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Post Production Playground

Post Production Playground

Articles - Directing

The Post Production Playground team celebrates a decade of
success in New York.

MovieMaker (MM): You
have a fascinating background, having begun your career producing
documentaries
for the Israeli
Army, then first attending Tel Aviv University and afterward NYU’s
School of Visual Arts before founding Post Production Playground
with your partner, Katia Milani, in 1994. You said you “didn’t
want to go to work for someone,” which is a true entrepreneur’s
sentiment, and you had no outside investment when you started the
company. Katia, who was teaching at NYU, had the post experience,
you had the business experience and together you saw a gap to fill
in the New York indie scene. Since then, I don’t think it’s
overstating the case to say that you’ve quietly become a
New York post powerhouse. What was your vision for the company
nine years
ago, and how has it changed?

Eitan Hakami (EH): We were very naive to think
that we could help independents to finish their projects and
make a living. I mean,
we could guide them throughout the post process (which was a great
advantage for them, since at the time we started there were so
many new ways of posting), but it was very difficult to help them
since
we did not own any machinery. We had great relationships with many
of the post houses in New York, but when they were busy we couldn’t
even get in, never mind get a good price for the services. We started
by buying a Lightworks unit and were able to rent it inexpensively
to an independent production. From there on, we didn’t stop
buying.

Our plans are still changing constantly. We have
to adapt to the market because it changes by the second, and we
keep reinventing
ourselves. We don’t have deep pockets behind us, so we have
to be very careful and creative about any decisions we make. Everything
we do is thought out, I guess sometimes too much, but we are still
here. And we’re here to stay.

MM: When
you began Post Production Playground, the industry was going
through some major changes and moviemakers
were open to new
ideas
in the realm of post-production. Back then, what equipment did
you find it necessary to own to make the company successful? And
since
that time, how has your company’s changing model led you
to adapting to the hardware you now have?

EH: One must look beyond equipment. I think
we both had, and still do have, a hunger for knowledge. Anyone
can buy equipment; it’s
how you use it, cross-reference it and think of it for uses outside
the box that makes that equipment more valuable. The more services
you can provide, the more flexible you can be in creating packages
and planning and controlling the post process.

It’s very difficult to talk about equipment,
because throughout the years so much has changed. Avid was a
very important purchase
for us and we keep upgrading them. Telecine was a natural outgrowth,
as was the purchase of the Broadway Screening Room and, naturally,
getting a digital projector for it. Now we are gearing our facility
toward Hi-Def. It is a necessary upgrade at the moment. We have
waited long enough so that we now know exactly what to get.

MM: In addition to your telecine services, I know you have Avid
suites, as well as dubbing facilities and an audio suite. All these
facilities are available for rental, but are
they often booked well in advance, or can independents get right
in with their new projects?

State-of-the-art facilities to match—and
exceed—the changing needs of clients is just one of the
reasons that Post Production Playground is one of New York
City’s most successful and reputable post-production
facilities.

EH: As you know, in this
industry there are ups and downs, and the winds change all too
often. It all depends
on the season. We
always
try to accommodate our clients. Independents and studios are treated
alike. I’m proud to say that we’ve never had any independent
moviemaker feel they got anything less in service, quality or attention.
So we do lots of last-minute stuff when needed. Being a boutique
operation, we move very fast and rooms get adapted overnight for
the needs they must fill the next morning.

MM: Who are some of your typical customers?
And who aren’t
so typical?

EH: We see every kind of customer, from studios
to fully-financed medium and low-budget filmmakers to credit
card and student filmmakers.
The challenge is to make them all feel comfortable and cared for.
When a client completes their project with a smile on their face,
we know we’ve done our job.

Each and every client is different and we like
to learn about them and make their journey here very special.
Every movie is like
someone’s
baby. Poor or rich, everyone cares about their baby the same way.
We understand and cater to them with that in mind. Some of the more “non-typical” clients
include the Waldorf Astoria, films from Brazil and Israel and even
one explorer’s archival travel footage from all over the
world from the 1930s to the 1950s.

MM: You and Katia also worked as post
supervisors and I know you pride yourselves on understanding
the post process
from a moviemaker’s
point of view. Besides quality control, is there another area you
feel comfortable saying that Post Production Playground is superior
to the competition?

EH: Communication, service and accuracy are
areas in which we excel. It’s not enough to turn out a quality product—the entire ‘ride’ must
be pleasant to the client. The quote, the greetings, the execution,
the billing and delivery; they all need to flow seamlessly. If any
one of these is flawed, the ride can get bumpy. We cater to each
project with very special care. We listen to our clients and try
to always help them, even if they’re working on a different
project in another country. We understand budgets, schedules, technology
and the human element of creativity. We understand how they mesh
and clash and try to create harmony amongst the many forces on a
project. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary and it’s
possible.

Finally, we love to run tests and find solutions
to post problems. Some manufacturers don’t realize that their products can sometimes
do more than they intended. We pride ourselves on being pioneers
in inventing many different processes, cross-referencing techniques
that make the post process more efficient and cost-effective. My
partner, Katia, loves this part. She will run tests and come up with
different ways of doing things. She’ll sit in front of a computer
for days until she is able to say ‘Got it,’ or ‘I
figured it out’ or ‘I found a way to work around it.’

MM: PPP has a very impressive resume, having done video dailies and
other post work on independent films like In the Bedroom as well
as high-profile Hollywood movies such as
The Cider House Rules,
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Spider-Man, Analyze That, Maid
in Manhattan and Mona Lisa Smile. Did you actively
court all these projects?

EH: I do go after them, but I’m not really
great at marketing. A lot of work comes from word of mouth. We
also get tons of repeat
business. We are lucky to have found a group of incredible filmmakers,
producers, editors and assistant editors that we love to work with
and have stayed loyal to us over the years. Such an environment
is great because it goes beyond the client-vendor relationship.
There
is more of a collaboration of friends and an honest effort to help
one another. They understand we are a business, and we understand
they have budget limitations, deadlines and various forces breathing
down their necks, so we each respect one another.

MM: You and Katia are moviemakers, as
well as technicians and businesspeople. In fact, you’ve taken a stab at producing
on such films as Sony Pictures Classics’
Shadow Magic,
which you’ve
called “a very expensive university.” Do you think
you’ll
pursue select producing opportunities in the future, or will you
stick to what’s working for you and leave the “gambling” to
others?

EH: Absolutely. We actually have a few projects in development at
the moment and hopefully we will be able to produce more and more
content. The movie business is fascinating. It totally encompasses
your life, and we have a passion for it. Shadow Magic was really
a great experience and we learned a lot that we can apply to future
films.

MM: PPP is also the parent company of
The Broadway Screening Room (www.mybsr.com), an intimate state-of-the-art
screening facility
that’s been around for more than 25 years. You recently presided
over a $1 million expansion of the BSR at your Brill Building’s
fifth floor location. How has that affected your business generally?
And can an indie moviemaker on a budget consider the BSR as a viable
screening option in the city?

EH: The $1 million expansion was for PPP. Nonetheless, we upgraded
the Broadway Screening Room as well with a new digital video projector,
new amplification, acoustics and sound isolation and the first interactive
Website for a private screening room in the country. The expansion
gave us the opportunity to improve our service quality and increase
the number of services we offer in both facilities.

We’ve screened many indie films over the years.
We also use the room when color correcting smasters from film to
tape or tape
to tape projects for digital projection. Most recently, we mastered Dirt for director Nancy Savoca and Distress for director Blue Kraning
and producer Ben Barenholtz. On both films, the director and the
DP can sit in the screening room and watch the color correction
changes being made live. They can talk to our colorist via intercom
as this
happens and tell them what they like and dislike. It’s a
very helpful tool for visualizing the end product, especially for
independents.

MM: So you have bragging rights to not only a digital projector,
but the first interactive Website for a screening room? Tell me how
these new facilities help indie moviemakers?

EH: An indie moviemaker can definitely take
advantage of the BSR since the price is on par with other screening
rooms in town. The
environment is perfect to show their projects to investors, distributors,
actors or when simply gauging the film. The digital projector is
great; we can screen any format, including HD, at great quality.
We can even screen digitally direct from the Avid without making
a tape, saving time—and as you know, time is money.

The Website is great for the clients that book
multiple screenings. They can manage their schedule from anywhere
at any time and get
info about their screenings at the click of a mouse. It’s
quite unique and innovative, and we are very proud of it.

MM: What else is in store for Post Production Playground?

EH: We have an idea a minute; we’re always trying to work more
efficiently and cross-reference technology and work flows with clients
needs. We are undoubtedly going to keep growing—it’s
in our nature. Hi-Def is an inevitable next step. Expansion of
our telecine, editorial and mastering is also on the horizon, as
is film/video
restoration and another screening room. Content creation is also
a very important part of our plans. Some projects are in the works
already. Hopefully the next time we speak we will have some projects
to show you.
All of these projects are in different stages of development. With
our pulse on the market, we’re constantly watching the trends
and needs and gauging how our goals measure up. That’s probably
why we’re still around despite the many ups and downs the industry
has gone through. Many companies far better equipped and more financed
than us have come and gone. I am proud to say, from a dingy one room
office at 1619 Broadway, we have not only grown, but are still going
strong and will be for years to come. —Tim Rhys MM

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