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Light Iron: Forward Thinking Is Key To Post Production Success

Columbia Pictures

What makes Light Iron so special?  Is it their LA based post production facility specializing in projects originating from file-based camera projects?  Is it their ability to handle digital intermediate, mastering and archiving services that, traditionally, have been handled by photo-chemical processors?  Maybe it’s innovations such as the OUTPOST, the company’s flagship mobile system that provides data downloading and backup for file-based cameras, or the award-winning TODAILIES, an iPad app that, through a secured watermarking and password protected system, allows a project’s key crew members to take digital dailies home to review, sorting by date, circle takes, scene and take, or by camera, then create their own sequences by adding clips to a playlist?   Perhaps it’s recent credits: "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "Criminal Minds," and the upcoming "Lincoln?"

All these impressive aspects of the company would not exist if it weren’t for CEO Michael Cioni.  Prior to establishing Light Iron, Cioni and a group of friends were part of the foundation of Plaster City, a post-production facility that opened in 2003.  While their youthful exuberance helped establish the company, they were quite innocent in their business approach.  Once the company was established they realized as silent partners they didn’t have a stake in the ownership of the company. 

During the time spent establishing Plaster City, file based technologies were just starting to emerge.  Cioni saw the future unfolding before his eyes, and decided to devote a facility entirely to file based post-production.  In 2009 he opened Light Iron, despite the negative chatter from the nay-sayers.

"People can be transfixed and ignore the signs," said Cioni.  "It’s ironic in looking back, because I just wanted to make movies.  I missed film and tape, but I knew Macs and hard drives were what we needed to be using.  Our focus on the future put us far ahead."

Cioni and his team devoted their energy to understanding the file-based process from every angle; software, hardware, all the tools essential to data management.  While many other facilities were learning the complexities of file-based technologies along with their clients, they were already proficient. 

Since opening Light Iron, the company has grown steadily, with a current staff of 25 employees.  Interestingly, the average age of the staff is between 26-27.  Cioni feels the youthful energy and willingness to embrace emerging technologies is crucial to the company’s success.

"I often hear people describe adapting to the use of iPads and modern technology in production as scary, but these are the things that are going to be liberating us," said Cioni.  "Production shouldn’t be labeled left brained or right brained – why can’t it be both?  I’ve hired people that are equally as tech savvy as they are creative.  We can thank (Apple founder) Steve Jobs for a crop of thinkers: he made nerds cool and artists nerdy."

While the staff help keep the company moving forward, the key to Light Iron’s success is staying ahead of trends and innovations affecting production workflow.  When the iPad hit the market Cioni and his team saw a way of merging the hardware’s picture quality, cloud based technology and incorporated the low-fi system of Quick Time to create TODAILIES, providing a system that offered immediate access to dailies.  Cioni and his team ensure clients the security structure of water-marking and password protection prevents theft from the outside, and informs them that the majority of a production’s material leaks comes from inside.  "Security," Light Iron suggests, "comes down to how well do you know your crew."  Additionally, most piracy concerns do not stem from on set but rather material that has been released or is in the screening stages.

Innovations such as TODAILIES and the OUTPOST Cart take away some of the business needs of a post production center such as Light Iron’s flagship facility.  Cioni embraces this, maintaining the only key to a business’ success is the ability to re-invent oneself.

"You have to cannibalize yourself; if you don’t cannibalize yourself, you go out of business," said Cioni.  "On set is half our business.  We believe brick and mortar is not the future.  Everything can be done on set except for color finishing."  

Ever mindful of innovations around the corner, Cioni is preparing for 4K, building an infrastructure for it now before filmmakers will be producing content in 4K.  His team has been focusing on the output and drives necessary for handling 4K, and they are poised to handle the needs of their customers when they are ready for it.

"Texas Instruments developed digital projection sensors; by 2015 all theaters will be digital," said Cioni.  "It’s like the example of why the electric car initially failed.  You can’t sell the car before the charging stations exist.  The 4K revolution is tip-toeing up to us.  We are building the infrastructure now before the filmmakers produce 4K."


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