Recently, Mark Pederson talked to Abel Cine Tech about producing indie features in New York, the ever-increasing importance of HD technology, and his company’s unique approach to both. As co-founder, with Aldey Sanchez, of Offhollwood Digital, Mark is well qualified to comment. Offhollywood produces its own original content, as well as providing customizable production services to local crews and offering boutique post-production and visual effect facilities.
Can you tell us a bit about your early film career and how you decided to start your own production company?
I had been working for over a decade as a production manager and line producer in independent films here in New York. What became clear to me over that period of time was that being a “gun-for-hire” was not an effective business model. After making a film called Super Troopers, which went on to gross over $50 million dollars, I became determined to start my own company.
When did you become interested in the HD side of things?
In late 2002, I was hired to budget a high definition feature project, and I quickly become obsessed with the amount of confusion and mis-information about working in the format.
Around the same time, I was teaching myself Final Cut Pro and became very excited about the possibility of post-production using desktop computers.
How did you meet your partner Aldey Sanchez, and how did the two of you come up with the idea for Offhollywood?
I met Aldey Sanchez while production managing a feature film called Happy End. Aldey had recently moved to New York from Florida, and was a graduate of Full Sail University, a technology based film school in Orlando. While working together on that film, we started discussing what we thought would be the production company business model of the future, and we shared the same theories on how technology would change filmmaking. In early 2003, after a long dinner meeting and a lot of red wine, we shook hands and formed Offhollywood.
A few weeks later, we were signing a lease on a 2000 square foot space on 19th street. Looking back, I get the biggest kick out of the fact that when we started out we bought one Macintosh G4 and an AJA Kona 2 card.
Tell us a bit more about your vision for Offhollywood when you started. Did you always plan to do your own productions and offer client services, or did that idea evolve as you grew?
Yes. The idea was always to create original content, but to build a successful service business first. The core of this concept is the fact that the entire entertainment industry runs on relationships. By providing other filmmakers and producers services, we build relationships and grow our database of industry contacts. Aldey and I were obsessed with combining production services with post services using new technologies, as that convergence is the core of our business model.
So, you started Offhollywood with the unique idea of combing production and post services for filmmakers with your own productions. Are both models still going strong, or have you shifted more to one or the other?
2006 was a defining year for us. We formed a sister company called OFFHOLLYWOOD PICTURES to develop and produce original content leveraging the resources of our service business. After starting the year with a film in Sundance called Salvage, we secured all of the financing ourselves for our first feature film as producers, Rockaway.
We recently got a green light for episodic television content from a pitch to Spike TV called Bikini Pool Shark, which airs in late November. We went from pitch to shoot to post in less than three weeks. So, we just now starting to create our own original content from concept to completion.
At the same time, we are expanding our post services, specifically Digital Intermediates for independent filmmakers, with new software, hardware and personal. We are always doing post, production services, and co-productions, and now we are starting to do completely original content developed in-house, which is why we started the company to begin with.
There are many companies that offer production and post services in New York. What do you think makes Offhollywood different and so successful?
We work hard to stay on the bleeding edge of emerging technology. We beta test for the companies of almost every software and hardware solution we use, and we are constantly doing R&D and testing new workflows and techniques. In the three and half years we have been in business, we have spent only $500 on advertising. Instead, we attend all the major technology trade shows and film festivals, which has been instrumental to our access to companies such as AJA, RED Digital Cinema and Apple.
Besides technology, it seems like the client relationship is large part of what makes Offhollywood special. How do you approach each project?
We treat our clients like they are our partners. When we accept a job, we think of it as if it is our project. Our Senior Producer, John “Pliny” Eremic, creates a “scope of work” document where we describe the details of the workflow, rates, etc. and we work hard to make sure the clients never get stung with additional charges that are so common in the post business. Aldey and I, the owners of the company, personally interact with virtually every client that comes through Offhollywood. In a larger post facility, clients are interacting with a sales person, who is usually working on commission, and needs to book as much work as possible. This is never in the best interest of filmmakers and clients.
With all the options for acquisition available today, what formats do you typically choose?
Well, that’s a bit all over the place. We have worked with every format I can think of. We have a tremendous amount of experience with VariCam DVCPRO HD, as that has been a favorite of indie filmmakers over the past few years.
You recently added 4K digital intermediates to Offhollywood’s services. How did you arrive at that decision?
We believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the future is 4K. Our opinion is that the industry is about to radically transform with 4K Digital Cinema projection. We also believe that the RED 4K camera will be the tipping point for digital cinema and 4K acquisition. It is rapidly becoming the new gold standard, and we are convinced that there is going to be a tremendous demand for 4K re-mastering. We have been developing a proprietary workflow, which we believe will allow us to do something that nobody else has ever done, a 4K DI with true 12-bit color image downsampled from a 16-bit 6K scan for less than the price of a 2K DI. If all goes as planned, we will be offering that service in the first quarter of 2007.
With so much going on at Offhollywood, are you particularly excited about any recent projects?
One of the more interesting projects is our film Rockaway, which was shot on 35mm film in 2-perf Techniscope with Russian cameras we purchased and had modified in Sweden. The project has a lot of visual effects we have never done before, so it served as test case for developing an in-house visual effects team.
Abel and Offhollywood have worked together for a number of years. Would you like to comment on that relationship?
We will ONLY rent camera equipment from Abel Cine Tech, whether we are shooting in New York or Los Angeles. Over the years, we have worked with just about every major equipment vendor in New York City and simply put, nobody can match their level of customer support and expertise. It has been exciting to see Abel grow so much in the time our company started.
What plans do you have for the future of Offhollywood? What direction do you see the company going in?
We are currently entering into a partnership with veteran producer Michael Mailer, son of novelist Normal Mailer, to build a new, data centric production and post-production facility here in New York featuring turn-key offices for producers and small production companies. This facility will be designed with a 4K infrastructure from the ground up and feature some of the most exciting technologies such as real-time pre-viz, a green screen stage, 5.1 Surround audio and a 4K digital cinema. We are currently sourcing financing partners, and based on the level of initial interest, we fully expect to be in construction in 2007.
Visit www.offhollywooddigital.com for more information on the company and their services.