Mike Grieve of Filmlight tells DPme.com about the company’s Middle East plans.
Tell us about Filmlight's business.
FilmLight was launched as a digital film technology company in 2002, with the founders all originating from The Computer Film Company, one of the main pioneers of digital film technology. The company’s aim was to produce products that solved the really difficult problems in digital film imaging. We have done this by creating three class leading products: our Northlight2 film scanner, our Baselight file based grading system, and our Truelight colour management system.
Are you launching any new products at IBC?
We will be showing two new products at IBC. The AatonK film recorder and Truelight On-Set.
FilmLight entered into a partnership with Aaton of France shortly after NAB08. This was about having FilmLight (with its extensive film scanner support team) sell, market, and support Aaton’s forthcoming AatonK film recorder. The AatonK prototype was shown at IBC08 but you will see the first production system at IBC09. What’s different about this recorder is that it is faster, offers higher quality, and is more stable than the existing market leading laser recorder. It also, for the very first time, allows a 4K image to be transferred to film directly, maintaining much more of the high resolution detail than has ever been achievable to date.
At NAB09 Aaton also showed a prototype of a new film cassette system for the AatonK. At IBC09, FilmLight will show the production version of this cassette system, working. This enables the AatonK to work without needing a dark room.
Truelight On-Set is a 1U box + software that runs on a laptop. To understand its use, you need to understand first the problem that it solves. There are two types of the new generation of uncompressed file-based digital cameras. The first type produces a RAW file output and require post processing to create viewable content. Examples are the RED One camera, and the Arri D21. The second type, which Truelight On-Set is designed to work with, produce a real-time output that is viewable, but not necessarily visually correct – it’s usually a log image rather than a normal linear image. When using these types of cameras, the DoP has to be sure that he’s captured the shot correctly, because unlike film cameras, there isn’t the same latitude to recover an under or over exposed shot. To do this, he needs to see the shot visually corrected, showing how it would look if printed back to film and displayed in the cinema. He also needs to add a basic grade to the shot in order to produce dailies that can be used to cut the film / commercial together in editorial.
Truelight On-Set allows a DoP to see the output of his file-based digital camera, in real-time, with the image corrected and showing how it would look in the cinema. It also allows him to modify the primary colour correction, both for the ‘look development’ of that shot, and to make dailies of that shot for editorial. In this way, the DoP can be sure the shot is captured correctly whilst still on-set, and that he hasn’t clipped the highlights or lowlights. It also allows him to create dailies that have more than just a basic ‘one-light’ grade if he desires. Best of all, all the shot colour changes made on the Truelight On-Set box, and the image corrections (LUTs [Look Up Tables]), can be saved and re-used in the final grade.
We hear you’ve had a lot of success in Egypt?
That’s right. Several companies in Egypt have deployed our systems through our Egyptian reseller, Media Wheels.
TimeCode, for instance, is the first DI house in the Middle East to establish DI business based on our full product range of FilmLight : NorthLight , BaseLight and TrueLight.
The company finished grading for major feature films , such as Ibrahim Labyad , Shahrazad and Alf Mabrouk , starring Middle East super stars like Ahmed El Saqqa , Mona Zaki and Ahmed Helmy.
TimeCode uses FilmLight systems for DI work on feature films, commercials as well as colour grading for HDTV series.
SPOT2000 is another post facility that is using our baselight system. With baselight, SPOT 2000 has been able to offer clients the latest in grading and colour management technology.
Our most recent order came from 2K, which will use the baselight system in its Cairo office to provide professional colour grading services to their customers. For 2K, it integrates well with the rest of its systems and allows them to confidently finish any colour grading job because they work on feature films, TV series, TVCs, 2K, HD and even PAL resolution footage.
Is there a big the learning curve with your products?
One week or less is the standard if the colourists have previously worked with a non-linear grading system. Our end users are trained for a week on the systems.
I hear you are planning an expansion in the Middle East?
Yes. It’s one of the few markets FilmLight has not yet addressed and it is a relatively virgin market for non-linear colour grading equipment. Additionally, companies in the Middle East want to adopt new technologies to differentiate themselves and DI is one of these. Also, as the quality and the skill level of the operators in the region has substantially increased, these products have become more appreciated.
Why would your products fare well in this market?
Because DI and non-linear colour grading for commercials and broadcast are far more efficient workflows for file-based post production than video or video tape workflows. All other regions have swapped over to non-linear grading so the Middle East is likely to want to follow suit in just the same way they did for offline & online editing.
Whom are you competing with?
Several players like Digital Vision, Da Vinci, Autodesk and Assimilate.
What is your impression about this market?
This market tends not to be an ‘early adopter’ of new technology. Instead, it waits for the new technology to settle down, for the market leaders to establish themselves, and to then choose the right time to transition their business from established workflows and equipment to the new technology.
The benefit being that other companies in other regions have done the initial ‘customer testing’, and what the Middle East companies are then buying is new technology but ‘tried and tested’. That’s the point we’re at in the Middle East with DI and non-linear colour grading. That’s why we are choosing now to branch out from our initial successes in Cairo to the rest of the Middle East region.
What challenges do you anticipate here?
Training, training, training. If there’s somebody willing to learn, FilmLight will train them to a level that will make them sought after. If the end user wants to maintain old methods of working, then this is usually the biggest challenge for us.
Tell us about some of your international deals.
Sony Pictures, for instance, bought seven Baselight systems recently for a brand new facility on the Sony Film Studios lot in LA. These systems are part of a pioneering high-speed workflow that Sony has developed, designed to handle 2K, 4K and Stereo3D film projects. This is probably the largest DI order for any manufacturer in the last five years.
Nice Shoes, a top New York commercial facility, known for its innovative approach to new technologies and workflows, placed an order for five Baselight systems last year after scouting the market for non-linear grading systems. This triggered several other US companies to do the same.
The interesting part for FilmLight was that Nice Shoes already had an incumbent grading system supplier, who had a non-linear grading system, yet Nice Shoes still chose Baselight.
I suppose the “film” in your company name is no longer accurate?
We started in film but FilmLight is most definitely focused on video and digital file-based workflows.
Our largest market by sector is TV commercials now, and broadcast too is growing at a substantial rate. We still have a significant amount of business coming from film and DI, but with digital acquisition and digital delivery becoming evermore popular, it’s the non-film side of the business that will grow most in the future.
What marketing plans do you have to launch yourself further in the Middle East?
Our plans for the Middle East in the next 12 months involve a series of roadshows across the region. Both Sony and Avid are FilmLight partners, so it’s likely that there will be some joint events. CABSAT 2010 will also be a focal point for FilmLight, and we will be attending in conjunction with our Egyptian partner Media Wheels.