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Amp It Up: Alex Webster on the Friends Electric Launch



As Electric Theatre Collective officially unleashes its new lovechild on LA and London, we get to know this new production company with a twist

Amp It Up: Alex Webster on the Friends Electric Launch

Since hitting the scene in 2012, Electric Theatre Collective (or ETC) has never been averse to doing things differently and stirring up the industry in the process. The VFX house with rock and roll in its soul has grown from cheeky upstart to world class boutique, with offices in London and Los Angeles.

And now comes the next phase in their evolution, as they officially launch Friends Electric, a full-service production company with an insanely diverse and hip roster of talent. 

While VFX houses with production or creative departments is not a new phenomenon, EP Alex Webster believes that the forward-looking roster and integrated approach marks it out. “More and more, brands and agencies are looking to place work in a 'one-stop shop' who can not only deliver but co-develop an integrated campaign. Where we differ from our competitors in the VFX landscape is that our roster of talent is not retro-fitted from our VFX business, but have genuine pedigree as creators of genre-defying work.”

There’s Pete Candeland, one of commercial and music video animation’s leading lights – he of Gorillaz fame – who is now developing VR and AR projects and developing a major feature. And there’s hip Berlin-based creative studio Woodblock; self-declared Futurecrats, NoGhost; composer-director duo Silent with a line in immersive fashion films; meticulous, architecture-inspired animation director Lucas Zanotto, who makes apps for kids on the side; and, finally, masters of the visceral hyperreal CG form, Polynoid. This ain’t your standard directors roster.

According to Alex, who has been spending the last few months curating just the right talent, the aim was to build an entity that works for today. “The clue is in the title... building on the inclusive, collective culture of ETC, I wanted to create a production company that was commercially credible and culturally relevant, based on the talent of a few highly skilled artists, directors and makers whose work I love and revere,” he says. “I wanted to curate a stable of talent which is complimentary and can cross-over but fundamentally works across all forms of media and platforms. We are genuinely collaborative – by this I mean that our directors regularly work with each other on projects, leveraging each other's talent and specialisms to best creative effect. Between us we have the smarts and experience to work in the highest creative spheres of advertising, site specific immersive and experiential media, platforms including VR, AR and mobile apps, as well as long form and short form narrative.” 

In fact, Friends Electric’s creative talent has already been cross-pollinating on projects. NoGhost and Silent collaborated on a real time digital art installation for the MTV EMAs. The project, through Sunshine X, features a CG dancer who changes shape and dance intensity depending on the tone of the Tweets coming in during the show.

This way of working, Alex believes, makes Friends Electric an ego-free zone (or as ego-free as one is likely to find in adland!). “My point of view is that in order to be relevant to brands and advertisers you need to have breadth in execution, originality in thought and strategic and conceptual thinking in everything you do. We also have a very strict 'no twats' policy. This is important and the cornerstone of what Friends Electric is about. Working with egotists is boring, divisive and corrosive not only for us but the clients and partners with whom we work.”

While it’s tempting to see Friends Electric as a standalone venture, it’s inextricably interlinked with ETC and its culture. “What we're not is a silo of ETC; we're intrinsically connected to the wider company and integrated in its culture and direction,” says Alex, who explains that Friends Electric allows ETC to develop new specialisms and enter exciting new areas. 

“An aspiration for ETC is to grow its VFX business whilst also diversifying its creative services to become relevant in art, culture and commerce. Friends Electric provides the space for ETC to grow new specialisms in directing and design in advertising and products, creation of original IP and technology, and to explore areas of interest such as fashion, broadcast and feature films.”

In fact, they’ve already got some super-secret TV projects in development (“NDA’d up the wazzoo!” jokes a tight-lipped Alex). However, what he can say is that he’s convinced that it’s an absolute imperative for creative businesses to be investing in their own creative IP, in this day and age. 

“The pre-existing paradigms that existed between commissioners and creators have been super-ceded by a more fluid and flexible approach. You have to be able to think for yourself and not only trust but invest in your own people to create properties which are marketable,” he says.

This need to create your own products is partially driven by the breakdown of the traditional advertising model. “The commercial production model I grew up with is inherently fu***d if you ask me... There are too many variables and challenges to winning work which, when you put that against ever decreasing margins and schedules, means that 'making ads' for a living is unsustainable. So you have to find another way – and that comes from liberating yourself to think conceptually and take your own work and ideas to market, rather than waiting for a half decent script to land in your inbox. The guys we represent all develop creative projects outside of advertising and Friends Electric and we provide them an outlet to make great work from their ideas. They are creators by nature.”

But it’s not just about creating a new stream of money.  “I think this is vital; success is not just about revenue generation – it’s achieving a balance that works on a human level and much of that comes from the freedom to create. Give my guys space to make something original and they will deliver genuinely exceptional work. We're an independent shop and we have the autonomy to work within a business model which sees us invest in ourselves, which compared to many of our more corporate competitors is profoundly liberating.”

So, with Friends Electric, it looks like the ETC family is forging a different kind of creative studio; one that’s in control of its creative destiny and defiantly different. “We're unapologetic for adapting to a rapidly evolving commercial landscape, which I think brands and agencies respond to,” says Alex. “There's an honesty and integrity in everything we do. We mesh raw talent with experience, we work f**king hard, we have great taste and we have an opinion on what constitutes good work. Moreover, we're not limited to one style, signature or medium. We're only a couple of months in to this, but what is super exciting is the breadth and range of partners we're currently working with; off the top of my head I can list seminal music acts, game developers, modern artists, a fashion house, a features studio, a TV network, as well as well as the most interesting creative agencies as clients... and the list goes on. It honestly feels like we're at the start of something pretty special...”

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Genres: People

Friends Electric, Tue, 24 Jan 2017 17:27:18 GMT