When Michael Nehs, co-owner of Periscope Post and Audio in Chicago, was contemplating opening a facility in the Los Angeles area, his industry friends told him to make sure he brought his no-bullshit Chicago attitude with him and not to get sucked into the “game playing, phony, name-dropping, ass-kissing mentality of the Hollywood contingency.”
No chance of that. Nehs won’t undercut someone else for a job or undersell himself. He says that Chicago mindset of his accounts for integrity and directness, which Periscope general manager Ben Benedetti confirms: “Mike is honest, straight-forward and completely sincere. Underneath his tough exterior is a heart of gold. There is no bullshit with Mike, no hidden agenda. Just a commitment to providing the very best services available. He is one of the hardest working men I have had the pleasure to work with. He will absolutely go the distance to make sure the clients get what they need. You always know where Mike stands.”
Nehs met Benedetti in 2015 while Benedetti was senior vice president at Westwind Media in Los Angeles. “We immediately hit it off,” Benedetti recalls. ”He is extremely ambitious, which I like a lot. He is not afraid to make extremely bold moves, which I like even more.”
Nehs was bold enough indeed to not only have gone ahead and opened a facility in the heart of Hollwood, where post houses abound aplenty, but has the no B.S. audacity to assert that his facility is the best because it offers all services in one place. Even though Nehs detests the phrase “one stop shop,” that is what Periscope boasts.
“We have 40 production office rooms in that building, we can house writer rooms, and we can house post-production teams,” Nehs says. “That team can come in during production, they can bring dailies in and we can do dailies at night, and it is ready when that editor walks in to the building, that edit can go directly over to color, right down to the stage, and we can deliver it to every network they’re working with and on every platform. Those producers never have to leave the building. They have one location.
“And the great thing for them, also, if they’re mad or pissed off about something, they can just go down the hall and bitch about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s dailies, color, audio, ADR, mix—they get to bitch to the same guy. They don’t have to drive across town. They literally walk down the stairs and say, ‘Hey, guys, we got a problem.’”
Nehs has always managed his problems well. In 2009, the former independent film producer who specialized in financing, turned producer, then to post supervision, who fell in love with post-production, had just started construction on a post house in Chicago at the end of 2008. They were 85 percent complete when the recession hit, and the bottom fell out of the local market. He lost everything. Except his wife. “Which was the most important thing,” Nehs reflects.
He found a new business partner in Jonathan Bross, and together they rebuilt and Periscope Post & Audio was born. They discovered Cinespace Film Studios, a subsidized entertainment production complex in the city of Chicago, and they won the bid with their adventurous post ideas on August 26, 2013.
“We’re literally on the lot at Cinespace; people can walk their hard drives over to us, the actors come over between set ups for ADR, the location is perfect.” Nehs says.
The task at hand was convincing producers and creatives not to follow their usual pattern of shooting and then taking the production to complete in L.A. or New York. For locals, Chicago’s Periscope Post & Audio made sense because they could sleep in their own beds, but Nehs wanted to appeal to out-of-towners. So he and his team started proving themselves project by project. In one instance they were presented with a film that had been released seven years prior that producers wanted to re-release, but much had been lost.
“They asked, ‘Can you guys do this? We need it in 5.1. All we have is a mono track for dialog and a mono track for sound effects.’ And we said, ‘Sure,’” Nehs recalls. “And then we all looked at one another and said, ‘How do we do this?’ The answer is always yes. Unless we absolutely know it’s no. That really raised our level, if you will, for people outside of Illinois to recognize that we would go the extra mile to make it happen.”
The Importance of “Empire”
Periscope landed its first major gig when hired to do the music recording for the hit Fox show Empire, which is shot in Chicago, mostly at CineSpace, and then they started doing all their ADR. A relationship with their assistant directors and producers generated ADR jobs on two more shows.
Periscope only had one 12×14-foot live room at the time, with three shows going, recording both music and ADR, so they began construction on three more audio rooms, three video editorial rooms, two color rooms, a dailies bullpen, a new transfer room and rooms that float as needed inside the 7,500 square foot space. The new audio rooms were built inside of the 2,500-square-foot auditorium which sat in the center of the building. It took a year and a half because they had to keep working through the process and couldn’t afford to have construction going on during key times of post-production.
During those 18 months, Nehs started taking trips to L.A. to meet with prospective clients, charming them with that Chicago attitude. Before he knew it, he began to get calls from producers working in Chicago needing dailies done.
Then Nehs began to get calls from executives and producers in Los Angeles suggesting that he open a place in L.A. His retort was, “Why would I want to do that?” Their reply was, “We’d love to have you here.”
Nehs decided to meet the challenge. Despite the fact that there is a lot of competition in L.A., he knew he was coming in with a reputation. So he began to look at buildings around town in 2016. It took close to three years.
Nehs recalls that over those three years, in seeing more than 100 buildings, everyone’s opinion of the prime location kept changing. Should he be in Santa Monica? Marina del Rey? Burbank? The Valley? Culver City? Hollywood? It became a moving target, a real conundrum.
Finding the Right Space
Then, as fate would have it, Nehs received a call from a Hollywood post house that was looking to sell around November 2019; he booked a flight for the next day. A couple of his network studio friends took a walk through the facility with him, and they said if you build it, we will come. So Nehs called his business partner, and they struct the deal and began to build right away.
The existing mix stage had been most recently used as a screening room and color room; it had to be converted into a Dolby Atmos re-recording stage. And while they were originally informed that it was “ready to go, essentially turnkey,” there was not one mixing board in the entire building. Nehs had an Avid S6 dual-operator console surface sitting in a box, waiting in storage. They began construction immediately, knowing they had a show coming in that would start in six weeks.
Dolby arrived and told them they had to shrink the room by three feet. They moved the front speaker wall, put the fabric up on the walls while the crew was in the middle of the room building the S6, which needed a day of updates. Dolby tuned the room that night, and the next morning the guys who were setting up the S6 were leaving as the mixers were coming in to start mixing Netflix’s short-lived musical “Soundtrack.”
Nehs didn’t do that once, he did it twice. Stage C—a smaller Dolby Atmos stage geared toward home theater—came about in exactly the same way as Stage A. The board went in, they turned on the amps, Dolby came in, tuned the room, they tweaked the board and the mixers for the CBS comedy “The Unicorn” came in the following morning to work in the room.
“That’s kinda the Mike Nehs way,” Nehs admits with a laugh. “I’m the type of guy who, if you looked at me and said, ‘Mike, if you had another mix stage, I would dump this show on it,’ I would look you square in the eyes and say, ‘I’ll see you in six weeks, let’s get it done.’
“We knew we had to get the stages done fast, the first priority was stage A,” Nehs continues. “We enlisted Kaiser Construction for the build. We sat down after the walk-through and we discussed what we needed and then we shared the good news of our deadline—six weeks. After a few good laughs, Kevin Kaiser said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It was the fastest build I have ever seen and the room sounds amazing and is built right. This wasn’t a throw up a few walls and call it a stage, it was a gut job, down to the studs and a full rebuild.
“There was no surprise when we decided to start stage C, and I looked at [Kevin Kaiser] and said, ‘Ready to do it again?’ My team has booked the room starting in six weeks.’ We all laughed and got to work. Our third stage, stage B, was like a vacation with no deadline. Our clients are our top priority and if they need a room in six weeks, they will have a room in six weeks. Sure, it’s stressful, not just on me or my GM Ben Benedetti, but on everyone. The whole team feels it, but I believe stress drives success. Maybe it’s a midwest Chicago thing, maybe it’s just a Nehs thing, but one thing is for sure, everyone has risen to the occasion to bring Periscope Post & Audio Hollywood to life. That is what a great team does, and I’m proud and grateful to have such amazing people around me.”
The Periscope Team
“We put together a really strong team in Hollywood between our mixers, with Ron Eng, Rick Ash and Fred Howard, and our colorist, Kevin Kirwan. Kevin did eight seasons of American Horror Story, he did Spongebob Squarepants since the pilot,” Nehs explains. “We’ve been able to bring together these veterans that people know and bring them into a new facility, and it is new. We basically gutted this thing and built it to 2019-2020 specs.”
Shortly after they opened, in addition to Soundtrack and The Unicorn, they had their first big success providing complete services for Lena Waithe’s new show Twenties for BET/Showtime. “We provided everything for that show, from the writer’s rooms, production offices, cutting rooms, dailies, final color, and mixing,” recalls Nehs. “The producers loved it, and we are excited for their return for the second season of the show this fall.”
Periscope then finished up Hulu’s Love Victor, a few features and pickups, and suddenly Nehs realized that he needed yet another room. So Studio B—another Dolby Atmos stage—emerged from a former green screen stage that Nehs was happy to replace. Studio B is now the largest of the three re-recording stages
While constructing Studio B, the team had to widen the room, and in the process, found out the ceiling to the second floor was sagging and if they removed a certain post, the ceiling might collapse.
“We had to put in engineered beams,” Nehs says. “It became a whole ordeal, to the point where when we put the beam in, we had to force the doors off to the three rooms above it and shave the bottoms off so they would fit again. That’s how much sag there was on the floor above.”
And Then Came Covid-19
Periscope was busy. Shows were being picked up for second seasons and then Nehs experienced his second major hurdle. Everything shut down. But like the first time around, it didn’t stop him. There were still projects they could work on such as “Feeding America,” all filmed by comedians with cell phones and different cameras to raise food for Americans, and a Penn and Teller special they did from their home.
And in the meantime, Nehs did extensive research on making Periscope’s environment safe for his clients. He installed hand sanitizing stations in both the Hollywood and Chicago facilities, ordered logoed PPE, UVC lighting for hard drives and S6’s and all things they wouldn’t want to spray down. Focusing on safety for cast and crew, they’ve been managing to work their way through this challenging time.
Benedetti knows these are challenging times, but reiterates Nehs’ claim that they are prepared because they are, quite simply, the best in town:
“We have a tremendous amount of horsepower and talent that we can harness in every area,” Benedetti sums up. “We are the only post facility in Hollywood that can provide complete top-tier services in both picture and audio combined under one roof. There isn’t a single part of the process we can’t tackle. And our infrastructure is so robust we can also easily support any remote application that might be necessary in today’s world, where the health and welfare of the creative team is more important than ever.”
Adds Nehs: “We’re ready for the tsunami of work that everyone is expecting to be coming up in the next couple of months!”