Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

“Business Open As Unusual”

Production Company
London, UK
FAMILIA’s Toby Walsham and Campbell Beaton on how they use creativity in the face of adversity
Who could have predicted such an uncertain start to the new decade, at a time when people and companies were filled with optimism and energy about a new chapter and exciting opportunities? The coronavirus pandemic has been a massive spoiler in everyone’s plans and is not only threatening our health, but our economy too. Like any of life’s difficult challenges, the current situation is best faced with a level head.

Speaking to FAMILIA’s Toby Walsham and Campbell Beaton, we find out how this London based production company is tackling this hurdle, using creativity to problem solve and working to keep business open.

Q> First of all, what does it mean for business to be “open as unusual”?

Toby Walsham> We’re working in a creative business and now it is more important than ever to think creatively. We should tackle the coronavirus outbreak issue in the same way we tackle any production hurdle. The way things currently stand, we will continue to offer up both creative ideas and technical solutions to continue to create for our clients.

Along the way, we will come across roadblocks and problems. This is completely normal in any production. Our ability to deal with these issues is one of our industries strongest traits. I encourage honest, open and direct discussion with our clients to find solutions.

During the coronavirus outbreak, that means remote working which our industry is very used to. I hope that all of our peers, clients, and agencies are also able to continue operating at this time. Most of us work from laptops which should allow us to work from anywhere. At FAMILIA, even though our offices are temporarily closed, we’re also trying to travel outside of rush hour times to reduce risks and on our current productions we are considering self-taped castings. There are solutions to keeping your productions going.

Q> What plans do you have in place to help ensure that your shoots are a safe space for clients and crew?

Toby> We have introduced a declaration form that all crew, no matter how minor their role, will need to sign and complete. On the form, we’ve included information on exactly what the virus is and it asks whether or not you feel that you may have been exposed to the virus, listing the countries that are problematic and the symptoms you could be showing. It also, importantly, contains information about how to better protect yourself and explains best practices whilst on set. 

Campbell Beaton> We also have a client in Korea who has opted not to travel to a shoot in the UK next week - which I think is a very smart thing for them to have done. But in order to ensure the shoot still goes ahead, rather than cancelling - as a lot of our peers have had to do - we’ve offered a solution by sending them a live feed of the shoot. This is actually a really simple thing to do, and everyone should be able to do it. QTAKE is a platform that most are familiar with, usually used for playback, but not everyone realises that there is also an option to livestream through it.

Q> While many clients are cancelling or pausing shoots and productions, why do you think it is important to remember to consider other factors and how it will affect business before taking any drastic action?

Campbell> The safety of our employees, cast, crew and clients is of the utmost importance. We are working hard but diligently! By reducing the contact down we can still do the important things. In a positive light, we are working out that there are indeed many meetings that could have just been an email after all! 

Toby> As a business we must also consider the financial perspective. It's important to me that my employees and our loyal regular collaborators manage to make a living through this difficult time. Our industry is made up of mostly freelancers, who rely on companies like FAMILIA to ensure a steady flow of work. 

Campbell> We are looking at making sure we follow all the Gov guidelines which at the moment are for us just to take precautions. We are working closely with our clients to make sure their shoots are still achievable and fantastic whilst also looking after the social care responsibilities of our lives both professional and personal. 

Toby> Most production companies are small businesses. They have a tiny number of staff and most probably have a simple office in Soho or Shoreditch, so we do keep our overheads low anyway. Most production companies do experience quiet periods of time in the normal year anyhow and I think in this industry we’re quite protected from it. But if clients and big businesses are deciding to not make adverts at all, then I am not sure how long many businesses will be able to hold out. It is a worrying time, but we have already seen good results from open conversations with our clients, leading to productions not being cancelled. 

Q> The majority of your directors are local to the UK, has this benefitted you in the current climate?

Toby> Around 50% of our directors are London-based and that has helped us. We are hoping it will in this scenario too. We have a large UK roster so can offer a great variety for UK productions.

Q> What big challenges has FAMILIA faced in the past where you have had to be creative in your problem solving?

Toby> I’ve done productions in many hostile environments such as sky dives, zero gravity flights and cities with gun crime and terrorism. But you just need to ensure you put security measures in place to overcome these hurdles. We can tackle coronavirus with the same level head and smart planning. Just stopping operations is potentially more damaging, as we will see plenty of redundancies and bankrupt businesses. I am encouraging all my clients to keep calm and carry on. 

Campbell> This is most reminiscent of large weather issues where shoots have been “rained off.” I previously had a whole shoot in Capri cancelled when we couldn’t get onto the piers to get to the boats. Often you can’t do much in the face of adversity but with location or weather issues, you can always think of creative alternatives to get around it. We are a creative industry so we just need to box clever. This business is not known for shying away from problems, be it underwater shoots, or in the Saudi desert, all of which can be life-threatening if not handled correctly.

We will take things a day at a time, as things are developing by the hour. We are hopeful that things will improve but we are planning ahead to ensure we prepare for the worse.

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