Bouncing back from a crisis

2020 is the first time The Look has made a financial loss in its 14 year trading history.  After a highly profitable 2019, we were preparing for large expansion plans, and then by May 2020 everything stopped.

For some of the summer months we had no work at all, haemorrhaging cash at a huge rate despite utilising furlough to lower payroll costs and stop redundancies. Equipment, service charges and rent all had to be paid. If one thing was certain though, when shooting properly resumed, it was going to be the biggest boom in TV drama we had ever seen, and it was imperative that we were in the perfect position to take advantage.

Every crisis offers new opportunities.  Through Summer 2020 we could take stock and build a new 3 year vision.  We embarked on a huge training campaign for our team, putting in full metrics for every task the facility carried out.  For some time we had been looking to increase the number and size of our suites, as well as give more security to our premises, so we moved all our computer equipment to a secure data centre outside the M25. This removes concerns around rack space, security, overheating, flood, fire and of course theft.  This meant we could knock down our small offline suites and rebuild larger grading and online suites, because our clients want bigger rooms.  We also wanted a larger team to support the great work we had coming in, and to adopt broader shift patterns, so we hired five new staff in three months. 

As you get older you think about what your legacy might be.  What impact you and your team can have on others.  I felt this more than ever during the pandemic and it gave me time to think about what the longterm future looks like.  As such, we started mentoring college students, running employability panels and creative masterclasses with a hope that there would be significant mutual benefits.  We spoke with Netflix and other independent post houses and found great support.  We were able to create job descriptions from a variety of companies to give to our college partners. These activities have been hugely rewarding for both our team and the students, and set us further on our journey of leaving that legacy that I think is important to the human spirit.

The pandemic shone an even greater light on balancing the demands of work and clients, and the health, family time and personal development of our team.  In an industry dominated with freelance crews how could we help our clients feel secure and supported by our company?  We decided we had to do more around helping people overcome their challenges, and work closely with them to give them the support they needed to get their projects done while maintaining their own personal balance. As a post production facility we face challenges, due to our overheads we have to do more than one job at a time, but not all clients are understanding of our needs to survive beyond their project end date, so working as closely as possible to break down the barrier of customer/supplier is important to us and that takes empathy on all sides. 

The film and TV industry struggles with change.  The lack of a single clear decision making voice on most productions means new innovations struggle to be accepted.  The pandemic brought remote technology to the fore because there was no choice, with directors having to use iPads with Streambox and Moxion to review, often very successfully for us. In some respects, it should greatly improve the creative and logistical experience for everyone involved, but, like eatting – we can do it at home, but there’s a reason why restaurants exist – people still want to come in and collaborate in a room, a zoom call or a review platform doesn’t give them that.

Without question, work related memories have to be created, they aren’t generated on zoom or on an iPad.  Cultures and collaborations between partners must be strengthened in person, managing up, down and across the chain, with silos of production pulled down – but that’s not to say these new technologies can’t go hand in hand.   

The UK film and TV industry now finds itself embarking on a new revolution of high budget, VFX heavy series in ever spiralling data sizes.  The UK editorial framework has to adopt an American model of VFX assistants, producers and post teams to properly support post supervisors.  Teamwork makes the dreamwork, producers, post supervisors, post houses and production companies will need to collaborate together to streamline and reduce the headaches of this new world rather than bump against it – and each other. The routines of ever changing pencils and sessions has to be overcome, streamlining the production and post experience, new opportunities of remote review and collaboration tools can propel us to a more efficient and harmonious end result, which can only be a good thing, but it requires decision makers across our industry to be ready to adapt to these new ways of working because the landscape has changed, projects are ever more complex, budgets forever stretched, but better technology, and crucially empathy, training new entrants, and collaboration can be the way forward, and those that can do that the best will enjoy a fruitful next few years, and in the long-term there may be positives from the pandemic, both professionally and personally.

Thomas Urbye

CEO, The Look

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