By Vijaya Cherian
VTR Beirut, the new high-end post production facility, will offer comprehensive HD capability when it opens in September this year. Digital Studio speaks with Youssef Ayoub, managing director of VTR Beirut, and Bob Parsons, technical director of VTR in London.
I|~|spirit.jpg|~|The Grass Valley Spirit datacine from Thomson.|~|If there was one message that came out loud and clear from NAB2004, it is that High Definition (HD) is here and now. Virtually, every exhibitor was talking HD and it spreads across every level of equipment, from the desktop to the top end.
With the HDcam format now available for rent in Beirut, it comes as no surprise that one company has taken the lead to build a state-of-the-art facility to support HD capabilities from the start. VTR Beirut will be operational from the third quarter of this year. All the technical equipment has now been assembled and proven by the systems integrator and has been shipped to Lebanon.
“Beirut has always been a major centre for production, a cosmopolitan city in a country with many locations and attractions that are non-existent elsewhere in the Arab world,” says Youssef Ayoub, managing director, VTR Beirut. “By bringing a top class, full service facility to Beirut, we hope that more productions will be shot here,” he adds.
Interestingly, while HD and digital cinematography are growing in importance in the Middle East and for VTR Beirut, film is still critically important for prestigious projects. Kodak, for instance, has built a lab in the city, and VTR Beirut will include a Grass Valley Spirit datacine from Thomson, widely recognised as the world standard for telecine and film scanning.||**||II|~|spirit2.jpg|~|Youssef Ayoub, MD of VTR Beirut, says shifting post production to home ground will reduce costs significantly for companies.|~|It was the need to use a Spirit that brought Youssef Ayoub and VTR together in the first place. His production company made commercials in the region but had to take the film to Europe for telecine and post. As a regular client of VTR in London they began to investigate the possibilities of a European style facility in the Middle East.
“Producers from the Middle East and North Africa have to take their film out of the region to a facility with a telecine, maybe in London, Milan or Amsterdam,” Ayoub explains. “That has two impacts. First, it means that if they are taking telecine to Europe they may as well take all the post there, which means we do not build up the talent locally. Second, it adds a big cost to each production.”Cost is perhaps the biggest factor that is being addressed with the Beirut facility. On an average, a client spends between 30 to 35% of his advertising budget on post production. “This does not include travel and accommodation,” explains Ayoub.
“Normally, for post production, the producer of the production company, the creative team from the advertising agency and the client need to travel. If the post is being done in Europe or Asia or South Africa, that could be anything from US $15,000 upwards,” he adds.
Redirecting all post to Beirut will mean a significant reduction in the client’s spending on advertising. The main target market will be commercials and music videos, particularly commercials, explains Bob Parsons, technical director for VTR London. ||**|||~||~||~|“Telecine is the biggest driver in this market, so it was important to get this right,” he says. The Beirut facility, like London, will have a Grass Valley Spirit suite, with HD capability, partnered with a Pogle colour controller from Pandora. “If VTR Beirut is going to retain the work that would otherwise have gone to Europe, it has to have a European level of equipment, talent and service.”
Alongside the Spirit will be equipment for finishing and offline, including Discreet Inferno, Flame, Smoke and Avid editing. There will also be facilities for 3D animation using 3ds Max and Maya. In other words, the company claims that it will have everything a client requires for a top-quality project in Beirut.The nature of the market means that this is a completely fresh project. VTR Beirut is not an upgrade of existing facilities but a genuine start-up. “That makes it one of the most interesting projects in the world at the moment,” claims Parsons.
“True start-ups are rare. We have the opportunity to get VTR Beirut right, and it is going to look stunning as well as perform to the level of any post house anywhere in the world.”
The start-up philosophy extends to the staff who will be controlling all this post power. “We are organising a series of training exchanges between London and Beirut,” explains Parsons. “We will be seeding the new facility with some of our ‘stars’ on short-term contracts, who will be helping develop the locally recruited staff.” Right now, VTR Beirut already has 35 staff, most of who are from the region.
The few experts who have come from VTR London will stay on to ensure that VTR’s standards are maintained at its Beirut facility as well. “Beirut has an excellent talent base in technical and creative staff, as well as acting and producing,” explains Ayoub. “Lebanon probably handles 75% of the production for the Middle East, including centres like Dubai. Even when the production takes place elsewhere in the region, other countries use Lebanese talent from directors to gaffers,” Ayoub continues.
“The creative leaders we recruit, like our chief Spirit colourist, will be involved in developing the skills of local operators, and we plan to work with training centres in the region to create courses in post production, so that we are building skills for the future,” he adds. Through this programme of skills development, VTR Beirut hopes to make a major impact on the television industry in the Middle East. “We will bring the standard of post in the region up to international levels,” says Ayoub, “and, because producers will no longer be forced to travel to Europe, we will be reducing budgets at the same time as raising standards. Critically, by having a Grass Valley Spirit DataCine for top quality film transfers here in Beirut, producers will be able to save on post and shoot on film.”||**||