Reel Factory cracks 10 years in the business

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AUCKLAND, Today: “I can’t believe you guys are still around,” quipped a 1st AC the other day when he turned up at Reel Factory’s Orbit Drive studio for a commercial shoot.

Co-founders Dan Watkins and Hamish Trott, completely understood. It’s been 10 hard-working years since they joined forces to establish Reel Factory and they both awkwardly closed their eyes and reminisced about how it all began.

“It was 2005. Dan had more hair. Hamish actually had less than he does now. They both met at South Seas Film School as early school leavers and two of the youngest in their class. They bonded instantly.

“They shared a keen eye for great vision and were constantly looking offshore at new film technology that could up the ante in Aotearoa. However, as film school grads, Watkins went off to join TVNZ’s production unit and Trott honed his skills in the world of live sports broadcasting with Sky Sport. Foundational mahi for their current business.

“While their day-jobs paid the bills, individually they couldn’t help looking for better ways to film. Trott brought NZ’s first Phantom Flex Super Slow-Motion camera into the country for use on live sport and Watkins, inspired by an image out of the US – a stills camera rigged under an RC single-rotor helicopter – found a NZ-based innovator and created one of the world’s first multi rotor drone platforms for film use.

“Then over a beer in 2013, the pair got deep and meaningful about their drive to do things differently and push the framework for capturing moving footage. They hugged. Then shook hands and launched their own business – Reel Factory.

“We have come a long way, but the best is definitely yet to come.”

“Their vision was to  create a television and commercial content production house with a foundation like no other, ensuring they had the best specialised cinema equipment as a point of difference.

Game on
“It was game on. They set up their first 50m2 factory in Rosedale. It had a workshop, three desks, and an edit suite made from pallets. “We said when we made our first $100k in revenue, we’d buy a wine fridge, so we could see the beers in it. That fridge is still running strong today, and the beers are still looking mighty refreshing behind the glass, but everything else looks very different,” says Trott.

“Entering the industry at a time when brand content was emerging, the idea of producing television was put on the back burner and Reel Factory began working directly with clients and ad agencies. Thanks to owning the equipment, it allowed them to produce high-quality content that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, and the work quickly snowballed.

“We started out just wanting to make cool shit. And we did. But it wasn’t until we started working on the business, rather than in the business, when things really started to take off,” says Watkins.

“Over the past decade, the pair have been drawing in like-minded individuals to help grow the business. A can-do attitude and being prepared to think outside the box are the key to a successful pairing with Reel Factory. As the company grew, so has its people. Marc McCarthy, a graduate from Christchurch Broadcasting School, came on board as their first employee and is now Senior Colourist, heading up the post-production department.

“Marc is one of our greatest assets. He’s pretty much a brother to us. It’s been incredible to see his progress over nearly a decade and watch him grow into being, in my opinion, one of the best Colourists in the country,” says Watkins. This sentiment of strength in relationships is a value that has helped the company grow.

“Owning the equipment allowed them to produce high-quality content that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”

“As the business grew, so has the crew –  Producers, Directors, Editors, Business Managers and plenty more. An expanding client roster saw the need for bigger premises and a move to the current Orbit Drive office; a space that, at the time, far exceeded needs. “We actually lived in the office for a year before our rooms needed to be turned into edit suites, which saw us moving out and into a flat together,” says Trott.

“As Reel Factory expanded, the pair continued to bring the best tech to Aotearoa. They invested in NZ’s only Bolt Cinebot buggy cam for live sport, point-to-point cable cam systems and much more.

“A number 8 wire approach to solving problems remains their ethos; if it doesn’t exist, surely it can be built with the manufacturing of lighting softboxes and tracking vehicle rigs. We now house the largest range of specialised cinema equipment in Australasia,” says Watkins.

“Specialised tech meant the need for a specialised crew, and Reel Factory’s model of building a team of full-timers saw it grow to include multiple in-house production teams, Drone Pilots, our legendary Director of Photography Chris Watkins, Camera Assistants and Robot Techs. “Which is really unique for a production house to have a foundation like this. Most production houses are crewed with freelance contractors,” adds Trott.

“We started off with the two of us and the dream was always to have two production teams running full time. We quickly got to a team of five, then ten, now we look around at our team of 20+ and couldn’t be prouder,” says Watkins.

“The goal to produce television was still on the pair’s radar so, in 2020, they took a   signature RF approach. They cold-called Dame Julie Christie. “It’s the first meeting we’ve ever been really nervous to go into. We took Julie a proposal and she loved the way we approached things and agreed to mentor us in long-form tele. Julie’s knowledge and guidance has opened doors for us and proved invaluable,” says Trott.

“We started off with two of us and the dream was always to have two production teams running full time. We quickly got to a team of five, then 10, now we look at our team of 20+ and couldn’t be prouder.”

“The past decade has seen Reel Factory showcase the country to the world for Tourism New Zealand, spend time with sumo wrestlers in Japan, capture the build of Air New Zealand’s A321neo at Airbus in Hamburg, travel the globe profiling inspiring Kiwis for NZTE, shoot Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop trailer, take on death-defying stunts with Red Bull athletes and most recently deliver their first TV show to TVNZ.

“So where to next? Construction is nearly finished on a new office which will be New Zealand’s largest commercial production facility, a place suited for the expanding business.  As for the future – the dream remains the same. “We want to play on a global stage and be the best commercial production company in NZ with the most unique offering,” says Watkins. With an original commission about to be delivered, the TV department has big ambitions. “We want to push the boundaries in the way stories are being told, filmed, and produced. The dream would be to create award-winning television for our local audience and abroad, working with international networks and streamers,” adds Trott.

“Achieving these goals all comes down to talent. Our business model is all about people. Treat them with respect, encourage them to constantly evolve and push boundaries and the results will always be outstanding. We wouldn’t be where we are without the highly talented crew around us”.

“We’ve had an incredible journey so far. We still absolutely froth over what we do. We’ve built one of the coolest playgrounds in the world for creative freedom, produced amazing campaigns with incredible clients, and have an absolute weapon of a team we can entrust with any scale project.

“A huge thanks goes out to everyone who has entrusted us to bring their vision to life over the years – we have come a long way, but the best is definitely yet to come …”

Pictured: Back Row: Bex Morrison, Simon Woodard, Rita Attwood, Brooke Wilson, Lisa Scott, Pippa Keiller, Chris Watkins, Hamish Trott, Kate Senior, Dan Watkins, Luey Lau, Brad Colman, Phil Gow. Front Row: Nix Jacques, Lindsay Gough, Danelle Mouat, Nicole Roebeck, Marc McCarthy, Taiga Wakino


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