Filmmaker and founder of production company Running Films, Sheridan De Myers, enjoyed success with his debut feature. Now the IoD 99 member wants to grow his business. But how to ensure that the new management structure this requires will not restrict his creative control?
When Sheridan De Myers began planning his first feature-length film, he knew it would require far more than a “creative vision”. He had to write a business plan; secure sufficient funding; shoot the movie on a tight budget; run a promotional campaign based on social media; and learn how to become a distributor. It was a tall order for any young filmmaker, even someone as enterprising as De Myers. Yet on 2 December 2016 The Weekend – a comedy about three youths who find and spend £100,000 (which also happened to be the film’s budget) before realising it belongs to a crime boss – opened in 40 cinemas around the UK.
The real coup came in July 2017 when The Weekend had its worldwide release via Netflix. A project that had been years in the making finally delivered, with all of the film’s investors recouping their money.
De Myers is the founder of Running Films, a production company in west London, where he grew up. One of his big inspirations was La Haine (1995), an uncompromising movie about three young men from a deprived Parisian suburb.
“Their relationship was similar to the one between me and my mates,” he says. “We felt oppressed by everything happening around us. I thought: ‘They made a film about their experiences – and that’s what
I’m going to do.’”
But De Myers soon found that trying to enter the industry without someone to open doors for him meant he couldn’t find a permanent role. He took a job in advertising instead. Despite this, he started making music videos with friends. That was in 2007, when opportunities were opening up for urban musicians to gain more exposure on TV through Channel U (now AKA) and online through YouTube.
“I felt that grime was about to take off and wanted to be at the forefront of that. I shot videos for a number of unknown artists, which got me a lot of recognition when they started to get played on music channels,” he says. “After my name was mentioned on Radio 1, I started getting more commercial work. You could say that my passion became my profession from that point.”
For six years he was the co-owner of New Treatment, a production firm specialising in music videos and commercials, but in 2014 he struck out on his own by starting Running Films. He has since directed adverts for big brands such as Sony and Bosch, as well as a number of shorts, including one starring Golden Globe winner Idris Elba.
But every director wants to make a feature film, as De Myers recalls: “We had a script for an urban comedy and I thought there was a gap in the market for that sort of film.”
At the 2014 Cannes Film Festival he met Alex Tate, CEO of Creative Media Finance, a firm that backs indie filmmakers. Tate gets inundated by pitches from directors, but he says that De Myers stood out because he also thought like an entrepreneur and “wanted to make things happen without any back-up. He also had an instinct for using new media.”
The Weekend was financed through a combination of crowdfunding via the Indiegogo website, the British Film Institute and Creative Media Finance.
“When I approached Alex I had the whole promotional strategy mapped out,” De Myers says. “Originally I’d planned to cast well-known actors but then thought: ‘Let’s get a few young social media influencers – YouTubers who have acted but haven’t had the chance to show off their talent fully – so we can reach a bigger audience online.’ The actors I chose were doing an online series of their own, but their vision was similar to ours.”
That series, Mandem On The Wall, had averaged one million views per episode on YouTube, so its stars were known to much of De Myers’ target market. Some of the actors helped to promote The Weekend on Instagram and Snapchat, while De Myers toured the UK with a number of the cast, visiting schools, youth clubs and even young offender institutions.
“I want to go out and talk to our audiences,” he says. “A lot of filmmakers don’t consider that when they create art.”
Projects in the pipeline include a film based on the life of footballer Jermaine Pennant, but the long-term goal is to make an action comedy. De Myers and Tate believe this genre has the most commercial potential, although it will require a far bigger budget and a totally different fundraising approach.
De Myers recently became a member of IoD 99 to broaden his network. Attending its events will enable him to “learn from other people and understand their experiences of running a business”. Scaling up Running Films presents a challenge that’s familiar to many entrepreneurs: how does he install the more formal management structure that this requires without surrendering creative control or deviating from his original vision for the business as the organisation grows?
Over to our expert panel…
Dowshan Humzah Chair of UK advisory board, Board Apprentice Global
Congratulations to Sheridan on realising his first feature film. His creativity and entrepreneurial flair were crucial in finding the right funding and distribution models. This approach will surely help him to get more productions on the screen, including that bigger-budget action comedy.
To install the more formal structure that Running Films needs in order to grow without surrendering control, he should consider the following four steps:
Set a clear vision and set of values for the business, using these as the “glue” for the team as it grows.
The film industry is best navigated by a diverse team. You need people who can open doors, access funds and improve delivery. Ensure that each recruit can make a meaningful contribution to the venture’s desired outcomes. Focus on helping them to achieve things they might not think they are capable of as individuals.
Retain a flat, simple organisational structure that enables open communication – the team should always feel able to be heard. Identify shared values and objectives to build trust and a collaborative culture that’s diverse in perspective and united in purpose.
Lastly, remember the following line from La Haine: “L’important n’est pas la chute. C’est l’atterrissage.” (How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land.) This, I think, is appropriate advice for any team working in the film industry to heed.
Joyce Kwong Managing director, Disruptive Business Consulting
Scaling up Running Films presents challenges that are familiar to many entrepreneurs, but there are no hard and fast principles governing when a business needs to “install a more formal management structure” or how it must go about this task.
This is not to say that adding management structure to a growing business isn’t necessary – it certainly is. But there is no one-size-fits-all framework that specifies what kind of reorganisation is required.
Formal systems and processes need to be established to remove bottlenecks to growth, so this should be done in phases whenever these bottlenecks are anticipated. I would not recommend a one-off installation that radically transforms your business and its original vision and values. Rather, appropriate management structures and controls need to be established as the venture develops.
Adding new structures, systems and controls to entrepreneurial organisations – especially creative ones – will inevitably change their culture. The processes and protocols that indicate how things are meant to be done are a key component of culture. This is another reason for using a phased approach. Be conscious of the values and protocols that you want to retain – or change – as you construct your business.
Jenny Simnett Interim transformation director, People in Places
Growing your firm with a new management structure should be based on four key elements. These are: vision (a long-term view of what you want to do for the industry and/or society); mission (what you aim to deliver to your customers today); strategy (what you’re going to do to grow, ideally using measurable objectives); and values (how team members should act in pursuit of the vision, mission and strategy). These elements are all necessary to give all of your people direction. I would aim to write a summary on one page of A4, ensuring that it’s simple to communicate to all stakeholders, yet impactful in growing the business.
You already have a mission statement on your website, which is about telling “compelling stories”, creating “positive stereotypes” and making audiences “think, feel and reflect”. A set of values – six at most – should be defined in simple terms and linked to observable behaviour, so that they’re not mere concepts. I’d recommend a consultative process to come up with them. The values should be integrated into recruitment, reward, performance management and career development. The managers you hire should be the role models for these values and coach their staff so that everyone knows what’s expected of them.
Thank you all for your advice. Your comments provided great insight, which will help me to determine the next steps for my business in 2018. Recruiting a more diverse team is certainly one way to open doors in the future, as is maintaining a structure that’s simple and flat, yet highly organised. Showing that the values of the company are more than just a concept and integrating this philosophy into the team is among the strategies I plan to put in place in the coming months. I look forward to seeing you guys at the IoD.
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Sheridan De Myers CV
Education Holland Park School, London
2007 Co-founds production company New Treatment, writing and directing short films as well as making music videos
2014 Founds Running Films
December 2016 Releases first full-length feature film, The Weekend
January 2017 Features on the BBC’s “new talent hotlist” of emerging British artists to look out for in 2017
April 2017 Nominated in the “achievement in film production” category at the Screen Nation Film & TV Awards
July 2017 The Weekend gets a worldwide release on Netflix