ELECTRIC THEATRE COLLECTIVE: RESPONDING TO THE INDUSTRY’S ‘BIG BANG’ MOMENT
Born from the minds of Founders James Sindle, Giles Cheetham and Lee Pavey, Electric’s journey has since spanned 11 years, growing from the three Partners, one General Manager and a couple of office dogs, to more than a hundred full-time staff. Now residing in a new space in East London, the focus and necessity to evolve in recent times has seen the most acute levelling-up from the studio since they first opened.
We caught up with Jon to learn more about Electric’s approach to their work culture and their technological evolution in a post-pandemic world.
Electric still has this start-up reputation, in a good, sparky way. For those who haven’t had a chance to work with you, tell us a bit about the studio.
We do take pride in that start-up reputation and try to retain the very best bits of the spirit you find at start-ups and boutiques, but ultimately, we’re 11 years old now and with that comes a maturity, particularly in our processes and infrastructure, as well as the size of our team. I think most studios strive to keep a hold of that culture as they grow, but not all are successful – it takes a lot of work.
As a studio, we have achieved our greatest successes in the commercial and brand support market, but we’ve also created some of our most notable works for longer form and music videos. The most recent ‘pride-project’ for us was our fully-CGI zoetrope for Pharrell Williams, which was directed by Francois Rousselet and completed throughout the various COVID-19 lockdowns.
Naturally, all industries have had to adapt in response to the pandemic. What was that like for the Electric team?
This sort of seismic ‘Big Bang’ moment for the whole industry sparked some of the most ingenious solution-thinking we’ve seen in decades. For us, this was both from a technological and operational standpoint, as well as a sales and production one. Our team of engineers, R&D and ops staff had to orchestrate the single biggest shift to remote working in the space of 10 days. Then, in the face of job upon job being cancelled, we needed to quickly answer the question of how to generate revenue to keep our studio together. Thankfully, and entirely due to the brilliance and togetherness of the company, we were able to implement a number of plans and processes to get back on track.
It seems like the experience has changed Electric’s business approach then?
What emerged from the pandemic for most individuals was a kind of reset and introspection. It’s no secret that there are many toxicities that have formed in our industry over the decades of overstretching by VFX facilities.
We’re carrying this introspection into our business approaches, ensuring that we’re attuned to the experience of the individuals that make up our studio. Embracing hybrid working is one of the things to be cemented in our response to the pandemic. This included putting our energy into technology solutions that ease the teething pains of the hybrid model, upgrading our kit, hiring more brilliant people and building upon our bespoke pipeline.
Are there any standout technology advancements that Electric is integrating into its way of working?
Workflows and tech opportunities have accelerated so fast over the last three years for businesses like ours. We’ve implemented some major infrastructure updates designed to give us uplifts in security, resilience and speed, such as our own ETC heavily optimised remote access ‘box’ that is configured for optimal experience.
2022 saw our biggest investment in technology to support our longer form capabilities. We run a single, bespoke pipeline across the studio. This allows both commercials and longer form to coalesce and benefit from all the upgrades. In our Colour department, tailored suites have been designed for an ideal atmosphere and we’ve built a dedicated cinema screening room. We’ve also purchased brand new Sony monitors capable of HDR, in line with all delivery requirements for Amazon, Netflix, Apple and more, as well as an elite projector screen in their hero colour suite. New Flux Store storage will further enable the company to hold huge amounts of data, increasing rendering speed and capacity.
With scarcities in talent being a universal challenge for VFX studios, what are your plans for talent development?
We have the benefit of being large enough to tackle big briefs, but not so big that anyone can go missing. That means everyone has the attention, opportunity and support to grow in whichever path they choose.
The next step is really seeing how we can push the envelope beyond the walls of Cavell Street. VFX has challenges in meeting global demand for moving images, yet, there is a well of untapped potential out there. A big part of our strategy for 2023 is to get out into our city and demystify the path into Electric and the industry more broadly. We’re laying some groundwork with local councils, schools, colleges and universities to build a sturdier pipeline into the industry sustainably, and over the long term, reaching into communities that may have never considered it as a path.
What does the future hold for Electric?
We’re pitching and working on some really interesting projects across a variety of media and forms. As the world is in varying degrees of turmoil, we’re looking to grow our studio, whilst remaining conscientious of the soul and culture that has gotten us to where we are now. It may sound kumbaya, but continuing to grow, whilst retaining that ‘best of both worlds, familiar family vibe with big company work’ is where we’re heading.
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