The biggest thing in New York City audio post is truly a transporting experience.
Down in the deepest reaches of SoHo is Harbor Grand, a 4,500 square foot facility which stands as NYC’s only Hollywood-sized theatrical mix stage. The 2,500 square foot theater that it holds would be ample by the standards of any metropolis, but for Manhattan this is absolutely gargantuan: It has a 28-foot high screen, 26-foot ceiling height, and seating for 60. Armed with Euphonix System 5 and 6 consoles, this highly accurate surround environment is fully equipped to mix for IMAX and Atmos.
The origins of this flagship facility — which hosted its first mix in August 2015 and has been going strong ever since — would have been unexpected just a few years ago. The lineage reaches back to Harbor Sound a few blocks uptown on King Street, whose four mix stages shocked NYC with their arrival in early 2013 when they sprang up alongside the prolific full-service music company PULL.
Go back one more generation, and the grandfather of Harbor Grand is Harbor Picture Company, a comprehensive post production and production company founded by directors Zak Tucker and Theo Stanley in 2010. Early on, the pair probably never envisioned becoming responsible for attracting tent-pole features from around the world to mix sound in NYC – but that’s exactly what happened.
Although Harbor Grand hit the ground running, its long-term mission and odds for success have come sharply into focus in the time since its launch. Benefiting from their experience with the Empire State Film Post Production Tax Credit and the New York State Film Production Credit, Harbor Grand’s creators have seen their $2.5 million investment help to put NYC film mixing back on the map. That was no mean feat ever since the closing of midtown’s Sound One and it’s beloved, but dated, facilities.
How do you go big with all the challenges that come with expanding in The Big Apple? This in-depth interview with Tucker reveals the mix of determination, luck, and know-how that made Harbor Grand go.
Zak, now that you have projects under your belt and maybe some more perspective, the first question I wanted to ask you was what was the opportunity with Harbor Grand? What made you take the plunge to build it in the first place?
Leading up to Harbor Grand, we built several theatrical mix stages at our main location here in SoHo. The one thing that we kept finding was that the big tent-pole projects were having to go back to Los Angeles or to London to mix because there just did not exist in New York a tent-pole size and technology theatrical mix stage.
What happened was, if projects were posting in New York, when it came time for the final, we might do some of the temps and we might do some of the pre-dubbing here in New York, but when it came time for the final mix, they would have to pull back to Los Angeles or London because of just the scale of stages available. New York just did not have a tent-pole-scale mix stage.
You have all these world class mixers coming from London or Los Angeles and saying, “Look, if we’re going to deliver at the caliber we should be delivering at for those kinds of directors, we have to be in a scale mix stage.”
The other big part of it was that over the last several years, three-dimensional sound mixing in the sense of Atmos — Dolby Atmos was really coming to be defined as the standard. Once you got to a place where you had to be able to deliver an Atmos mix again, there was nowhere in New York that had the infrastructure or the scale to deliver Atmos for a tent-pole. Putting both scale size and level of infrastructure in terms of Atmos and Imax in one location was what really made us move forward with having the marquis tent-pole mix stage in New York.
Can you define a tent-pole stage? What characteristics does it have to have to qualify?
You’re looking at a few things. The main is that you want a stage that’s larger than 60-feet by 40-feet. Which is what our stage is, and you want a stage that has significant volume of air and ceiling height. The biggest stages in New York up until Harbor Grand have a 16-foot ceiling height. Our stage has a 26-foot ceiling height.
You get just a very different ability to push air that properly mimics a multiplex-sized movie theater. That’s the big thing is real, seamless translation between, especially for the big pictures, between the mix stage and the multiplex.
The Todd AO/Sound One stage no longer existed [see the story on its 2012 closure here], and so you saw there was a need. That’s still a big leap from seeing there’s a need to going ahead and filling this particular need: What happened to convince you to actually go ahead and be the company that would fill that need, and how you were able to get the space?
We spent two years searching all five boroughs for an appropriate space because you’re not only looking for a space that has that kind of volume, but it’s also got to be column-free, right? It also has to exist in a place that clients want to access. We looked in all five boroughs. We found one potential other suitable space in Brooklyn, but for us to be able to support it at the level that we support stages, it was very advantageous for us to have it much closer to home.
After two years of searching, we found this one particular space which is not easy to come by in New York that was three blocks from our main campus. I think the combination of doing that search and also spending quite a lot of time canvasing our studio clients, Disney, Warner Brothers, Dreamworks, Fox, and saying, “In terms of location, what would be the best for you?” They all said SoHo. Some of the clients were more resistant at that point to go into Brooklyn even though there might be the infrastructure there, they weren’t ready to go. They wanted it close.
The ability to interface with the rest of our post-production pipeline was key — so many of our shows were doing dailies, offline, visual effects, picture posts, sound posts. The ability to keep it all close and to make it all part of a larger offering is really what compelled us to be willing to make the investment and take the plunge.
It was really important to us that with the tax credit in New York, bringing so much work to New York, we wanted to make sure that the biggest, highest-end studio tent-pole post production projects would stay in New York. Without having that kind of sound offering, it wouldn’t be able to stay in New York.
Nailing the Space
Tell me about this space. It’s a former retail location, right?
That’s right. I think it had been vacant for a while, so I’m not sure what tenant was in there before. The reason why the space fit the bill was that it had been a very large column-free retail space. It wasn’t typical office space.