There’s much about this business that’s infectious – the creation of new ideas, new stories, new approaches, and the people who are courageous enough to take the risks. My company, Buck Productions, has been my professional life for more than 15 years. It’s been a big company and it’s been a small company, and I’m about to tell you why I ultimately made the choice to be neither.
I’m very proud of Buck – the way it’s run, the team we have, the content we’ve produced, and the relationships that have been forged through our experiences together. But a while ago I began to take stock of what we had versus what we needed to succeed. And because I’m always looking to evolve Buck as a company, I made the proactive move to recalibrate my position on what it means to be big and successful in this business. I quickly realized things had to change. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t an easy process, but Buck is now in the best place it has ever been.
To change our business model, I needed to tackle three main items – sell our production facility, re-work our relationships with post-production houses, and transition our staff on an individual basis.
Selling our multi-level production facility was a hard decision but it was the right one. It allowed us to focus on content creation and production, rather than property management. Since the new model has us operating mainly in a cloud, our offices are now relatively compact, but I purposely negotiated additional space in our new building that can be activated at any time. It allows the flexibility we need and we can ramp up or down as required. Automatically, there was company equity and buoyant cash flow and it allowed us to carry this forward, making sure investments landed on the screen.
The second part of building the new model was strengthening our synergies with the best post facilities in the country. Since the restructure, we have a surge of equity that allows us to negotiate the best contracts with suppliers and talent, which ultimately leads to mutually beneficial arrangements. We get the best talent, we offer competitive pay structures (advances upon signing deals), and editors can work from the environment they’re most comfortable in.
The last part of the restructure was to take care of the people who made Buck a success. I personally had individual conversations with each of our team members and I outlined my new vision for the company. Then, we had an honest conversation about their career and life goals. Some people liked what I proposed and wanted to continue on with the company, while others wanted an opportunity to work with us on a freelance basis. Some wanted to move on and for those that did, I personally facilitated many of their new opportunities. These people weren’t numbers to me – they were friends and it was important that we did everything we could to give them a good start, even if it wasn’t with Buck.
The new model allows us the extra time to find or scrutinize the potential of a project and ensure that we are proud of what we are creating. After all, the truest commodity in our business is the idea. And these days, ideas must be exceptional to win over a network. So once you’ve secured the deal, then what? My advice, as I mentioned, is to put every possible investment into the production and it’s easier to do that when you have the ability to be nimble.
Being nimble and having the quick turnaround advantage came into play for us last year when Rogers approached Buck with a L’Oreal branded content project – Canada’s Best Beauty Talent – with an execution window that was unbelievably small. Our new model allowed us to move quickly and complete this project at the highest production standards under the perimeters of a challenging budget. After taking on the project, the whole process, including pre- and post-production, was seven weeks. Our partners were impressed.
Another example is our series Real Family Vacations for Blue Ant Media’s Travel + Escape channel, currently in production. The series incorporates branded content elements and a degree of user-generated content that we feel has never been seen before. The interest was so instantaneous that the network decided it was something it wanted on the air in the spring. In the previous model, we wouldn’t have been able to operate on such a timeline but due to the restructure, the show went into immediate production.
In this ever-growing file-sharing workplace, my belief in recruiting the best talent in the industry has also changed. Buck no longer expects talent to come to us – we seek them out. A good example of this is our new project currently in production with Red Bull and MTV Canada. The series is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the lives of two brothers from Saskatchewan who are competitive snowboarders. For this project we hired Alex Craig, a director from Vancouver, who was so engrossed in that world that he had already earned the respect of the characters in the story he was telling. By taking the time to find the right person, and not necessarily defaulting to a director from our backyard in Toronto who may be good but doesn’t have that connection to the subject matter, I truly believe we’ve secured the perfect team for another hit series.
So ask yourself – is your company one whose scale is poised for success in this ever-changing world of content production and distribution? Are you maximizing your company’s equity and assets properly? Are you using your energy to further projects you are truly passionate about?
I hope the answer is yes.
To my fellow production companies – large and small – creating amazing content, I am proud to be part of our creative, competitive, and privileged community. But I’m driving Buck to be what some may perceive as an immeasurable size. I believe the paradigm of big and small has reversed. The focus of your company’s size should not be measured by number of full-time employees or square footage. It should be measured by the reaction of someone who says to you with sincere praise… “You guys did that?”
Sean Buckley is owner and CEO of Buck Productions. Currently Buck is in production on three non-fiction television shows – OLN’s The Project, Travel + Escape’s Real Family Vacations, and an MTV Canada series on two snowboarders.