For the last eighteen months, production companies have been getting on with the job of working out what will make them soar in a changing environment. They’ve diversified, reinvented themselves, gone global, gone budget, gone Hollywood, got creative…By now, they’ve probably worked out what matters to them. And that may vary from one production company to the next.
The Stable asked five production companies, “What matters to yours?”
Paul Prince, chairman & founding partner, Sweetshop
“We have a roster of thirty-three directors globally and with that comes a promise, always, to be continuously developing and improving their careers creatively. It’s a responsibility, and a trust put in us, that we take very, very seriously. What goes hand in hand with this is a duty as a company not to stand still and only do what we’ve always done, albeit done well. So, we’re developing beyond our core business of commercial advertising, evolving as a production company and as management, expanding our offering. In a sense, I suppose, we’re moving towards being more of an entertainment company. This opens many more doors of opportunities and offers broader platforms for our roster to express their creativity and their craft. For us and our roster, it’ll give us the pathway to develop stories that have many different forms – commercial advertising, direct to client content, music videos and music tours, feature films, screen development, passion projects, TV shows, books, photography. It’s a bold move, but we’re already seeing what’s possible with this pivot. These are directors whose creative talents have many layers and the excitement we’ve seen from them about applying these layers to our new business model has been absolutely inspiring.”
Oliver Lawrance, founder & executive producer, Photoplay
The production industry is not for the faint-hearted. It’s always evolving and the last few years have witnessed more extreme changes than most. We’ve seen what looked to be the death of TV to a new era of TV all together. We’ve seen the rise of content and the massive technological changes that have affected the way we make and consume films on every imaginable device. We are currently watching the functional relationships in the industry get turned on their head. How is the best way for clients, agencies and production companies to relate to each other and collaborate? Is our role being diluted or is it expanding with the new horizon of possibilities that stand before us?
These are all new questions for us to think about, however I would argue that the idea of change in and of itself is actually the norm. Rather than feel left behind by the changing tide what we need to do as production companies is look within and ask ourselves what makes us tick, what makes us relevant; and what are the motivations behind everything we do. It’s an existential question that reaches beyond the current trends, economic climate, production politics and latest technology. Yet potentially it holds all the answers we need.
When we started Photoplay, we realised we did not want to be just another commercial production company. We were filmmakers who had all worked at different Sydney production companies prior and found that most worked primarily on a surface level where the dollar ruled but not much else was on offer. We wanted to start a company which represented everything we believed in and where we could make all the different types of creative work we love doing – whether that was commercials, content, music or art films, tv series or features…It really did not matter. If it was creatively driven and we wanted to make it, then it had a place. We also wanted to create a culture that was made up of honest, talented people who were actually nice to each other. It sounds obvious but we’d been stuck in situations in the past which did not function like that. So we formulated a three-point test for everyone who joined us – they had to be talented, honest, and nice enough that you could enjoy hanging out over a drink or two. We were certainly naive and optimistic, however many years later we’ve actually managed to create and nurture an awesome and productive culture on these principles.
As Photoplay has grown over the years, it is this very same creative outlook and culture that has informed our decisions, both creative and commercial. For example, we had a policy from the outset that we’d reinvest half of our commercial profit back into developing and supporting our own ideas and scripts. Basically, this underpins the development of our feature film, TV series and long form projects. This has been the catalyst for a TV series with ABC TV and our involvement in feature films such as Sweet Country and Berlin Syndrome, and most recently a short-film for TEDx 2018. This fund enables us to develop an increasing number of scripts for TV and film, and to help facilitate this we have taken on two experienced film and TV producers to drive it.
Photoplay has also expanded sideways into new creative areas that inform and complement our creative culture. In 2016, we launched Photoplay Photography with executive producer, Alison Lydiard, at the helm of nine high-end photographers and several staff. And in 2017, we launched a creative platform, Playtime, to focus on experimental content and projects. We launched a pool of film directors who have interdisciplinary backgrounds, led by producer, Tom Slater, and myself. Both of these sides to Photoplay have grown and evolved, yet they fit within the existing Photoplay framework which has always valued out-of-the-box ideas and the cross-pollination of different visual mediums.
These are exciting times, as we’ve managed to grow in size in a way in that stays true to the motivations behind starting Photoplay in the first place. We are always striving to ensure that change leads to inspiration rather than exasperation. It was our creative appetites that drew us into this line of work in the first place and the constantly changing nature of what we do keeps us from going hungry. Both behind, and in front of the lens it is the creative work of all the Photoplayers and the culture of our little microcosm that sets us apart.
So I would argue that production companies have always had to evolve in one way or another in order to remain relevant in our industry. As long as we have different personalities, ideas and values, and we each embrace that which makes us unique from one another – then we will all continue to offer something new for clients and audiences – and we will all keep working…and keep changing.
Peter Grasse, founder, Mr+Positive
True! I saw that ‘change a’ comin’ and ventured to Tokyo with the mission of conquering a whole new marketplace. Nevertheless, it was the tenacity gleaned from Australian experience that gave me the self-confidence to do it. For example, I’d regularly met famous American producers at Ciclope or Cannes and inherently knew that they weren’t, in fact, better producers but simply worked in a bigger marketplace. So, I wanted to go for it. Show what I could do.
And it is true that production was struggling to evolve in a changing industry. However, in the face of that pessimism, I think the most revolutionary idea in the world right now is optimism. For that very reason, I launched Mr+Positive in Sydney and Tokyo. Like most people, I’m tired of hearing no. I survived the doom and gloom of the past decade and know that the production industry simply needs new energy, new inspiration. Besides, every good producer knows that a can-do attitude is the key to making great work. Not to say that it’s just accepting solutions, but rather it is being more fluid and willing to adapt. By providing agility and connectivity and by seeing opportunity where others see obstacles, Mr+Positive did just that. It’s impossible to see the future. However, I clearly saw the positive production force we wanted to be tomorrow and just went for it.
Kate Roydhouse, managing director, Curious Film
Some things that were right, are right, and will always be right.
Collaborations, transparency, agility.
There is no standard or static model any more. Every brief / project / ask is unique, so answer it that way. There’s no silver bullet. No VR, AR or driverless car is going to save the day.
Technologies will come and go, something we should all be fluent with by now.
Sure, being on top of these trends and having collaborative solutions is important. But what is most important right now is being agile. Don’t arm yourself with a single solution. It’s all going to change again tomorrow, so, you better be ready for it.
Being agile means working with an open book and open mind. Don’t weigh yourself down in tradition, crew yourself up for the job in front of you.
Sorry, it’s not revolutionary, but it is right. So, just be a good bugger and get shit done – together. There’s no time and no reason for smoke and mirrors. Just good, clean, effective work.
Declan Cahill, owner, and Leah Churchill-Brown, executive producer, Exit Films
There have been significant changes within the industry over the past eighteen months or so. Agency-client dynamics have shifted. The taste cultures of audiences have soared while their tolerance for advertising has plummeted. Budgets have shriveled (or rather the deliverables have grown relative to budget), clients are more risk-averse and the production house model has become leaner and meaner.
It does often mean that the expectation relative to resources is a constant challenge. Much of the work is now time-challenged as well, given the approvals process on creative, and there is an increasing expectation that projects can be turned around with relatively little pre-production time.
Exit, as with all production companies, has been forced to evolve over the past few years—more so even than the preceding twenty. As a group, we are fortunate to benefit and draw from the extraordinary knowledge and resources of our most experienced directors, who continue to meet creative briefs with a more traditional outlook, but we are also responding to the differing circumstance of briefs in the best way possible.
By developing the next generation of talent, who are not yet as wedded to the conventional paradigm of filmmaking, it opens us up to different ways of seeing the end result without sacrificing quality. This new perspective ultimately affects everything from concept through to our delivery. The flip side is that it asks clients to be more open minded to using new talent and technology, and accepting of choices that are available and the process that achieves them.
Exit has always been about directors and great DOPs. This hasn’t changed, what has changed is how we rationalise our service delivery while maintaining the quality at the essence of the Exit brand: compelling cinematic storytelling.
Anne Miles, managing director, International Creative Services
I founded International Creative Services to open up the global creative community as a multi-disciplinary production house. I really want to provide easier access the best independent talent, and to resource projects of all disciplines under the one roof anywhere in the world. My ideal day is to be briefed on a project, provide a world-class multi-disciplinary team best fit for the brief from an endless pool of world-class talent across all disciplines, and then manage the entire integrated campaign to keep everything on track. Because of this, I aim to be the place you call and ask what I can do for you, rather than pick from a limited roster of a few exclusive directors and only in one discipline.
I am driven by the principles of the Conscious Capitalism movement with a plan to get the best people working (who are often overlooked), to remove wastage, to do things more innovatively, to add meaning to the work we produce, and to give back to the world. By working differently, we can make the best use of resources, remove wastage in the current workflows, all while retaining the best talent and getting the best possible work produced.
I’m particularly passionate about delivering work that is on strategy and understand consumers very deeply in order to close the current gap between strategy and the final production. Part of this is also an important focus on diversity both in the final execution, but how the company works at every step. I’m committed to choosing the best team regardless of gender, age, culture, nationality or location and have processes in place to maintain that and to remove unconscious bias in all steps along the way.
I see International Creative Services as a versatile extension of the strategic team focused on producing the most effective creative projects with the budget going where it should.