Lucid is launched
Sean DuffyFor many, the creation of Lucid, the new commercials production arm of SMG Broadcast Solutions, will be cynically seen as the rebranding of a quiet force in Scotland’s production industry, but Sean Duffy, commercial director of SMG Broadcast Solutions & Events, is keen to emphasise that it’s more than that.
“It’s not a rebrand, it’s a launch of a completely separate business,” he says. “A separately branded, separately structured business.”
SMG has – historically – had a reputation for good quality, cost effective production and, while it’s happy to facilitate the clients that want that approach, Lucid will have a different way of working.
“The main focus of the business is to be creative and lateral in its approach,” says Duffy. “When I say that, I mean that the traditional way production companies will pitch for jobs is that they get scripts in from agencies and they’ll pull directors’ reels off the shelves that they think is appropriate and send that in to the agency. What we’ve been doing lately, is saying to the agency ‘give us a creative reference and we’ll go and source directors that match that style reference’. It’s one of the things that you could say Scotland has suffered from recently is that you keep seeing the same directive talent. That’s not wrong, but I think it’s time there was a different approach to that.”
Lucid will become the only production company in Scotland that’s a member of the Association of Production Agencies, an accreditation that Duffy feels marks it out from its rivals.
“The APA has quite strong operational links with the IPA, and there’s an agreed working practice between both bodies,” he says. “We operate under framework agreements and production methodology. So your pre-production meetings all happen in a certain way, and there’s complete transparency, you pay fair APA-published rates. The APA also acts as an arbiter, if there are any problems between the agency and production company, they come in and sort it out.
“The framework exists to make sure the entire industry is looked after. What’s interesting as well, you’ve got to apply to be a member so it’s not just ‘if you pay your money, you get to be a member’. They’re also quite excited about us coming forward to be members and setting our stall out at the beginning and saying ‘we want to do it right, we want to be well regarded’. We want to treat people in the way they should be treated. It’s not the Holy Grail but it’s another building block in setting up a viable, structured talent-driven production company.”
One of Duffy’s first tasks will be changing the view that Lucid is just a new face for SMG Commercials. He’s already hired a head of production – Daniel Healy – who comes with strong production credentials. A former producer for Graham Rose at Rose Hackney Barber and also at RSA, he’s worked in commercials production for 20 years.
“It’s a good statement of intent that we’re putting the future of this new production business in the hands of a recognised, accomplished professional from London,” says Duffy. “I don’t think that position has ever been taken by a production company before. Simon Mallinson [founder of MTP] set the market in Scotland and he’s got to be applauded for what he’s done so far. The first thing is getting the best creative talent.”
Lucid won’t rely on retained directing talent – although Duffy hasn’t ruled that option out – but it will, instead, hunt the talent required by agencies.
“I’m not saying we won’t have retained directors over time,” he says. “We have a few at the moment, but what I wanted to do was get the head of production on board because it’s his responsibility to build all these areas of the business. ‘Retained’ is a strange kind of word, I think it’s more of an ‘associated talent’ pool. People who have worked with us in the past have said they’d be more than happy to work with us again. We don’t pay them anything to say that. That financial model doesn’t work in my eyes, it’s not sustainable. That’s spending on the promised of future riches, which is a hard thing to do. It can be such a fickle business. You can be hot one day and not the next. There are far more directors than there are production companies. There are figures being bandied about that there are eight, nine, ten thousand directors in London. There’s maybe a hundred production companies with maybe – on average – 12 to 14 retained directors. I don’t think we’ve pitched the same director twice this year. With Careers Scotland, we brought Brian Baderman up to Scotland. That was an example of the style reference. The creative team gave the style reference of Phones4U and that’s the director that we got, which was smack bang what they wanted. That gives flexibility in the creative community that doesn’t entirely exist at the moment. At the moment, they’ve got to wade through reels and look for something that may look similar to something they’re after, on the basis of something they may have seen, or heard of before.”
Although Lucid will be based in Glasgow – at SMG’s new bespoke Pacific Quay offices – Duffy hasn’t ruled out rolling out the company into other UK cities. “We’ll structure the business and bed in the business in Scotland and then we’ll look to move elsewhere over the next twelve to eighteen months,” he says. “Hence the reason to be going out and getting a London producer with London connections and with Association of Production Agencies’ experience. The main thing in this business is that it’s not constrained by anything that is SMG. In saying that, people’s perception of SMG Commercials – or the commercial production element of SMG, as it was – was that ‘if we go to them, we have to use their facilities, we have to use their directors, that’s not what we want’. There is a business and a market for that approach, and that’s the productions that do not have agency input, because they’re looking for cost-efficient, ‘it does what it says on the tin’ ads. The other, six-figure ads, are looking for something different. Historically we haven’t done any of the six-figure ads because we didn’t have the facility to do them, which is why we’ve set up a business specifically structured and focused on that market. It’s a completely different approach.
All we’re doing is giving that approach a brand.”
Duffy is aware that he has a way to go to challenge Mallinson’s stranglehold on the production industry in Scotland. “My first milestone is that I want us [Lucid] to be regarded in the same way as Simon [Mallinson] and his business is,” says Duffy. “I think bringing high quality talent from London is a statement of intent. I think it’s a great thing for Scotland and the creative industry in Scotland. I think it’s good that the agencies have a viable, credible production alternative.”