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Nouse interviews Polychrome Studios

Four students discuss their experiences around launching their independent production company

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Image Credit: Polychrome Studios

The market for narrative content within the commercial sphere is growing. During the pandemic, we all notably consumed more film and TV content than ever before. As this vital industry continues to grow, four film students-cum-entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the boom. I recently spoke with Luke Berridge (Head of Development), Charlie Travers (Creative Director), Hannah McVicker (Project Coordinator), and Austin Jones (Head of Production) about the launch of their production company, Polychrome.

What was the initial inspiration behind launching Polychrome?

HM: I think we wanted to move outside the box we were in. I think you can only go so far as a student. Doing commercial filmmaking brings in new people, new locations, and new ideas. It’s fresh content to explore.

AJ: For me, the main impetus was setting myself up well to go into the film and television industry. All four of us were talking about wanting the same sorts of things, so we made a group chat and decided to go for it.

What has been your experience working as a part of a start-up, so far?

LB: It’s comforting being able to choose your partners. In other workplaces, and even at school, you’re just thrown together with a bunch of random people. Since we already know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s easier to rely on each other.

CT: Knowing each other’s strengths means we’re able to work together and all excel at our individual things. And because of that, the final product is so much better.

I know that you have quite a clearly defined concept for Polychrome. Would you walk me through it?

HM: We wanted it to be clean and easily accessible, but with personality.

AJ: There are four colours, corresponding with the four of us in the company, and also the four main tenets of the services we offer at the moment, which are: showreels, documentary, branded content, and commercials. In terms of our social media, we’re trying to come across as direct and simple- not high and mighty.

On your social media, you’ve emphasised wanting to work with other independent businesses. How have you approached marketing yourselves to independents?

CT: I think they are the kind of people who would see the most benefit from what we can offer. They’re some of the most interesting people to work with. We want to show them that we’re also an independent business with skin in the game.

LB: We’re in a corporation dominated market, where collaborating with independents is how we survive. It’s going to be independent enterprises who haven’t necessarily developed a brand image or a professional iconography. That’s what we can give them. You’ve got a fairly unique business model, where there are four of you on equal footing running the company. How do you navigate your individual roles within that structure?

CT: I think the roles we’ve all taken on are reflective of the skills we have, so we’ve ended up with a pretty unique structure where we’re all fairly equal. The only way there is more of a hierarchy is that one person takes the lead in each project.

LB: We are great at identifying whose strengths apply to each specific project. There are very few egos between us, so none of us are afraid to surrender a project to somebody else when we know they’re better suited to it.

How have you found balancing your Polychrome work with your degree work?

AJ: I wouldn’t say it’s easy.

HM: This might not be the best time to answer that question– we’ve got a bunch of deadlines over the next two weeks.

AJ: Working on our own terms doesn’t necessarily mean having a good work-life balance. We’re not very good at that.

HM: I think that’s a problem for a lot of creatives. It’s about knowing when to step back from the work to take a mental break. At the moment, I think it’s about setting times in the day to do the work and saying, right, this is when I’m going to do work for Polychrome, and this is when I’m going to relax or work on upcoming deadlines for uni.

AJ: And with university life, there are bottlenecks of really busy periods, and then there’s just a month where you have a ton of free time. At the end of first year, we made five short films because we just had so much free time. When those pockets of space and inspiration do come up, we have Polychrome to fill that space.

Here’s a hot take – how important do you think getting a degree is, in terms of going into the industry?

HM: Based on what I’ve heard, half of the people in the industry will say, yes, having a degree is great. The other half will say you don’t need one. For me, the main thing university can provide you with is the opportunity to network and make connections at the start of your career.

AJ: The degree is not super important, in terms of the piece of paper you get at the end of it. But you cannot, anywhere else, get three to four years of time to just make films, play around with kit and spend all of your time working on your own skills around like minded people. It’s worth adding that the film industry has traditionally functioned so that you’re meant to start at the bottom and work your way up- or you get in through nepotism. Universities have only really been offering film degrees for the past twenty years or so, and that’s starting to trickle into the industry, meaning employers are now starting to look for degrees where they maybe weren’t twenty years ago. It’s becoming more professional and commercialised, as an industry.

CT: I think the degree is absolutely not important. I’ve spoken to people in industry, and I agree with their sentiments. I’m not saying that I regret it, because it’s been a great time and I’ve met some great people. But would I say it’s benefitted me in my career in industry? I’d say no.

LB: I think for my own personal life, the degree was absolutely worth it. I’ve met some great people already and we’re only halfway through. But professionally, I don’t think there’s anything in particular that this degree has offered me that I couldn’t have learned while working in the industry.

What’s Polychrome working on at the moment?

HM: We’ve got an exciting job that’s allowed us to film live events, and we’re pulling together a commercial aspect from that. It’ll be exciting being in a crowd, filming, and then turning that footage into a commercial.

AJ: We’re then going to be producing social media content for them for a while. And we’re also potentially going to be doing work to do with live theatre. We’ve edited a showreel, and filmed a spec showreel, and we’re also working on spec adverts as well.

How would you sell a showreel to me, if I didn’t know you?

LB: Show you one we’ve already made.

CT: We know what it’s like to be on the set and we understand what people are looking for in a casting process, because we’ve had that background and experience. If you’re an actor and you’re doing an audition, casting directors want to see examples of your work. You’d want those examples to be of work that you’re proud of.

LB: It’s so hard for actors to get professional footage at the beginning of their career. If a casting director or agent sees something that’s low quality or not representing what you know you’re capable of, they’re going to underestimate you.

What are the values and the culture you’d like to create as a team?

HM: We’re focussed on pushing ourselves to be creative, taking on new projects and making new connections. At the moment, it’s all about exploration and development. This is the one time in our lives where we probably have the most opportunity to just experiment. We have quite a lot of flexibility as students.

AJ: We’re still in the process of forming that cohesive spirit- we’re all very conscious of being inclusive. That’s something we’ve talked about quite a bit. What we do and who we do it for is something we’re all conscious of, and we want to grow into that.

One of Polychrome’s unique sell-points is that you really emphasise the creative, imaginative aspect of production. How important would you say that storytelling element is in your work?

LB: Story is everything. People connect to stories. If you look at some of the more memorable commercials out there, it’s always centred around something heartfelt, and you’re invested in the character. If you have someone just relaying facts, you’re not going to feel like you need what they’re selling. The reason we use things like metaphors and similes is that they break down boring facts into something tangible- something you want to engage with. You need to engage in something that isn’t just pure detail. You need more than that.

CT: I think you can hire anyone to make a boring corporate video, with a bunch of talking heads, and some cool slo-mo of your office building from above. But no one cares about that, if we’re honest. If it’s a commercial and you’re trying to sell me something, what we’re really trying to dig down into is, what is the story of this product or brand, and how can we tell it? That’s when people are going to connect.

This is the first article in a new series dedicated to independent business.

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