Talk us through your time at The Mill.
Okay, well I guess the very beginning is the best place to kick things off. Back in 2009 and living in London, I was at a career point which served up the ‘what next?’ question and I decided I’d like to explore the idea of working and living in New York. I had no real plan, I was just gonna take some time out, visit family and feel my way around. After a short trip that made my mind up, I returned to London and bumped into Sean (MD of The Mill’s London studio) at an industry event. He put me in touch with Alistair Thompson, who was the MD of New York at the time. Once Al and I started speaking, there was only one decision to make. I made the move in May 2010 and for the last 10 years, it’s been one theme park ride after another. Working for arguably the best commercial VFX company in the business and a brand known throughout the industry for its excellence takes a bit of time to sink in.
Can you remember the first project you worked on? What stands out to you about that first year?
I can’t say I remember the first project I worked on, but my guess is it was either L’Oreal/Maybelline or ESPN. Those were the two big accounts we had in the Colour department back in the day. I guess the thing that stands out most was the size of The Mill as an operation, and the respect the company had amongst clients and competitors in the US. Of course I knew of The Mill’s reputation in London but to experience the way that savvy, experienced agency and editorial folk in New York spoke highly of The Mill made it feel like you’d been accepted into some elite club.
I’d say it took me 18 months to wrap my head around living in New York and working for The Mill. There were moments when the intensity of it all threatened to overwhelm me, but I was lucky to have family living in NY who had no clue what it was I did, so that kinda grounded me. That and being a big city boy at heart meant I was able to look like I was in total control even when I was trying to hold onto anything that didn’t move just so I could make it through the day. I spent a lot of time those first 2 years just speaking with people to learn about the industry and find out what they liked, what they didn’t like and what they expected of us.
I found the reputation New Yorker’s have of being no nonsense and all about the work to be pretty much true. You need to know what you’re talking about and the kind of people you’re talking to. If not, it can be a tough experience when things don’t go according to plan.
Choose three defining projects in your career at The Mill from over the years
I didn’t work on it but it released the year I joined The Mill and I was like “Wow, these are the kind of Directors and Cinematographers I’ve come to see work…world class.”
This was one of the first features we did in the New York studio. Damien’s grade is great and it’s a really good indie film.
There is just so much surrounding this project. It’s a moment in time in so many ways. From Bowie’s original performance to Mick Rock finding an old negative in the attic of his Staten Island home. From hanging out with this rock icon for almost two years at The Mill, to sitting out on the deck of 451 sharing drinks and talking about tattoos with Debbie Harry at the screening – I’d say these are pretty defining moments.
What’s changed in the Colour dept, talk us through then & now
Haha – love this question. Well, for a start 35mm Film is very much a thing of the past. I’d say that’s still the biggest gear shift in terms of Colour. When I arrived we were still receiving neg and still had the Spirit telecine, although for the most part digital had pretty much taken over. The last film job we did was with a client from Bogota Colombia, who flew into New York on a Saturday, paid rate card and to this day we still work together and share a friendship.
Colour at The Mill has changed significantly since then. It’s been great to see our homegrown talent come up through the ranks and build their careers while producing amazing work. The industry has changed a great deal, which means that we’ve had to adapt to how clients want us to engage with them. Our colourists now have to be able to self-promote. It’s no longer a case of producers or sales teams going out and finding clients. You have to discover what your edge is, play on that and build relationships.
Ten or twelve years ago you could watch the reels of say, half a dozen top colourists and list them in order of preference. I think you’d struggle to carry out that kind of exercise now, there is a lot of good talent out there. What that means is you have to come with something extra, call it the x-factor if you want. You have to know your craft, whatever that is, but also throw something in there that ensures you are the one they hit up first when they have their next project.
Colour in the current climate – how has The Mill adapted under the lockdown we are facing globally?
In true Mill fashion I’d say our approach to the lockdown was pretty much “let’s get in there and wrestle with this thing”. I have to say that our engineering teams across all studios deserve a medal each for managing to achieve a full remote set-up for us in next to no time, all things considered. The main thing I think we were effective in was taking steps to ensure the safety of our people and maintain our client relationships under what were obviously extenuating circumstances. Like our competitors and our clients, we have had to find our feet as the weeks have gone on. To certain clients we are still their ‘go to’, in particular for CG or Design related solutions. Like everyone else in our business however we are driven by production, and whilst there are no shoots happening right now, the key thing will be about us being ready to hit the ground running once there are clear guidelines regarding the production process.
What’s inspiring you right now?
This is a difficult one, there are so many things. I really love how our guys are making moves in the Creative Tech space. I shan’t name names (as much as I want to) but one or two individuals have really impressed me with their knowledge of what still seems like a new area of the advertising/visual storytelling industry. We have some really smart people in all areas of our business and it’s a real honour to be working alongside them and feel like I’m learning and making a contribution, however small, to our continued success.
Outside of The Mill for the last 12 months or so, I’ve been diving deep into the UK urban music scene. Music is a massive part of my day to day, it helps dictate my mood. I love how despite the negative mainstream press, the creativity that comes out of young people who are trying to rise above their social conditions is cutting through and making the right artistic impression as far afield as the United States.
Little Simz is a favourite of mine, she’s from my neck of the woods in North London and she is giving the ‘man dem’ a good run for their cheddar (money) with her MC skills. Headie One’s ‘Rose Gold’ is a tune, another North Londoner who for me has star quality written all over him, his roadman rep aside, everything about his performances seem effortless. And it’s only right I give a nod to a duo from my adopted home – the music video for D Smoke & SiR’s ‘Lights On’ is clever, in the same vein as Coldplay’s video for The Scientist. A nice slice of where west coast Hip Hop and R&B is at today.
“Amazing! I doubt Dee had the slightest idea what he was letting himself in for when he took up the challenge of coming to New York to look after us a decade ago, but he has navigated his way with consummate skill through thick and thin, and significantly helped drive the growth of our global Color team during very challenging times with humor, sensitivity and style. Thank you sir, you’ve been a pleasure to work with. ”