Post-production and VFX house Smoke & Mirrors opens a studio in Bangkok today in response to demand from global clients that want cost-effective, high-quality post-production and speedy digital adaptation for multiple markets and channels, according to parent company Williams Lea Tag (WLT).
Smoke & Mirrors offers a wide range of services including shoot supervision, editing, VFX, motion graphics, CGI and grading. The three-story Bangkok studio, located at Sukhumvit 64, joins existing end-to-end studios in New York, London and Amsterdam. Bangkok is a natural choice due to the amount of film production happening in the market and thus a strong talent base to draw from, David Kassler, WLT's group CEO, told Campaign Asia-Pacific.
A couple of specific global clients Kassler couldn't divulge have been asking for a Smoke & Mirrors outpost in APAC. They have struggled to find local partners able to deliver the quality level Smoke & Mirrors provides, he added.
Kassler referred to the new studio as a "greenfield" operation, but it's not the first appearance of the Smoke & Mirrors name in Bangkok. A studio by that name opened in 2016, through a partnership WLT formed with a local company, Kantana Group. The partnership dissolved in 2017, and WLT decided to invest in the market on its own, Hina Wainwright, WLT's global head of marketing, told Campaign. Thus the new studio represents WLT's first self-owned, full-fledged studio facility in the region, she said.
New owner, new ambitions
Williams Lea Tag sees plenty of opportunity for what it offers, and has a warchest to spend to seize that potential.
Private-equity firm Advent International acquired WLT from its previous parent company, Deutsch Post DHL, in August 2017. In September this year, WLT acquired production studio Taylor James, which has offices in London, New York, Los Angeles and Berlin. In October, it bought THP (The Hot Plate), an on-demand digital and social-media content agency in Canada.
Kassler recognises that private-equity owners typically look to take their profits in five years or so, but said Advent has been a strong partner so far. "They have been wonderful in setting us up with a strong balance sheet to start with," he said. "They left us with plenty of cash to invest, and we've invested €100 million ($114.3 million) in this first year."
WLT also has a list of about 25 additional acquisitions it is considering, and Kassler said to expect news about one deal in the next four to six weeks.
WLT's primary advantage rests on the concept of decoupling the creative idea from production, a separation that is necessary to deal with demands for high-volume, high-speed content creation in many markets and many channels, Kassler argued.
"That trend is benefitting us, and that's why the business is growing," he said.
Simplicity is also part of the appeal for big brands. "We can deal with any creative agency in the world," he said. "For example, one of our global brand partners actually has 1100 creative agencies around the world, but they all plug into our technology platform. So we are actually the glue that links them together."
Wainwright added that cost transparency is also an advantage, compared to the sometimes murky markup practices of production providers that are part of large holding companies.
WLT counts BP, Costa Coffee, Dell, Ford, Heineken, Honda, Ikea and Zurich as key clients.