In the US market, Brand New School (BNS) is recognised as one of the industry leaders in design and animation. But just prior to Cannes Lions, about one month ago, it was announced that the team behind BNS were to launch a sister company, Recess Films - though Recess will operate independently with its own roster of directors.
Heading up Recess as its managing director is John Duffin, an industry stalwart who served as an executive at Epoch Films, overseeing directors for 17 years. Excited by the challenge to find and nurture more young talent and the opportunity to build something from nothing, he now kicks off proceedings at Recess.
Keen to hear about the company’s launching roster and John’s plans for its future, LBB’s Addison Capper picked his brains.
LBB> For 17 years you were at Epoch, one of the top production companies in the US. Why was now the right time for this new adventure?
JD> I have fond memories of Epoch - I had the esteemed pleasure of being at a stellar company, working alongside wonderful owners and super talented directors. But, after careful examination of the landscape, I really got to thinking about what aspects of this business are most important to me - what is it that I love to do? What do I love to be a part of?
I have always been a big fan of finding and nurturing young talent, and the idea of building a company from the ground up has always excited me. So, when this opportunity presented itself with Jonathan [Notaro, ECD & Director] and Devin [Brook, Managing Partner], it just felt like it was the perfect time to do what I love - seek out talent and help build careers.
LBB> And what was it specifically about the opportunity with Recess that was so appealing?
JD> I’ve always dreamed of having a boutique production company with talented and clever filmmakers (clever always wins). Having the creative control to find fresh and established filmmakers / talent was a challenge I was really excited about. It is not easy to find unique voices when it comes to directors. Having partners that allow me to pursue that challenge vigorously, and support and encourage the journey, appeals to me.
LBB> In the launch release you say that “Recess Films is evolving how a production company operates in this changing media landscape” - how will you be navigating that evolution and what does it entail?
JD> We’re seeing a trend in creative companies merging to expand capabilities under a single moniker, preserving boutique experiences for creatives and delivering better value to clients. I see Recess Films as an extension of this movement, offering our own take on a more connected and collaborative production company experience.
LBB> Tell us about the roster you’ve launched with - this arguably the biggest statement of intent when a production company is first launching. What were your thoughts when you first began curating directors?
JD> The goal was to find directors whose work I had a visceral reaction to... eyes that looked at the world in a different way. Originality, a point of view and a consistent signature in their work were all paramount in my global director search. I have to believe in my directors, 100%, in order to sell them. I also like the fact that four of our six Directors are photographers. Photography has always been a deep love of mine. It takes a village, so our strong sales teams and partners all deserve credit in the pursuit of greatness.
LBB> How would you summarise your roster now and what does it say about Recess as a company?
JD> When I look at our roster, I see a group of filmmakers whose process is not just about storytelling, but also about big-picture creative problem-solving. They think outside the box and bring a sense of possibility to the table. We are attracting a new breed of filmmaker, which I think speaks to our company philosophy to seek out new ways to collaborate and to create real value for our clients.
LBB> How will you be looking to evolve the roster in the future? Are you quite content with its size or will you be looking to expand?
JD> This is a question I constantly battle with. It has always been my deep belief that each director needs individual attention and proper career management in order to make the right choices when choosing to engage in projects. I never want a roster so big that I am not able to give my undivided attention to each director… so at the moment, my goal is to not exceed 10-12 directors.
LBB> Recess is partnered with Brand New School, but will operate independently - can you elaborate on how each company will communicate and support each other?
JD> BNS will continue to foster and sign talent in the space it’s carved out for itself: the design/film/animation world. Recess Films will target directors with sensibilities outside of what BNS is known for. That said, we see having the infrastructure of both companies available to us as a significant advantage, one that helps Recess extend beyond what a traditional production company can provide. We can be a creative playground for the directors, where we incubate talent with maximum support, experience and resources.
And with a diverse group of directors, we are able to expand our collective offerings.
LBB> What are your plans and ambitions for the rest of 2018?
JD> To find interesting projects for our directors, to challenge them, to develop their careers, and to do great work... that is what inspires us.