It's always interesting when you hear heads of leading creative firms talk about their business purely in the terms of it being, well, a business. Once you step away from discussing what an agency creates, its approach to that creative process and how you develop that further, creative firms are much like any other: they need to innovate, plan for the future but be flexible in face of change and — most of all — turn a profit.
Last week, Sir William Sargent spoke to an audience of MBA students at Cass Business School in those terms. William is CEO of the prestigious Soho-based visual effects house Framestore, whose Oscar-winning VFX work on Gravity follows on a legacy that stretches back beyond even the major VFX work that made its name in the late 90s, the BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs.
He acknowledged that like all sectors, the creative industry has its idiosyncrasies — he notes that its "an industry where motivation is not a problem. You have to send people home, not stop them going home" — but it's a lot more like other business sectors than it might appear from the outside.
William detailed the challenges of running a business like Framestore, which he describes as "like trying change the wheels of a car as it's running along the ground". The company needs to do what it's been doing before — feature film visual effects work — as efficiently as possible, while also trying to adapt itself to what clients will expect from the firm now and in the future: from live interactive installations to game engine-based realtime projects for very fast turnarounds to 3D virtual reality using hardware such as the Oculus Rift.
Change isn't new to Framestore, says William. "We are different from what we were 28 years ago. We're different to what we were five years ago. And what we will be in five years time."
In 1986, Framestore was founded by five people (including William) as a post-production company and, he says, was conceived as growing into a 20 person company. It's grown many more times than that, with offices in New York, Montreal and Los Angeles as well as London and over 400 people working on Gravity alone (though many of those were freelancers).
As companies grown, it can be easy to assume that the new people are vessels to be filled with the knowledge already in the firm — but Williams says its essential to see those people as be as important as long term staff members, especially as those newer members can bring skills and understanding that can help a company transform itself to adapt to market changes.
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