“One of the bigger failures at the bigger production house was that the directors were really just a product. They had no interest in the business. They were just marketed and you got work for them and they just sat on a website wherever they were in the world,” says Peter Carr from his Johannesburg office. He’s pondering the traditional model of production and how it has left so many companies, directors and producers struggling to navigate these leaner and more challenging times.
His year-old production company Massïf Media has been carefully constructed to thrive and survive in a tough business environment. It’s small. It eschews presenteeism in favour of work-from-home efficiency. And its lean roster features directors who are not ‘products’ but partners.
The first thing Peter did when he set up Massïf was to give his four directors (Dean Blumberg, Marc Sidelsky, Gordon Lindsay, Petar Spiljevic) shares in the business. “When people have a share in the business, they have an interest in the whole business doing well, not just their show reels. They care about the other directors doing well because they’re going to earn money off each other,” says Peter. “That for me was a flip and it’s worked very, very well.”
Since opening its doors – metaphorical doors given the initial lack of an office – on July 3rd 2017, the company has shot 24 commercials. Not bad going for a new concern launching in a tough market – and considering flagship director Dean Blumberg was off on paternity leave for two months.
It could have been a very different story. South Africa, like many markets at the moment, is facing lean times in the ad and production industry. What’s more, last year’s water shortage in Cape Town scared off many valued international clients. But, with decades of experience under his belt, a nimble business strategy, a carefully curated group of talented directors and some good fortune, Peter has managed to steer Massïf through choppy waters.
“There were a lot of contributing factors that we had to dodge around, but the water was a big issue. We’re based in Johannesburg predominantly; our head office is here and that’s one of the things that actually worked in our favour. A lot of our international clients decided to shoot here in Johannesburg. Aside from the water shortage, Johannesburg actually has the older film infrastructure, so a lot of the clients who used to avoid Jo’berg were coming up. And a lot of the bigger agencies are based in Johannesburg, so we focused on the local business. In Cape Town, the water shortage has been a huge issue, and the service industry took a huge knock this season. And I think just generally, world markets were slowing down so we focused on the local business.”
Currently the company is around 14 people-strong – though no one is required to come into the office apart from when they need to get briefs, work in the same room as a colleague, or meet clients. There are four directors and four producers – and one area they haven’t skimped on is creative research too. “Our directors were very insistent that we didn’t freelance that in. These days there are so few jobs out there, so you need a high hit rate – and to have a high hit rate you need a strong creative team in the background,” explains Peter.
It’s the sort of clever move that comes from having the directors more invested in the overall success of the business. What’s more, says Peter, this set up benefits clients. Directors are collaborative rather than competitive, helping each other with scripts and ideas – and mentoring the researchers in a cooperative creative culture. So instead of just hiring a director, clients are tapping into a veritable think tank.
Aside from the stellar talent involved in Massïf – Dean Blumberg has long been one of the world’s superstar commercial directors and Marc Sidelsky is a Rumpelstiltskin for spinning comedy gold – perhaps one of the main reasons for the companies success is that the team has learned some valuable lessons over the past couple of decades.
For 20 years, Peter ran the legendary Velocity Films – a production name renowned and respected not just locally but around the world. Deciding that he didn’t want to follow Velocity to Cape Town, Peter then headed up its boutique sister offering, Bouffant, where he became close to the team and managed to create something that was successful in its own right, though markedly smaller than the Velocity operation. As the local and global markets began to dampen, Velocity’s huge infrastructure began to seriously feel the strain – and so Peter and his crew decided to take matters into their own hands and launch Massïf, a new company for a new age.
And they’ve been flying. The first job came in on the first day of business. A valued old client had come with a project for Discovery Insurance, something Peter describes as ‘a great morale boost’.
Over the past 13 months, they’ve been working with a range of clients and brands, from Ogilvy to Joe Public. One project that really stands out to Peter is an ongoing project for South African retail brand Jet, shot by Marc Sidelsky, which Peter reckons injects some much-needed creativity into a sector that, locally, puts out what he calls ‘wallpaper’. The campaign recently won an APEX award – the campaign had a sizeable impact on JET’s business and the APEX is a show that’s all about ROI and effectiveness.
With year one done, Peter’s thoughts turn to the future of Massïf. He knows that it will grow a little, but he is wary of over expanding. Instead of being held hostage to high overheads, Peter feels that growing to about 16 people would sit just right. He might bring on one or two directors or – more excitingly – there could be some exciting new talent bubbling up through the ranks. But while they may never be massive in terms of headcount, they’re certainly massive in terms of creative ambition. And if this year is anything to go by, we can’t wait to see what comes next.
Check out more of Massïf's work below.