Producing Magic

MBA alumnus Patrick Fischer (right, with business partner Richard, left) (Executive MBA, 2012) has added to his undergraduate film degree with MBA business know-how to form Creativity Media and its investment company Creativity Capital, combining film investment and post-production – with exciting outcomes. BAFTA-winning “Under the Shadow” was both part-funded and post-produced by Patrick and his team. We chatted about making it all happen.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I had known of Cass for a while, probably because they did a film-centric MBA and I knew people who had done that. My first degree was in film and I had just met Richard and started our post-production company. I’d been looking at doing a full time MBA either in the UK or the USA, but then I started to consider part-time as the best option.

What I really liked about Cass was that the interview process was very British – we just had a chat! I said I was starting a company and that the modular nature really appealed to me, and at the end they said I should apply. I really appreciated that.

The way the degree is set up was brilliant. The other students in my cohort were so interesting and it was great to see people from all different walks of life. The film world is very small, a tight-knit bubble that sometimes takes itself too seriously, so it was great to meet such a range of people, and at different stages in their careers too. I still regularly meet friends from the course.

In general the teaching was good, especially the finance and economics. It was so well organised and put together, and the range of electives allowed you to gravitate to one area. When I could choose I chose modules that would help my business. For example I chose HR as one of my electives and then I took that straight back to Richard. I always did any homework on my company too, which really helped.

The MBA helped me to build a proper business – something I don’t really see in my film network because film-making is very much a cottage industry in the UK. I was keen to ensure that this company was not like that, and the MBA helped me realise that goal. It also made me comfortable with finances, numbers and investments.

During the MBA I started my film investment company and secured venture capital funding in 2012. Basically I made the presentation for Creative Media as my dissertation and one VC company said yes to investing, so my degree was instrumental in starting my second business. I had some seed money at the start but this (gestures around at the fantastic studios we are in) is all built by VC money from Schneider Investment Associates.

I was also able to set up Creativity Capital as standalone investment company thanks to my line of credit with them. It’s now grown to multiple sources of finance. I would not have been able to attract investment, grow and set up a company like this if not for my MBA.

And one of your films just won a BAFTA?

Yes, “Under the Shadow”. Babak (the director), Kit (the cinematographer) and Matt (the colourist, one of the Creativity Media team) and I all did our film degrees together. The film was part financed through Creative Capital, and Creative Media did the post-production. It actually got two nominations and it won the BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.

How did Creativity Media come about?

It was the joining of two separate wishes. The first was to create a viable business in the film industry. The second was to have little ship, so I could say “let’s go here, and then let’s go there”. I didn’t want to be just me on my own setting sail across the vast ocean that is the film industry. Luckily I’ve known Richard for years and we both wanted the same thing and this has been a great partnership and we’ve been able to create our ideal ecosystem. To paraphrase our VC investors “It’s better to have a business selling shovels to gold diggers than to go gold-digging!” We help people make films, which is much more scalable thank producing them yourself.

I‘ve always had a wish to be an entrepreneur, to have my own business, and I really like making movies, although it can be really difficult. So it’s been my dream to be in a situation with a company that works in film and helps people make great movies because I love stories and the film process. It’s magical what you can create through storytelling, and stories affect you in ways you won’t forget.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

You have challenges all the time! Setting up the company you need luck. When we got our first film, it was Richard, myself and Alex (our sound designer) who set it all up. There was a film that needed post-production and one of my film investors said if I created a business that maybe he would support it. So we got our first film to post-produce in 2010, and next we had to try to get our second film. Luckily a couple of producers trusted us and soon we had our third and fourth films.

The first challenge is to get off the ground in the first year. Then the main challenge changes to growing and running your business successfully. It’s about the cash flow forecast, the profit and loss, the shareholders, and trying to create a great place to work for your team. A big part of my job has become the human element – making sure people are happy. We want our team to come and dedicate a portion of their lives to creating films with us, and our clients range from brilliant and affable to slightly more bothersome. So I need to balance all things.

Creativity Media is challenging like any small business, you have to focus on how to run and grow, but that’s a nice challenge to have. I’ve never had that OMG this is not what I want to do moment, but you do get the good and the bad, and have to be careful and prudent when building your business, especially in film.

We can have six amazing months and then in mid post-production a stakeholder can say “I don’t like it” and we have to stop and wait for the director to re-cut the film. We may wait three months to be able to continue and we never know if such a thing will happen from one day to the next. We don’t really want people sitting around, so you have to think on your feet and make sure you’ve got enough projects in.

Do you have any advice?

It’s ultimately about the people – all of it. The two biggest relationships in my life are with my lovely wife Annalena and with my business partner Richard. It’s no exaggeration to say that my relationship with him as my business partner is on equal terms with my marriage. Finding the right people is paramount in life. Once you’ve got that, even if it’s just with one person, you can build and everything else can come from that.

Second, don’t be afraid. People think that when you’ve got a doctorate or an MBA you’ll be given the magic formula and then you’ll be a success in life, business or work. Life is not that complex, and we don’t have that long to do what makes us happy and fulfilled. You need to treat your business and your professional career with the same respect and the same seriousness you would any other long-term relationship in life.

Also, try new things. We’re big on empowering our team. For example Jennifer started an intern three years ago, and now she manages all our post-production projects and just got funding to produce her first film. Don’t worry if you don’t understand or don’t know –just put up your hand and ask. Don’t be afraid to look silly just because you don’t know a term or how the process works. Ask and learn, don’t pretend and then fuck stuff up. If you make a mistake always own up to it immediately. You get fired for the cover-up, not the mistake.

Be open to things and to other humans. Everyone is afraid to go out there and talk, to make connections. But then be critical: is this someone you are just chatting to for 5 mins over cocktails, or is it someone you could make a real friendship with.

For me, there is nothing worse than seeing people work in a big company and they aren’t really happy but become accustomed to a good paycheque and then suddenly they are 50 and wish they could have done something else. I’ll be able to say at least we did it, we tried. Film companies come and go, and people say it’s bad luck but it’s part of the game. In fact, business is all one big game don’t get so hung up on it.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: I used to live in a flat off Whitehall by Trafalgar Square, with a roof terrace and barbecue – so I’d say there
Favourite holiday destination: It changes! I used to go to Florida a lot but with all that’s happening over there… I’d say where my Grandmother lives in Baden Baden in South Germany.
Must-check every day website: BBC News and Reddit, but also I always look at my daily email from Finimize, a quick daily digest of all the main stories in finance.
Dream travel destination: Japan
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate every time! I once calculated I’d eaten about 450kg of Nutella! I’m trying to cut down.

You can watch “Under the Shadow” on pay-to-view YouTube and Google Play, as well as other outlets.