I talked in an earlier post about job security and how I thought freelancing was in many ways no riskier than full time employment. One of the first video production companies I started working with after I graduated was Worthing based United Magic Studios whose founder, Jonathan Vinicombe, had recently been made redundant from his full time job. A few years later and United Magic has grown into one of the busiest corporate video production companies on the South Coast. With clients as varied as the Sealife Centre and Brighton Half Marathon the company has gone from strength to strength and now offers a range of video production services.
As one of my biggest employers I decided to catch up with Jonathan at his Portslade studio to find out how he was able to turn his brand into a success story.
Tell me about how and why you set up United Magic Studios?
Jonathan: I started United Magic Studios in 2010; that was because film making was something I wanted to get into and I hadn't gone to Uni. I thought I'd gain experience myself and starting up a company was a quicker way of gaining experience..by working with businesses and clients and getting a more hands on approach as opposed to Uni, so that worked better for me. I was working in sales at the time and it was an obvious decision to then transition into production instead.
Did you find it nerve wracking at first going it alone?
Jonathan: Well the reason why I had to suddenly drop what I was doing was because I was made redundant..so that then forced me into starting it quicker than I would have preferred and getting stuck in, but I think had it not been for that it wouldn't have turned out the way it has..so I'm grateful that I was made redundant (laughs).
5 years on - how has United Magic grown?
Jonathan: It started from a little office in my bedroom with a computer and a camera [and turned] into a dedicated office and film studio [with] various freelancers that I use on various jobs as well. Early on it was very important to me to find local filmmakers to help on shoots that are dedicated, whether that's a camera operator, a sound operator, a composer..something that I am not an expert in so I would rather find someone that is looking to work as that in their field so that they can produce a better quality service rather than what I can so I can focus on the direction and obviously the client at the same time. I tend to focus more on the editing as opposed to anything else because I feel that's where you sculpt the video more and I find that more fun.
Many production companies appear to be transitioning into digital agencies - is this something that you have considered?
Jonathan: Initially United Magic Studios started as 'United Magic Film Studios', so much that we were just focusing on the film aspect. It then turned more to the corporate side and corporate video rather than the short films..and then in the future, calling it 'United Magic Studios' then enables us to become far more accessible to do other things. Whether that's sound recording, studio hire, graphic design, branding..it is far more accessible for that so I am thinking of the long run.
What would you say has been key to your success as a small business so far?
Jonathan: In terms of success I wouldn't say that I am quite..I'm nowhere near where I would want to be but I have had quite a lot of luck along the way. I feel that my background in sales has helped in terms of how to sell the company and obviously the work is important of course as well. The creativity side of it as well, producing a good quality video - that's important and keeping a good relationship with clients. Most of our work comes from repeat business or recommendations, referrals..so I like to think that what we do is very good and that our clients are always happy with what we do and they always seem to come back for more. That is quite a good indication as to why we've been so successful.
Do you have any advice for newcomers to video production or those who are considering starting their own business?
Jonathan: If I were to give any advice to someone looking to get into film making I would suggest getting in touch with local unis, Brighton in this case, and get involved in all the short films that are always going on all year round..and various film communities, film groups via Facebook. You will be working for free to begin with..it's quite well understood that within the film industry being paid is quite rare, hence why I got into corporate video because obviously that's where you do get paid.
Jonathan: To anyone looking to start up their own production company - I would say it's about your image first. Don't look like you're working out of your bedroom which a lot of people do - I did it - but don't give that impression because you're not going to attract the right kind of business or person that wants to work with you..and there won't be any money in it from the people that are willing to work with you. So I'd say your image first - set up a good website, get a good following on your social media pages as well. Do some free work to begin with as well so that you've got some content to show. Don't just use one or two clients of yours all the time because it just gets boring. You need to show versatility as well so - if you've got a camera go out and start filming stuff, you know there's nothing to stop you from doing that. Work on your editing as well and market your business like crazy.
To find out more about United Magic Studios and their work click here.
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