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Formosa Group

Built On Talent, All About Sound
Stage 1 at the new Formosa Hollywood, where the Game of Thrones mix team wrapped up Season 7 in mid-August.

Formosa Group moves fast. Even by Hollywood standards, where the semblance of a small town can be put up in a morning and torn down at the end of a day, Formosa Group moves fast. Not randomly, not without direction. Just fast, and with a vision.

In the past 10 months, Formosa has opened five new re-recording stages and about 30 new editorial rooms, built from scratch in two new locations, to support the launch of a new broadcast/televison division in January 2017. That is in addition to the previous three years of refurbish- ing existing stages and rooms in Santa Monica, upgrading three stages and editorial on The Lot in West Hollywood and outfitting a building down the street for Oscar-winning sound supervisors Mark Mangini and Per Hallberg/Karen Baker Landers.

Oh! Plus, the formation of five divisions, five pillars of sound: Feature Film, Interactive, Music, Commercials and now Broadcast. From zero to 200 employees, roughly half of them editors and mixers. Four years ago, Formosa Group was simply an idea that was being tossed around by industry veterans Bob Rosenthal and Matt Dubin—an idea based on talent, not facilities.

“We didn’t build this company based on market,” says Rosenthal, Formo- sa founder and CEO, whose background is in finance but whose heart is in entertainment. “We built it based on relationships, and the people we had strong relationships with were feature film supervising sound editors and mixers. That gave us an opportunity to build a brand and create excitement.

“People who committed early on—Mark Mangini, Odin Benitez, Mar- tyn Zub, Mark Stoeckinger and a few others—they committed before we built out the environment, before we had acoustically treated walls,” he continues. “They believed in the idea of what we wanted to do as much as the reality of it.”

The idea of an independent audio post-production company serving high-profile projects, amid the web of film studios with their own sound departments, is not new. The rise and fall of independents has been 

art of the industry cycle since the 1950s, from Ryder Sound to Todd-AO to Soundelux, Wed- dington, Skywalker Sound and others. Whats different this time is that Formosa started with the assembly of a large and diverse collection of talent.

“The idea is that if you attract the creative talent and make something they want to be a part of, the rest will follow,” says For- mosa Executive VP Dubin, who first worked with Rosenthal at Todd-AO Lantana in 2008 when the latter was president of CSS Studios.Our belief was that the shift of the industry was a shift in the paradigm, and workflow was changing. More time was being spent on the editorial side, which doesn’t mean that mixing is any less a vital part of the process. Its just that  more is happen- ing in the smaller rooms, in the editorial and the sound design portion of the process. Editors who might also mix. We made a conscious decision to focus ini- tially on feature film sound su- pervisors. Those are the people we had relationships with.”

To be fair, many of those re- lationships were already in place, and Formosa didn’t suddenly ap

Stage X at Formosa NoHo, built primarily to go with the company’s expansion into television editorial/mixing the Department of Water & Power that their facilities on The Lot would be razed in favor of residential power needs.

“It was a gut-wrench moment,” Dubin recalls. “It was awful,” adds Rosenthal, who kept the threat and early negotia- tions private between him and Dubin. We thought, Is this too much to overcome?’ We had built a significant company by then, and had multiple facilities in multiple markets. I think that our diversification helped us with the ability to deal with a surprise like that.”

All involved at the time credit Formosa Group ownersBarbara Glaz- er, Mike Greenfield, Tim Nett and Craig Murray, also owners of Picture Head/Audio Head—with having the vision and fortitude to move forward and find new facilities. So they did. Twice in one year.

“You have to give kudos to the Picture Head partners, says Johnston, Formosa VP of engineering. “Faced with this crisis at The Lot, they allowed us to do 959 and were in it wholeheartedly. And halfway through that, they said‘Sure, build more in North Hollywood. My jaw dropped. This just doesn’t happen today. But they had a vision, and the cojones to pull the trigger.”

Johnston is a longtime veteran in the trenches of independent facility construction and operation, working simultaneously across multiple pear from nowhere. Rosenthal, Dubin and VP of Engineering Bill Johnston were all part of the Soundelux-Todd-Liberty-Ascent-Discovery-CSS consolidation. Rosenthal left one week after the operation was sold to equity partners in 2012, and he saw where they were headed (i.e., closing stages, trimming resources). Dubin followed soon after. Then Johnston was let go in an early cost-cutting round.

Rosenthal and Dubin met up a few months later within the Picture Head/Audio Head footprint on The Lot, a historic Hollywood studio complex, and they began to engage supervisors, many of them former col- leagues who were looking for a home. They also reached out across town, recognizing the need for diversity and fresh talent. The Lot, with three stages, an ADR stage, and 12 rebuilt editorial rooms, would be the base, with more to come in Santa Monica at the former POP Sound facilities.

Everything was humming along two years in. The interactive group had launched, Modern Music came over essentially intact under the lead- ership of Leigh Kotkin to form a music division, and there was an eye on television. But the five new stages were not in the original three-year plan. Neither was the new headquarters at 959 Seward. Things were just settling down when about two years ago Rosenthal received notice from rooms in multiple facilities from back in his early days at Soundelux. Once Rosenthal and team settled on 959 Seward as the new company headquar- ters (they have maintained three stages on The Lot), Johnston met with the architects the next day and began laying out the audio needs, in CAD.

“I’ve always liked medium-sized stages,” Johnston says. “The building owners worked with us and were great. Things like, we asked them to dig down two feet in the front of each of the main rooms to get more ceiling height, and they did it! Without that two feet, you wouldn’t get that size of screen, and it would have felt cramped. Now it feels right. It was an empty shell in October 2016, and we moved in January 2017. Then simultaneously we started  working on plans for three more stages and a complete buildout in NoHo. That opened officially in June.”

Johnston, a self-proclaimed master of ‘value engineering, has outfitted the main feature stages with Avid S6 consoles, keeping the TV rooms on Icon D-Control, which he says the mixers prefer. All rooms use RedNet I/O, Pro Tools recording and playback, and JBL 5532 monitors powered by Crown 8600 Series amps with BSS control. The editorial supervisor rooms, the backbone of the company, feature JBL 6332s with Crown amps. There isn’t a patchbay in either new facility; its all routers.

“We’ve gotten to a very concise and simplified workflow,” Johnston explains. “You edit to Pro Tools, you dub to Pro Tools, and you play Pro Tools back on the stage. To get 64 channels of I/O is two rackspaces of RedNet, and they all hook up and network together. There really isn’t a lot to these rooms anymore, whether MADI or RedNet. I’ve always been a guy who tries to simplify the process—put a lot of power in the right plac- es. If you save money in one place, you can buy more plug-ins. Processing. That’s where the power is.

“Also, we’re first and foremost an editorial company, and largely mobile,” he continues. “We have multiple facilities in multiple locations, and we have editorial teams that might pick up all their systems and move over to Fox or Warner or Sony for four weeks. We have to simplify the process.”

Editorial teams are often mobile these days, especially at indepen- dent facilities that feed the re-recording stages on the studio lots. When setting up the company, from Day One, Rosenthal and Dubin were aware of  coming on too strong. It wasn’t about them, and it wasn’t about filling their rooms; it was about servicing the filmmakers.

“We were sensitive to the fact that the studios have their own sound departments, and their own goals to use those facilities as best as possible,” Rosenthal says. “But they also understand that this is a relation- ship-based segment of post-production. We have to be sensitive to the fact that the studios are clients, as well, so we need to collaborate with them where it makes sense. That was an early message. Collaborate with studios, and let the filmmakers decide who they want as a supervisor and what mixing team they want.”

While the DWP disruption forced the company’s hand, and they ended up making lemonade out of a lemon of a situation, the ancillary benefit is that it allowed them to centralize admin and support ser- vices, as well as bring more editors together under a single roof. From the beginning, Rosenthal and Du- bin would talk about building a community of cre- ative people who wanted to work together, wanted a home, from the executive team down to the runners.

That sense of community is something that many supervising sound editors and creative teams were looking for. Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers, an award-winning team for some 30 years, were early adoptees. “We were looking for a place where we would feel at home,” Hallberg says, “with people we like and who understand what we need. Bob’s goal has always been to make us comfortable and to be supportive, to give us that creative freedom. Decisions weren’t based on the number of rooms you can pack in a hallway. It started with taking care of the talent.”

“There’s nobody better at talent recruitment and talent management than Bob Rosenthal,” adds Dubin. “There are very few people in town that he doesn’t know, or hasn’t worked with. I have an interest and a similar path. My whole career has been in this vein of supporting the people who make the magic. Knowing that about Bob, I wanted to be a part of it.”

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