An Introduction to Sort Of…Films Ltd for Students

by Ed Cartledge (Managing Director)

Sort Of…Films are contacted on a daily basis by a wide range of students from a wide range of institutions. Sometimes, we’re contacted by an individual under their own initiative, perhaps seeking work experience or employment. It’s very rare that we’re able to help with this. We’re a small business with an unpredictable work schedule and too few resources to oversee such a person, even for a week or a few days. You can read more about work experience in our blog post on the subject.

On other occasions, we’re contacted by students because they have been encouraged by their teachers, tutors or academic supervisors to reach out to production companies, agencies and professional bodies as a means of ‘researching the industry’ and to deliver a particular assignment. This often involves us being asked if we would be willing to participate in an interview in person, on the phone or via email. In some cases, it involves us being asked to appear in a film or other piece of media. In the last three weeks or so (February 2016), I think we’ve been approached around 12 or 14 times to do something of this nature. I’ve so far replied to several of the emails with (hopefully) helpful advice, conducted one interview in person and two via email. I’ve also granted permission for another student to come in and speak to our editor for half an hour.

If you’ve contacted us (or indeed any similar company) with requests of this nature, please don’t be surprised or offended if you don’t get a reply or if the reply is a rejection. Academic institutions do not approach us in advance of this in order to ask permission for students to get in touch. We’re not compensated for our time on it and there is ultimately very little, if any, benefit for the organisation donating their time. In a fast-moving and tough industry such as that of Film and TV or non-broadcast video production, donating time to potential future competitors can, to many, seem counterintuitive. But my logic differs. I’m always happy to hear from passionate new entrants with common sense and an ability communicate with efficiency, intelligence and personality. I’m happy to offer advice whenever I can, including in person. Everybody considering a career in this sector deserves a chance to hear what it’s really like, to ask genuine questions and get genuine answers. The door should be as open as it possibly can be and in the longrun, new entrants might just enter with a little less naivety and a greater sense of what and how to prioritise, how to reach out to potential employers in future and how to pass on the things they learn to the NEXT batch of students beneath them. We were all there once…and we’re all potential employers of one another’s services.

The main reason for this post is to help any and all students tasked with an assignment such as that mentioned above but with whom I don’t have the time to speak in person. Perhaps copying and pasting from a website isn’t what your tutors are expecting or requiring. But in some cases, what I write here might be useful background context or ‘further reading’ for the assignment you submit.

The questions I’ve used below are some of those I’ve been asked recently. I’ll aim to add more as they come in and are answered.

When did the company start?

I graduated in Sept 2002 (MA English Lit) and set up as a freelancer in Jan 2003 under the name Sort Of…Films. I then incorporated as a limited company in Sept 2003 with Rob Speranza as co-director. In 2005, Rob left the company and I became sole director.

In a nutshell, what do you do?

We offer a video production service to a wide range of clients including universities, charities, public sector organisations and some private sector organisations. This means that they get in touch with us when they have some kind of ‘moving image requirement’ (for educational, promotional, training, information, evaluation purposes etc) and we make them a film, sometimes alongside additional services such as training. The films tend to be short (under ten mins) and in the low to mid-budget range (anywhere between £1k and £15k in budget per film) and are mainly distributed via the web.

What is your position and how did you get where you are?

Managing Director…because I set it up in the first place and gave myself the job! 🙂 But perhaps a more relevant answer is ‘house filmmaker’. I run the company as a manager AND oversee the production and post-production of all of the content we produce. I write, produce, shoot, direct and edit – sometimes (although rarely) all at once. I also employ trusted and proven people to do all of the above when I’m unable or if a project requires a more collaborative or larger scale approach. I got to the point of being able to do all of this by just doing it. I started making films of all descriptions at University through their Filmmaking Society. I learned all aspects of the craft by working and volunteering in a variety of roles on a range of projects, watched carefully, absorbed everything and then set up my own projects and organisations and created my own opportunities. Eventually, when you just keep going and going, you get to the point where you’re good enough to be paid well for every project and turn around enough content that those pay cheques to add up to something resembling a salary.

What are the positives of your work?

Spending time with different people in different places doing different things all the time. Continually learning. I enjoy the mix of creative, logistical and technical work. I like being my own boss and having control over the direction of the company, the work environment, our image etc.

What are the negatives of your work?

It can be repetitive at times (like any job really) and some projects can be entirely devoid of creativity. If you’re a highly creative person, be careful what aspect of the industry you pursue for work. Ditto if you’re more technical or more ‘logistical’ in nature. Oh and getting some clients to pay you on time can be a struggle! 🙂

What are the challenges that you face?

Technology is developing and changing increasingly quickly and one challenge we face is to stay ahead of the curve in that regard and thus remain competitive. Keeping up to date with everything, maintaining everything etc can be almost a full time job in itself and then there’s also the fact that if you spend TOO much operational energy on technology, you neglect creativity and logistics…so it’s about trying to find a balance.

How did you set the business up in the first place?

After University, I was teaching film studies, working in a library and making films in my spare time with friends. The University of Sheffield careers service pointed me in the direction of a course run by the now defunct ‘Business Link’ which promised training in entrepreneurship and business establishment and included a ‘living expenses grant’. I applied, got on the course and over the subsequent 12 months, was taught basic business skills and spent every day establishing Sort Of…Films by seeking out work/clients, creating an online presence, a showreel, attending networking events and generating contacts. I simultaneously developed what was then known as the Sheffield Filmmakers Network (eventually to become the South Yorkshire Filmmakers Network, now run by Rob Speranza) and used this platform to meet other local filmmakers and crew as well as a few clients and lifelong friends. That was hugely important for me at the time.

I want to get into the industry…what should I do?

Firstly, refine the question. 🙂 Which industry do you mean? If it’s Film and TV, you probably need to ask someone else! We/I do not work in that industry. We work in marketing and communications, specifically as non-broadcast video production experts. What role are you talking about? It may be too early to know your exact career path but you should have a broad sense of what area you might excel in….Camera/Lighting/Sound/Art dept? Production office? Development? Distribution?

OK, I want to be a director of British feature films…how do I do that?

*Sob.

OK…I want to do what you’re doing, which is earning a living from making short films for clients, mostly using a range of documentary formats.

Excellent question. Unfortunately, I still don’t have the answer you may want. Everyone’s path is different and ultimately, the only way to do well at something is to do well at it…in your own way. At Sort Of…Films, we tend to just focus on just doing the best and most individual/bespoke job we possibly can for every client. We also focus energy on continually improving systems, procedures, pipelines, workflows and first and last impressions so that we’re able to win as much work as possible, DO the work without sub-contracting, keep overheads low and encourage repeat business and good word of mouth. It’s a long game of gradual, iterative improvement, not an overnight success story.

Got a question you want adding to this? Feel free to email it to Ed.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your assignments! 🙂