Post production house LipSync’s managing director Peter Hampden and financial director Norman Merry talk about the benefits of investing in films at the production stage and working with the US studios.
Soho-based post production company LipSync started 25 years ago doing trailers and TV commercials, going on to become one of the leading post-production houses in the UK.
Since 2006, LipSync has been investing in film projects, coming on board as an production partner on features alongside the likes of BBC Films, Film4 and the UKFC, which also ensures that they get to do the post production work.
Upcoming films on the LipSync slate include Simon Curtis’ My Week With Marilyn, Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, Steve McQueen’s hotly awaited second feature Shame and Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz. The comapny has also just come on board to do the post production on Madonna’s hotly awaited W.E, with other post work including Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, Bel Ami and Ironclad.
The company has 72 full time members of staff, and counts Warner Bros, Universal, Fox, Paramount and Sony among its clients.
You started investing in films in 2006 and have recently come on board as an equirty partner on a number of projects includingMy Week With Marilyn.What’s in it for you?
PH: It was becoming quite obvious that producers were struggling to raise money, and from our point of view it is good to talk to producers very early on in the process. That’s how it started and it identified a need. It’s always difficult to raise money for films and what we can offer sometimes really helps.
We’ve been doing it for 3 or 4 years. The first one we did was a film called Cashback, which kind of lived up to its name. We’re not naïve enough to think it will always be that way, but we were lucky on the first one!
As a “production partner,” how much creative input do you have into projects?
PH: In terms of financing, we try not to get too involved in cast approvals or final cut approval, only because we are sympathetic to producers, they have so many investors who have those rights anyway, the last thing they need is another set of people on their shoulder. So we are happy to advise and give our opinion, they often value our opinion on the technical side.
NM: We read the scripts, look at the budgets, and in particular from the point of view of special effects we get very involved with the scripts and talk to producers and directors about how they intend to capture certain effects, whether they are going to do it on camera, or afterwards, with us on the computer.
PH: We wouldn’t go to producers and say, ‘we don’t think that scene works,’ apart from the visual effects point of view…
NM: Although we do sometimes suggest alternative ways which may get the same result, but for less money.
How do you pick the features you work on?
PH: In the past, we’ve been quite picky in terms of what we get involved with. Now we seem to be working with a lot of very established producers who have great track records and there is not that much thinking that has to be done. It’s looking at the whole package, who is producing, who is starring, what’s the budget, what’s the post-production budget.
NM: Also we have repeat business. We’ve done two films with Stephen Woolley, Made in Dagenham and How To Lose Friends And Alienate People. And with Trademark Films, the latest being My Week With Marilyn. Some budgets work better for us than others. If it’s a very VFX-heavy film, we can get involved a bit more. We tend to look for the £4-7m British films.
How do you stave off the competition from other post production houses?
PH: It’s hard enough to win a new client, so to keep them is very important. And they do come back. I think it’s because we have a reputation for delivering. We do what we say we are going to do.
We are also privately owned, which is unusual. Most of the post companies are owned by foreign entities. I think producers like the fact that can talk to us, get a quick answer, and if we say we are going to do something, we will.
NM: We have certain advantages of being privately owned that we can take advantage of. It’s a lot better for us as a financial package than for our competitors.
We have the attitude here, that it’s all done in house so if something goes wrong then it’s our issue, we can’t blame anyone else. We take care of it. We try and make it so the producer is looking at creative issues not technical issues. We help early doors with effects, camera decision testing, so they know what they are shooting. And we try to make things easy..simple thing like, on our post production contract, we have just four invoices.
Do you have a good relationship with the US studios?
PH: We have been working for Warner Bros for 20 years..Our first big campaign was Terminator 2. That drew the attention to some of the US studios. Most of the big Hollywood films are posted over in LA. But most of them have significant London offices, they service Europe and internationally. There is a lot of material that comes from London.
NM: 35% of our turnover is studio based. Disney is probably the only US studio we don’t work with, but we are working on that..
From the point of view of the post production sector, do you think the tax credit works in its current form?
NM: The tax credit brings a lot of American films here, they are shooting here and doing a lot of the VFX here, but that doesn’t necessarily help us, because the rest of the post goes back to America. On the other hand you’ve got a spin off, because there is still this centre of excellence in the UK which helps filter down in all other areas.
PH: The Americans seem to be confident and happy with Soho, and long may that continue.
Have you worked much with 3D?
PH: We did a short 3D film, a 10 minute film, for raising the finance. And we’ve done some 3D work for Universal for Despicable Me. It’s not as big in London as it is in Hollywood.
NM: But we have the capability to do it.
Are you feeling confident, looking ahead?
PH: At the moment we are riding on the wave of lots of work and success. It’s really snowballing. Our immediate issue is to manage the work, deliver on time, keep everyone happy. Longer term, we’ve got lots of little ideas that we’ve got planned. Visual and special effects is an area we want to expand. We are also looking at what we offer from a financial investment point of view. We are always looking at ways to make our package more appealing to producers than it already is.