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“Being Creatively Brave and Empowering Clients to Take the Lead” with Dan Trotter

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The Founder of Found at Sea spoke to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about his journey through the advertising industry, how he started Found at Sea and fishing fuelling his love for film

“Being Creatively Brave and Empowering Clients to Take the Lead” with Dan Trotter

Starting off from what he calls a “three-year-long paid internship,” to moving on to broadcast TV and making his own fishing show, one can say that founder of Found At Sea, Dan Trotter, has been around for some time.

Collecting knowledge and valuable learnings from all ends of the industry and beyond, he found his way into becoming the main captain of the video production company where he can do what he does best – work with passion on projects that matter to him. Found At Sea is committed to meeting the demands of the changing communications industry with a competitive spirit and at a commendable pace. 

LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Dan Trotter to find out more about his personal journey in the industry and Found At Sea’s work. 

LBB> Tell us about your childhood - was creativity a part of it and to what extent?

Dan> I grew up through the 70s and 80s in Sydney's northern beaches and north shore, I attended a Steiner School (known as Waldorf schools in the United States and UK) so the development of creativity played a large role in our daily education. Arts and crafts, creative writing, storytelling and walks in the bush. This early experience has definitely informed my life and career.

LBB> What were the first steps you took towards your creative career, in terms of university or apprenticeships? What were those experiences like?

Dan> I studied Marine Science and Marine Ecology with a desire to create science documentaries. During this time I began filming fishing shows. So I didn't study media or communications but rather learned on the job. My first experience in the film and TV industry was working for IMG International and the Southern Star Endemol, where I was an EA, the production coordinator and went on to become a production manager. This provided all the education I needed to get a foothold in the industry. In a way, it was a paid internship that ran for three years. 

LBB> Tell us about your first creative job, how did you get to it and what were your biggest learnings from your early days in the industry?

Dan> My first creative job was really a self-employed position, up to that point all my roles had been production management related. I started a production company with a friend to create a fishing show called ‘2 Dans Fishing’ and we spent three years up and down the east coast of Australia filming, hosting, producing, directing and editing a series of fishing films with the assistance from experts as tutors and technicians along the way. We certainly threw ourselves in the deep end and had to learn fast about how to manage production from end to end. Everything from being the runners, to camera assistants, edit assistants, camera operators, editors and looking back on it now, also quasi directors. It was a blast, but inevitably not a sustainable business model. It did teach me how to hustle and see projects from start to finish. From there I founded a new production company and went on to co-executive produce a number of TV series for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

LBB> How did you go about creating Found at Sea and what was its purpose initially?

Dan> After years of working in broadcast TV production and enduring the challenges of working with small budgets and making a limited income, I recognised that something had to change. So I left the broadcast industry behind (for a while) and turned my attention to branded content, advertising and corporate comms. Since then I've never looked back, the company continues to grow as does our client and agency list, and the scale and scope of the projects we are privileged to create. It hasn't been all champagne and caviar, but it's been a growing success and we have ambitious aspirations for what comes next.

LBB> Tell us about your best and most challenging work?

Dan> We've created a lot of work that we're super proud of that would fall into the category of best. Work for Destination New South Wales and Brickworks Australia being amongst that work.

However, the most challenging project (that also fits into the best work category) to date would have been a campaign we filmed last year for global hotel chain 'Adina'. They have just launched a new tier of hotels under the A by Adina brand and they wanted to create a brand campaign that captured the essence of staying with them. The central idea is that when you stay with them all the worries and stresses of the world disappear leaving the guest feeling weightless and relaxed. 

To achieve the directors (Jonathan Pease) vision we needed to float our lead female talent through the brand new hotel lobby, located 22 stories above Sydney's CBD. Logistically it was a challenge to get all the gear and 40 strong crew up into the lobby using a passenger lift that had just been finished in a short bump-in window. Creatively it was challenging as we wanted to film as much as possible in the actual space, only relying on VFX for the parts that we couldn't create in real life. To create the feeling of weightlessness we brought in a camera crane, the latest Scorpio stabilised head and a stunt flying rig, these were set up to work in juxtaposition with each other to maximise the movement and sense that the talent was floating through the space. 

The VFX supervisor also spent considerable time planning out the shots where the backgrounds needed to be replaced and ensuring the coverage was maximised. Whilst the budget was considerable, we had to achieve a lot in a single 16 hour shoot day plus get all the gear in and out of multi-million-dollar lobby without so much as a scratch. The post schedule was also tight and complex with a considerable amount of rig removal being required. In the end, the project came together without a hitch and the director, agency and client were proud and excited by the outcome. You can check out the hero campaign on our website home page: FOUND AT SEA -

LBB> What inspires you and keeps you going in the job that you do?

Dan> The variety of the work we do, the crew that make it all possible and the clients who entrust us to realise their vision. That's what gets me up and going every day. Creative collaboration is the real juice of creativity, we love it.

LBB> Talk to us about the industry in Australia through the years - what changes have you seen, what trends and what insights can you give about it.

Dan> The industry continues to grow, sometimes at a formidable pace. One of the challenges that I believe most production companies face is the downward pressure on budgets, in conjunction with the upward pressure of costs. That's possibly the biggest change. Unfortunately, it impacts on creativity and what is achievable. Like everywhere in the world the sheer volume of content, advertising campaigns and the like, make standing out from the clients’ competition an ongoing challenge, and this continues to change with more and more channels to market. But this is also where the opportunity exists. Being creatively brave and empowering clients to take this lead is essential and is what clients with real experience champion.

LBB> How do you go about picking your crew? What is the process like?

Dan> Picking the crew is all about the project and vision of the client, agency and director. The end look informs which director we brief on a project and then we work together to select the best crew for the job. If the DOP loves the project then they get involved and the rest cascade down from there. As the MD of Found At Sea, I lean into the crew selection heavily. We want a fun, friendly on-set environment, there's no time or space for difficult, problem focused or lazy crew on our sets. We always aim to have an easy going, hardworking crew with a solution focused mindset. Wherever possible we also like to build crews that are teams and have worked together a lot. There are unspoken communications that make the day seamless when you can bring people together that know the lay of the land.

LBB> Tell us why you chose the name Found At Sea?

Dan> The journey to finding a name is always an interesting one. What's in a name? 

There's a Zeitgeist for cool names out there, but none of the original ones myself and the guys from UNKL ( threw around felt right, so we dived into a fun and explorative journey to find the one that fit best. When FOUND AT SEA  came up, it felt right and the branding the guys created around it was perfect. We really wanted a name that started a story and invited people to ponder, after all, storytelling is our trade and expertise. And I believe the name FOUND AT SEA can start a story or end it. But where does the name come from? The name comes from the fact that I have spent my life by the sea, on the ocean, or under it, it's where I go to celebrate the good times, find solace in the tougher times and enjoy wide-open spaces. I also feel the same holds true for Australians who live by the coast, we all go to the sea to find ourselves in times of celebration and contemplation. Maybe that's all a bit deep, but we love the name and feel it represents us and Australians more broadly.

LBB> We know that Found At Sea is committed to acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which you work - how do you incorporate these moral pillars in your work and how do you make sure that continues? 

Dan> Our Sydney office is based in Surry Hills, on Gadigal land. Growing up in Sydney I have lived across many locations including the lands of Eora, Kuringai and Dharug people and because of this have always been interested in the ancient history of the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live. More recently over the last decade, I have taken the time and made the effort to learn about the real history of colonisation in Australia and the confronting and tragic circumstances by which our European forebearers came to seize the land and displace First Nations people. We also understand the need to cultivate a culture of trust and respect, in order to do this we must acknowledge the atrocities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the impact that inequity, discrimination and dispossession has generated continues to have on multiple generations of First Nations peoples. Whenever appropriate for specific projects (as a company) we connect with and engage First Nation advisers during all phases of production. We also actively seek to provide employment and contracting opportunities for young indigenous multi-media professionals. Further to this we actively pursue briefs where we can learn about and share aboriginal culture, work with clients on Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) and this will continue as long as the business does. Whilst we do not have a formal RAP in place we are aware of the moral pillars that form Reconciliation Action Plans and work to incorporate these on an ongoing basis into our personal and work lives.

LBB> What would be your advice to people who want to start in the industry now?

Dan> Get started before you finish university or any studies. If you want to dive in before studying, I also believe there's a pathway to do just that too. Search your network for any way into the industry, it doesn't matter where you start, ask your friends, your parents, your neighbours if they know anyone. The best way in is through someone who has a known network. If you get in and bring the right attitude, your career can get a jump start. If you don't know what department you want to be in, get in as a runner or an assistant in any department, get a wide experience and observe what people do keenly. Work for free (within reason), get as much experience in as many departments as you can and pick the one that feels like it's calling you. Once you pick the expertise you want to develop, turn up early, listen intently, be proactive, learn fast, work harder than everyone around you and be prepared to leave last. Developing  expertise with a narrow focus, slowly but surely reduces the competitive field and makes you an easy and natural selection for the heads of departments. Oh, and being friendly and remembering coffee orders and people’s names is a good thing too.

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FOUND AT SEA, Wed, 27 Apr 2022 14:42:44 GMT