How Two Competitive Toronto Post Houses Birthed Something Really Quite Lovely

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Rooster and School talk about the unusual collaboration that led to VFX shop Fort York
How Two Competitive Toronto Post Houses Birthed Something Really Quite Lovely

Just over a couple of years ago, two of Toronto’s most fiercely competitive post production and editorial houses – Rooster and School – decided to get down together and launch a visual effects shop named Fort York. 

While Rooster and School continue to exist as independent edit houses, Fort York draws from their collective VFX and post experience. 

A casual conversation between Rooster EP Melissa Kahn and School EP Sarah Brooks – and some 007 style, secret squirrel planning – and this beautifully collaborative VFX baby was born. It’s intriguing to see two competitors collaborate like this, and one that maybe you couldn’t see happening in sharper-elbowed markets like, say, London and New York. But according to Fort York partner and flame artist Mike Bishop, who is also a partner at Rooster, the merge made perfect sense and just resulted in a firmer, more bona fide set up. 

“We would all meet up in secret at my brother’s office so we didn’t raise any speculation amongst our competition,” he comments. “Once we all got together, we saw how much we had in common and that our two groups of artists and producers could really compliment each other.”

But wouldn’t it be a bit of a political nightmare? People’s skills complementing others is a great notion for launching a business, but in any walk of life a coming together of competitive equals like this could cause a bit of a power struggle. Fort York’s case, though, proved to be quite the opposite, which Bishop puts down to the small, manageable group of awesome folk that set it up and the running of the business independently from its Rooster/School roots. 

“Honestly, the running of the company has been great. With all the creative ability and business acumen among the companies, it’s been a great brain trust for a start-up. When we were building, we had a great small team from all ownership groups – Chris Van Dyke, Sarah Brooks, Melissa Kahn, Ernie Mordak and myself – and we all helped form how the company looks and operates.”

Two years down the line and Fort York finds itself standing tall and working with the likes of Porsche Global and WalMart, and lending its hands to FCB Toronto’s scintillating ‘Invade’ spot for the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games. Post-launch, it also added a design and animation department, headed up by animation director Davor Celar.

For Bishop, the collaborative environment that was so important in Fort York’s birth has never left. “Post is a team sport and what I’ve learned the most is the value of that strong team,” he comments. “Building a bigger company isn’t just about the capacity to do more, it’s really about leveraging that to do it better. In any creative business the most valuable asset is the people, and we have the best people.”  


So could such a relationship have proven so fruitful in another market? It’s difficult to say for sure but according to Bishop the success of the Fort York story is a true echo of the tightknit, synergetic group that makes up the Toronto advertising industry. 

“Sometimes I feel like I work in a small town that only does advertising,” he says. “Everybody knows each other’s names, has worked together, knows a funny story about some party you were at and everyone supports each other. It’s a great mix of world-class creative and pioneering entrepreneurs. So, I think our setup really reflects the collaborative nature and the focus on creative.” 


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Fort York VFX, 5 years ago