The Mill: Keep Calm and Make Films

We speak to The Mill's executive director Stephen Venning about how the production house is faring during the current crisis. Questions by Mark Tungate.

 

I see The Mill is forging ahead with creative projects at this time. What methods and tools are you using to move forward with work?

 

I think it’s really important to start by saying that like any creative business in the moment of time The Mill is like a swan in being calm on the surface. Behind the scenes though it is effectively doing what it’s always done, and that’s trying to solve creative problems. Albeit with the most unique parameter of effectively a worldwide lockdown to work around. 

For the most part we’ve been leaning heavily into our animation and motion design abilities. But it’s worth saying too, we’re also seeing both with our own in-house production and our external production and creative partners that everyone is working extremely hard to find alternative ways of working. Like using stock footage or reworking existing films.

It is also worth noting that as an industry we are largely in the game of making our content look as if it all happened seamlessly in-camera. But the reality has always been that we’ve had to make CGI cars, or composite sports stars or celebrities into locations they were never in.

 

How is the attitude of agencies and clients evolving as the crisis continues? Is there a glimmer of positivity?

 

There’s always positivity, and it’s on all of us that it’s more than a glimmer too. From a brand client perspective, of course creatives need to re-write and brands need to be empathetic to the situation. But it is very important that advertising does its very best to bounce back and be more creative and engaging than ever before.

The positives I’m drawing on is that this whole thing has at least given most of us pause for thought. Perhaps even centered us a bit. Made us aware of our friends and families more, our communities. The first couple of weeks had people sharing some of the best humour I’ve seen in ages or poignant stories that have moved us all to tears I’m pretty sure too.

Isolation has also been the making of Tik Tok and Instagram and other social content film makers. It’s not only tv channels that have had to broadcast from home. What’s inspired me most are the cleverly choreographed clips or the seemingly endless home challenges people have created. All of this is inspiration to our creative minds. It’s levelled the creative field in that sense too. Therefore, I have to think that this is all going to have a huge influence on the way we make advertising and entertainment going forward. 

If 2010 gave us Instagram that made us all ‘photographers’, then who knows, maybe 2020 will make us all film makers. Albeit in largely films involving our pets, or toilet roll challenges, mainly trying to make mini films that will amuse our friends and family and raise our spirits.

 

What’s the mood in general across the production community? 

 

Again, I think the reality for the production community is that it’s hit hard. But again, this is a community built on figuring stuff out, weathering all kinds of challenges. It’s busy, it’s not busy. These are everyday conversations long before COVID.

What I do know is that it may be quiet now, but everyone I’ve spoken to on the production side knows that when lockdown gets relaxed it’s going to ramp up quickly. 

My sincere hope is that we can take some learnings from our current remote working. That we’ll now fully embrace virtual productions. We’ll have less people on set and that will be a good thing. We’ll know it’s totally cool for the clients to video in rather than getting on a plane. In many ways it could make us more efficient with our time, make us better creatives, more environmentally conscious, and importantly we’ll be able to spend more time with our families and the ones we love or hold dearest.