The Little Foxes (micro-review)

“There are people who can never go back, who must finish what they start. I am one of those people.” says Regina Giddens, set on her path of family destruction, careless of the consequences. To me this is the most powerful line of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. Last week a lot of my colleagues were talking about “not burning your bridges.” Maintaining good relationship with everyone, if you can. And I wonder, is “not burning your bridges” really that important? Bridges are only important if you are worried about going back. If you are hellbent on only moving forward, what difference does it make? Either way Regina’s character is my favorite type of character. Like Captain Ahab, the hellbent ones are for me.

Long Day’s Journey into Night (micro-review)

“What the hell was it I wanted to buy, I wonder, that was worth – “ James Tyrone says bitterly to his son, regretful that he played it safe and took the easy well paying jobs instead of challenging himself artistically. To me this is the most powerful line of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Last week I was preparing my tax return and reviewing how I spent my money last year. That line of Tyrone’s made me question myself. Have I spent my money well? Were the Trunk Club shirts and ties worth it? Have I surrendered any of my artistic ambitions? I’m certainly not going to answer those questions here. But the question struck me to my core and I think that is the mark of a good piece of art.

Manhattan real estate and the average edit suite

As a New York based postproduction supervisor I spend a lot of time looking at budgets, quotes, and invoices. So recently I started to wonder how the cost of real estate in Manhattan compares to Los Angeles. And longterm, does the rising cost of real estate, combined with the inflexible space requirements of postproduction, threaten the traditional Manhattan post house? For background research I spoke with a commercial real estate agent, and then I visited a few post houses.

Real Estate

My first real estate lesson was that New York City and Los Angeles are divided in submarkets, or neighborhoods. The variation between submarkets can be large, especially in certain industries such as entertainment which clusters together in areas like Hudson Square or Burbank. I’ve chosen the Midtown South and West LA submarkets for my calculations because they are the most representative submarkets in both cities.1

  • As of July 2012 the average asking rent in Midtown South is $51.73 per square foot per year.
  • As of May 2012 the average asking rent in West LA is $39.96 per square foot per year.
  • The $11.77 difference between Manhattan and Los Angeles is misleading because Manhattan’s vacancy rate is 4.8% and dropping (less availability, rents likely to increase), while LA’s vacancy rate is 15.6% and rising (more availability, rents likely to decrease).
  • It’s 29.45% more expensive to lease in Manhattan as opposed to Los Angeles. I wonder if New York’s recently 30% Postproduction Tax Credit is related to real estate expenses.

The Average Edit Suite

With these numbers in mind I set out to find the real estate cost of the average edit suite. But after visiting a few post houses it quickly became clear that there is no such thing as the average edit suite. The variations are endless.

After some consideration I realized that many suites had common aspects that struck at the essence of my questions. For example; I don’t want to consider an editor working on a laptop in a cubicle because this setup would hinder proper monitoring. This setup would also hinder producer screenings because the noise of the producer/editor collaboration would interrupt coworkers in adjacent cubicles. Therefore I will define the average edit suite using the following criteria:

  • The edit suite must be completely enclosed.
  • The edit suite must have room for a separate preview monitor and speakers.
  • The edit suite must have room for a producer to comfortably screen, but not necessarily work in for extended periods of time.

Based on these criteria I saw a lot of similarities. At each post house the small suites usually stayed within nine to thirteen feet in length and width. 10’ x 11’ and 9’ x 13’ were common dimensions. Therefore, I feel comfortable saying that the average edit suite is 10’ x 12’. But we need to consider the loss factor.

Agents talk a lot about “the loss factor” when negotiating a lease. The loss factor is the amount of space you’re paying for versus the amount of space that you can actually use. For example; that two by two concrete support pillar is four square feet of space that you’re renting but can’t use. The same is true of walls between offices.

To account for loss factor I’ve increased the dimensions of the average edit suite to 11’ x 13’ or 143 square feet. Based on these dimensions:

  • The Manhattan edit suite will cost: $7,397.39 per year.
  • The Los Angeles edit suite will cost: $5,714.28 per year.
  • The $1,683.11 difference is only $32.37 per week.

Brooklyn

As a proud Brooklyn resident I feel the need to bring up the fact that the average asking rent in downtown Brooklyn is around $29 per square foot per year. However, I am aware of the fact that Brooklyn poses some geographic challenges. A New Jersey-to-Brooklyn or Upstate New York-to-Brooklyn commute is a schlep for many employees. The cost benefits of relocating to Brooklyn (or New Jersey) need to be weighed against the potential loss of talent.

Conclusion

The cost difference between Manhattan and Los Angeles surprised me because it was smaller than I expected. In fact, by comparing different submarkets it is possible to reduce the difference even further; the Financial District to Burbank for example.

That said, my research is far from comprehensive. Post houses need a lot of space for the business of post but unusable for the actual work, like a nice lobby and administrative offices. Considering the total space requirements would change my results.

Another important factor that I haven’t considered: labor! The cost of labor is the number one expense for any business in entertainment. Comparing New York and Los Angeles editor rates would probably be a more effective way of comparing the cost of doing business.

Finally, I don’t know what type of margins post houses operate within. But as the cost of real estate rises and the rate of postproduction services declines, it’s hard to imagine that Manhattan will remain a viable option in longterm. Thoughts?


  1. The “average asking rent” and “vacancy rate” of Midtown South and West LA are representative of their respective cities. A more comprehensive comparison is beyond the scope of this entry. 

DISTRIBUTION U

The old world of making a film: I can’t do anything until I raise five million dollars.
The new world: How can I start right now? With $50, $500, or $5,000.

That was the most important lesson from Saturday’s very excellent Distribution U workshop held by Scott Kirsner and Peter Broderick at NYU Cantor Film Center.

The morning started off with Scott and Peter laying the foundations of new world distribution. Scott’s presentation gave many excellent examples of successful artists who have used the internet to build awareness and an audience. Peter’s presentation dedicated a lot of time contrasting the old world model distribution with the new world models.

The briefest summary I could give is: old word models are fundamentally based on control. Content companies control the intellectual property, they control when and where the audience consumes the experience, and they control how the artist gets paid.

The new world model is scary to so many businesses because it’s the antithesis of control. The artists most successful in the new world model are the artists most confident in their art to give up control. Encouraging your audience to remix, reuse, and recycle your art is the surest way to build an audience.

For example, if a band release a music video, encouraging people to remix it is smart because 1) the people taking the time to remix your art are your most loyal and engaged audience, and 2) as the derivative works gain popularity, they will draw people to your original work.

The lunch time sessions were brilliant. Unfortunately the lunch time sessions were “off record” so I can only say that many people I spoke with after the workshop said that the lunch time sessions were thoughtful, engaging, collaborative in nature. “Worth the price of admission alone.” And I agree with that sentiment.

The afternoon case studies were interesting. I can most thoughtfully summarize them by saying; in hindsight the best marketing and distribution plan for a film will seem obvious when you think about the subject of your film.

For example, when your film is about graffiti artist Banksy then a guerilla marketing and distribution plans makes sense. When your film is about the craftsmanship of making a piano then a slower methodical distribution plan makes sense, because your product is evergreen, no need to rush.

The final part of the day was a frenzied brainstorming session where participants went in front of the audience to pitch their ideas and receive valuable feedback from the panelists and the audience. The quality of the ideas were as diverse as the feedback they received. As I mentioned before, the most valuable lesson was: don’t wait around. Start making something today!

Wanna make a feature film, start producing short webisodes to build interest. Don’t have the money for a webisode, then start a blog from the point of view of your character. Build a fan page on Facebook, and always offer people the opportunity to get involved. If your audience has to ask, “What can I do now?” then you’ve already failed.

That about summarizes the day. If you are in the Los Angeles area next weekend, I highly recommend you sign up. You can find out more about Distribution U on twitter here.

Thank you to Scott and Peter for organizing such a thought provoking event. And a special thank you to Scott’s sister Shira who handled a million things behind the scenes.