in the sound market.
The reason this is important is, for the post tax incentive to work, productions need to complete at least 75% of their post work in New York (30% rebate on work done in New York City, 35% rebate on work done in the rest of New York State). If you take a close look at the metrics of post production costs, you’ll realize that the sound mix is one of the biggest line item expenses of the entire post process. In fact, without performing the sound mix in New York, it can be very difficult to meet the 75% local spend threshold the tax rebate requires.
Similar to digital intermediate picture finishing, sound requires a large room, a significant amount of work rooms, often union employees, and equipment that is at least equal to picture finishing. This is why the price of a sound mix is often the same or more than the price of a picture finish.
In addition, Sound One also played host to more than 70 midtown edit bays available for rental by television, documentary, and narrative feature clients. With what could have represented more than 10% of rentable edit space in Manhattan, the closing of Sound One in conjunction with increased post production rebates created a supply/demand deficit in which the amount of available edit bays is exceeded by the amount of productions willing to rent them.
Because of this sudden change, many companies in New York are making changes, including Light Iron NY. We redesigned Light Iron New York’s initial setup in order to create more edit space for eager productions, growing to 10,000 sq. ft. We’ve also noticed that, on average, New York’s dailies infrastructure is running about two years behind what is available in Los Angeles. Mobile dailies and on-set dailies are still a rarity in New York. Recent trade magazine articles, meanwhile, document underwhelming and out-of-date workflows in the New York post service market.
Antiquated processes such as overnight dailies and antiquated formats such as film, video tape, and even DVDs are still popular post production deliverables in New York – contrast that with Los Angeles, where these formats are all but extinct in most top-end infrastructures.
All of these market components create a great opportunity for New York’s post production community to take advantage of. Alongside Light Iron there have been other notable facilities making headway towards building a more robust and modern solution for local productions, including PostWorks/Technicolor and Deluxe’s recent construction of new sound rooms with known talent.
Face it – New York will always be a desirable backdrop for any number of stories. The ultimate goal of this rebate program, I know, is to keep productions local while empowering talent and teams to improve their craft and handle more complex projects at higher volumes. If local service providers identify the solutions needed in New York while recognizing the weaknesses that exist in Los Angeles, there is no reason New York can’t offer content creators the same results they typically get in LA on a similar scale.
Like any business, new opportunities mean there is a new chance to compete. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about New Yorkers, it’s that they hate to lose.