Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Uphill Struggle

How does a struggling production company become successful?

It is challenging enough to imagine a new work of art, let alone create it, which is why being a producer can be the hardest job in the business. Although a producer usually has final say about everything, it means they spend the majority of their time letting people down. It can be a tough responsibility, where you have to make decisions every step of the way, or it can be a relatively easy one where if you’re wealthy enough you can hire dozens of line producers, unit production managers and executive producers to represent your creative vision without having to do much else other than have lunch. For the smaller production companies, it tends to be the former. Production companies such as Fourth Monkey, Belt Up, and Drunk Tank are young and just finding their feet in bringing art to the public. Encompass Productions is one such production company. Based in London, the company was started up in 2010 with the aim to find and produce new artistic work through a variety of media such as theatre, film and live events.

The founder of Encompass Productions is Jonathan Woodhouse, a graduate of Royal Holloway, University of London with an MA in Theatre. Jonathan had previously directed and acted in several stage plays before moving onto his work in Encompass. He also starred in Luc Besson’s The Lady (2011) opposite Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis while simultaneously working on Encompass’s first project What it Feels Like. As well as producing their projects, Jonathan has worn several hats at Encompass, working as an actor, director, second assistant director and artistic director. Jonathan considers his main role at the company to be the artistic director, which is to lead the creative direction and make the big creative decisions; what projects they choose to do next, where are they going, and what areas do they need to improve.

I had the good fortune to be allowed an interview with Jonathan Woodhouse and ask him about how he founded Encompass Productions, how they find their projects, what uses up their budget and what challenges he thinks Encompass will face in the future.

Interview with Jonathan Woodhouse from Matt McLeron on Vimeo.

On being asked how they chose Encompass to be the title of the production company, Jonathan explained that it wasn’t his invention, but rather the company had put out a poll on the internet to take suggestions and browsers could vote for their favourites. “Encompass” being the most popular, won out. The reason why people felt Encompass was a good title was because it alluded to achievement and ambition and it embodied what their intentions were: to experiment with forms of art through film or theatre and to avoid putting themselves into too much of a niche, not to mention that it gives an idea of inclusion: the way Encompass works is collaborative and welcoming of everyone chipping in ideas. The sheer fact that the company allowed their title to be decided by a committee of public voters exemplifies their creative interests and familial approach.

Encompass started with £250 donated to them by a production training scheme at Royal Holloway University. It wasn’t really enough to produce anything but they were able to use that funding to help raise more capital. They created a range of live music events called The Residency. As some of the members were still based at Royal Holloway, they chose to make it a monthly gig where the ticket sales contributed to the overall funding of the company. The live acts to raise money have since been phased out of their monthly regularity as it would be quite a quixotic endeavour to organise a range of acts each month and, strictly speaking, the music and stand-up acts were not emblematic of Encompass’ ethos so they decided to incorporate dramatic performances into the line-up. This would ultimately be beneficial as it would give their actors a chance to show the audience that they are performing and working on future projects. Members of Encompass would take to the streets with buckets accepting contributions from members of the public. They also wrote to a lot of people and outside notables willing to donate. A couple of the members put their own money in, which is a massive risk to undertake for a fringe show: fringe shows are generally known for not making any money. They also had a crowd funding campaign aiming to raise £1500, which they successfully achieved. Kickstarters have recently started to make an impression on the mainstream in the wake of Veronica Mars’ kickstarter and the initiative to build a Death Star but at the time, crowd sourcing for money to fund a creative project wasn’t necessarily a certified guarantee of success as much as it is now. Crowd funding was also a great way for Encompass to give back to their contributors with prizes such as free tickets or soundtrack CDs.

With this strategy, Encompass was able to fund their first production which was What it Feels Like, a surrealist drama of a bittersweet love story set within the world of a coma. The money made from the show went towards their follow up, a short film called Stormin’ Norman, which is a comedy drama about a homeless man in East Ham and his struggle to hold on to the routine of his life before losing his house and wife. Subsequently, what they made from that production contributed to their most recent endeavour Who Is Moloch, which is a dystopian play set in world war three about the reliance on medication for traumatised soldiers. Generically speaking, drama really strikes a nerve with Encompass Productions and it clearly ignites their interest, especially with regard to their theatrical productions. The money made from Who Is Moloch is going to go towards their as yet undisclosed next project. The cycle will continue…

Achieving prominent success with a small production company requires you to have presbyopic aims, and to never stop working towards greatness. The story of Encompass should encourage the willing and ambitious to shoot for the stars. All it took was £250 and the thirst for success and now three years hence, Encompass Productions are celebrating success after success. You can do it, too!

Encompass Productions’ official website
Encompass Productions’ Facebook page
Encompass Productions’ twitter page 
Jonathan Woodhouse on Twitter
Jonathan Woodhouse on IMDB
Jonathan Woodhouse on Wikipedia
Harriet Armstrong photography

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