Three years ago UNIT set up as the first purely Apple-based Final Cut Pro facility in the Soho neighborhood of London. Today, with clients such as the BBC, Sky and the Red Cross, UNIT is working hard to stay relevant to the production community. Realscreen spoke with UNIT’s senior account manager, Alex Finch, about working on How Earth Made Us for BBC2 and the expectations placed on post houses for new factual productions.
Can you explain UNIT’s role on How Earth Made Us?
We did all the audio, which is one big part of the job. It was a 5.1 Dolby E delivery. [There were] lots of specifications for ZDF, National Geographic, BBC, and BBC Worldwide in terms of audio, and also we did all the technical delivery. From a finished graded picture we took that and we made that work to spec and all the specifications for ZDF, BBC HD channel, BBCWW. We also did all of the deliverables, hundreds of deliverables for all of those channels. The reason that makes it different is because the BBC internally don’t have, at least in the Media Village, the facilities to do that. We very much slotted in, so their Final Cut system was able to speak to ours and we could do all of the things they required very simply.
The first episode was about fault lines and you had to work quickly to include a portion about the Haiti earthquake. How long does it take to quickly add something to the edit and make a program more timely?
It takes the amount of time that you’ve got. We did a re-edit [the day it aired]. It was a manic day. We took all the information the BBC had in their edit; because we’re [on] Final Cut they were able to come in and re-edit an element of it to add the Haiti input into the show, because obviously that’s so relevant.
We were able to do that within a day. [There was] a lot of pacing around and terrified expressions. Luckily it got there in time and it went out. Without that information it would have sat uncomfortably. It was very important that relevant information was included because it is such a powerful and unbelievable thing that just happened and if the program hasn’t communicated that it would have been unfortunate.
How many of the projects you work on are documentary or non-fiction television?
We do a lot of docs here. We’ve got a wide spread, generally. We do a lot of commercials, a lot of corporate work, a lot of documentaries, and a lot of BBC work, but the talent that we have made that relationship develop. We do a lot of light entertainment too. We’re quite non-genre specific. Why pigeonhole yourself, particularly in the current climate? We have the ability and the skill set to work on all sorts of things.
In terms of documentaries we’ve done lots of stuff here over the last year. We did a thing called Classic Goldie – a DJ in the UK called Goldie did a thing at the British Proms. [This was] a documentary following him writing his own classical piece. That was two 60-minute docs for BBC2. We’ve done [a doc] about Aristotle called Aristotle’s Lagoon, and a documentary called The Art of Dying.
How have expectations for post houses changed recently, particularly when speaking about doc and non-fiction fare?
I think [producers] need to have an awareness of the new technologies. Tapeless is a big thing, working full HD is obviously a big thing, and being able to support HD content because everybody’s moving towards it. There’ll be a switchover soon enough. Being able to work in those modern formats and being able to support them [is important].
We’re a completely tapeless facility here. We don’t move tapes around the building, we just have an internal storage system and it’s accessible from anywhere in the building. That’s the big thing for us. We try to be forward thinking in that way.
We have a big VFX department here. We’re doing stuff for a documentary series at the moment looking at aliens. It’s a VFX wet dream doing that sort of thing. And that’s accessible. It’s lower cost. People can do that now in docs and that’s something we’re looking to get involved in as much as possible.
What is the range of budgets for post for doc projects today?
A lot of places are going in-house now with their post production and obviously the recession does bring a tightening of budgets. From our point of view, because we work on Final Cut, and we use particular types of visual effects software, we’re able to keep costs relatively low. It makes us competitive; it’s not really damaged us that much, and we’re still relevant in terms of costs and in terms of budgets.
If you’re talking a 60-minute obs-doc it can range from anywhere from 8K to 20K [pounds], depending on what it’s shot on, if there’s visual effects involved, what deliverables there are. The thing is you can achieve anything you want if you’ve got the budget.
How Earth Made Us debuted last week with the fault lines episode and runs for five weeks on BBC2.