Executive Producer & Managing Director at Revolver
Revolver Executive Producer and Managing Director, Michael Ritchie may be known for his hard work and savvy, but he most definitely isn’t the greatest actor – just ask Baz Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman. But, as LBB editor Gabrielle Lott discovered, his frank and thoughtful nature is one of the reasons he has such a respected work ethic and reputation.
LBB> Your career began in the mid-1980s, and by the time you were 25-years-old, you were head of television at Ogilvy Sydney – a role most people don't expect to achieve until they’re in their 30s. Why did you choose to work in advertising? How did you discover the industry? Or did it discover you?
MR> My older sister worked in an agency. When I left school, I was busy wanting to be a sound engineer. She seemed to be having a lot more fun that I was, so, I tried for a job or two and landed a traineeship with George Patterson. I was 18 and my job was to drive the Chairman and managing director around to meetings. I crashed a company car in my first week. It was fun.
LBB> After 10 years agency-side, with a stint as regional head of television at DDB Hong Kong, you made the move into production by joining Pod Film in 1994, and were made a partner in 1997. What enticed you to the craft and what is it about your role as executive producer that you enjoy most?
MR> I guess I loved the production part of the job more than the meeting room. I actually wanted to direct but, pretty soon, I realised I could either be an average director or a decent producer. I took the latter option and, in tow, the job to produce in a production house with Pod.
LBB> The production side of the industry has played host to some temperamental times in the last decade. Budgets being slashed, the demise of the promo, the launch of online and the app. Can you talk to us about these challenges and how you deal with them?
MR> Five years ago, I was actually feeling rudderless about it all. Then about four years ago, it all suddenly made more sense. [Revolver director and co-founder] Steve Rogers really started doing great stuff around the world. At Revolver, we developed a great roster and, with the addition of the Glue Society, things all started to kick into cross platform projects and better commercial film projects – all at the same time.
LBB> Yourself and Steve Rogers set up Revolver in 1999 – what is it about your production company that makes it so unique?
MR> To start with, I think Steve helps a hell of a lot. He is a great director, a great business partner and a great friend. Between the two of us, we seem to muddle through the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of a competitive business and, first and foremost, work hard to maintain our reputation of delivering decent work. We concentrate on strong production – and I do hope we are renowned for it. The company’s other EP, Pip Smart, plus our team of hard-working producers, represent that sense of solidity. Beyond that it’s our roster of directors that creatively makes us what we are: Simon McQuoid, Noam Murro, Psyop/Blacklist, Tim Godsall Bruce Hunt, Justin Kurzel, Leo Woodhead, Aaron Stoller, Alex Smith, Richard Bullock...and the might of the Glue Society… we are really very lucky.
LBB> Australian directing royalty Baz Luhrman has asked you on several occasions to work for him. You famously produced his one and only advertising campaign – Chanel’s No. 5 film that stars Nicole Kidman. How were the two of you introduced? What was it like working with him and what did it mean to Revolver?
MR> It was a while ago now, back in 2004, and I had just come off one of the hardest jobs I’d ever done. I was asked to meet with Baz because he was interviewing producers for his Chanel project. I was so tired – I think that nonchalance translated to confidence. He gave me the gig of producing for him and Revolver were to facilitate the production. It was hard but a truly wonderful experience. Baz also had me acting for a role as Nicole's chaperone – I was fucking terrible. It really was laughable and I think Baz found it funny. Needless to say, I am on the cutting room floor! Anyway, it was incredibly successful. When Baz made ‘Australia’ he asked us to produce the related Tourism Australia campaign. In that instance, Bruce directed them and Baz became our creative director.
LBB> You've won at Cannes Lions, D&ADs, Clios, AWARDS and One Show. How important are awards to you and your company?
MR> Awards are very important to us. If you’ve done a project that you think is good and it’s getting awarded locally and globally, it’s the most effective PR you are ever going to get. The great thing about this business is that good work gets around pretty fast – that is largely due to award shows becoming aggregators of the cream of it.
LBB> In 2010, you set up Revolver's sister company, Will O’Rourke. That year the company won the coveted Grand Prix at Cannes, and a further two Grand Prix at Spikes for its work on the NAB 'Break Up' campaign. Will O'Rourke focuses on content and brand funded alternatives – can you explain what this means and why you identified there was a need for the company in the industry?
MR> When you asked me what my take on the changing industry was and I said about the last four years being great, well one of the reasons for that is the birth of Will O’Rourke. Simply put, Will O’Rourke uses all of Revolver's production output credibility and applies it to commercially funded and branded projects that are outside the realm of a commercial. We have a roster of talent that are specialists in their own industries – an architect, a comedian/satirist, two documentarians, a record company owner, two digital specialists. We chaperone them with members of the Glue Society and other Revolver directors to make stuff that, for the most part, has not been done before. On top of that, we are really pushing the point that we are a tool for smart agencies to hold onto these projects, rather than them seeing their clients run off and do it with someone else. It’s been a great ride so far.
LBB> You’ve sat on a few craft juries for award shows. Can you talk to us more about this category and the development you've seen over the last five years?
MR> I don't really do it a lot, but when I am asked to judge, it does tend to be film craft. I think craft – how we make an idea work as well as they possibly can – is as important now as it’s ever been. There’s a lot of rubbish out there. Well made, compelling film will hopefully transcend all mediums and ‘content’ in its own right.
LBB> What work that Revolver and Will O'Rourke have produced in the last 12 months has really resonated with you?
MR> Schweppes ‘Tumble’, McDonalds ‘Staying Up’, Bundy ‘Catfish’ and TAC ‘Thursday afternoon’ were all great. From Will O’Rourke, it’s NRMA ‘Car Creation’, Nissan Leaf ‘Petrol Bowsers’, Ice Break ‘Drag Race’. There was also ‘Watch With Mother’, which I produced for the Glue Society. It’s a sketch horror show that they wrote and directed. It was distributed through an app and iTunes and we have just sold it to cable in the States. There are two other things that I wish I could talk about but can’t yet. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
LBB> 2013 - what does it hold for you and your companies?
MR> It's simply to be better than we were in 2012.