5 Minutes with… Barney Richard
Fresh from picking up a shiny golden arrow from last week’s British Arrows for the Megaforce-directed Finish ad ‘Dishes’, Riff Raff Films are having a great time of it. Brimming with punky energy and an enthusiasm for busting out new talent, they’ve been injecting the industry with a taurine-fuelled jolt of energy ever since founder Matt Fone opened the door in 2012. And the past year has seen them really hit their stride. There have been big bombastic projects, like Francois Rousselet’s 'Find Your Magic' for Axe, as well as rising directorial stars who they’ve launched into adland.
Barney Richard joined the team just over a year ago, bringing his own brand of anarchic attitude to the mix – his job title ‘Partner and General Nuisance’ says it all. He’s travelled the world and got into production after a stint as a promoter for Tangerine Records, starting off with Jelly London and then Friend. With Riff Raff, he’s found a family that matches his own energy (just ask around the industry and the 'printable' word you hear most often to describe Barney is ‘invigorating’). LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Barney to talk talent, treating people like human beings and how the production industry has been turned on its head.
LBB> Riff Raff is a relatively young production company, having been founded in 2012. How do you think that’s helped it work in a way that’s more relevant to the industry today?
BR> Are you all sitty comftybold two-square on your botty? Then let’s begin.
I believe every business should behave like a start up, no matter how big you become. If you want to be progressive you have to be very open-minded, it’s a cultural thing. The modern business is made up of the sum of its parts, the people within, the talent that we work with as directors and artists and the people we work with as collaborators and clients. All of those influences inform your ethos and ethical practice. The new breed of company is much more versatile and accepting of this kind of behaviour, it’s creative and people-focused in equal measure.
LBB> The roster at Riff Raff feels like it’s been put together with a very different approach and sensibility to other more traditional commercial production companies… what’s the thinking behind is?
BR> Thinking is very difficult for me.
To my mind there is none (see?). It’s about finding the people that you really WANT to work with; people you admire as humans as well as artists, as opposed to structuring a company purely from a business point of view. It really is that simple. The common thread through our company is ideas – not just making shit look good, that’s a prerequisite. From Wes Anderson through to Alden Volney in the Nursery of Evil, they’re the same – they're ideas people, just at opposite ends of the spectrum.
LBB> How do you go about finding and choosing directors for your roster?
BR> We have a hydroponic farm in the Riff Raff attic where we cultivate talent by cross breeding stolen genes from people like Richard Gere and Sandy Toksvig. We fuse them with cells from hummingbirds, pins and salad cream. It’s a potentially explosive mix but it seems to be working well.
We try to home grow as much talent as possible and always have done. Our primary belief is investing in the next wave of directorial talent, guiding them and building their careers. Firstly it’s an investment of passion, time and creativity and secondly it’s financial. If we invest in our brand and the people within it, it’s far more connected, powerful and unique. The success will build from there.
There are a lot of incoming enquiries, daily – we research, we talk to people, we make stuff with people and a relationship or signing will more often come from just doing what you do well.
LBB> I’ve been enjoying watching the progress of Ben Reed – his Blur video Lonesome Street was a favourite in the office last year. Tell us more about him!
BR> Ben is an awesome homosapien and one to watch. He’s a young director from Wales who has a brain jam-packed with great ideas. He’s on the move and ready to break and the Blur video certainly helped. It’s such an honest film. The band wanted something really pure, simple and charming so Ben found a real troupe in San Francisco, and effectively street cast the whole thing. The main male cast member was the choreographer and lead dancer.
Whilst we’re on the Welsh tip, you should check out these guys, Casey and Ewan too. So Good.
LBB> How do you think the way that production companies and agencies work together is changing?
BR> The boundaries of what we all do are blurring. There are agencies with in house production, post houses with rosters, production companies working direct to client, edit shops with sound departments. It’s a free for all and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you’ve got great talent, a forward-thinking mind-set and good work ethics it’s not an issue, you have the edge. People want to work with good people full stop; whether it’s directly, or via an agency or a label, or whether you’re developing your own products and ideas that people want to be a part of – creativity has so many shapes and forms, some of it turns into viable business opportunities and some of it is purely passion. Just make stuff.
LBB> I love the way Riff Raff describes themselves on their LBB profile page – it’s refreshingly straightforward and human! How does that translate into the company’s culture?
BR> Well for starters we are human (ish) and there’s a no bullshit policy here. We like to have fun and we like to disrupt in equal measure, and honesty is key – all of these things are integral to good creativity. If you look at us all together from a top shot we look like a dancing crab.
LBB> The Nursery of Evil is your new talent hatchery – and you’ve got some great people in there, like Bif. How long has that been going for and why do you think it’s important for Riff Raff to nurture new talent?
BR> I like the word hatchery. I like the word haberdashery. The nursery of Evil was established 18 months into Riff Raff’s life and there really is some astounding young talent there, it’s all building. It’s not just important for Riff Raff to nurture talent, it’s important for every company out there, it’s important to the industry and it’s important for the creative community as a whole. It’s fucking lazy, archaic and counterintuitive to run a creative business and not invest in young talent. It really just depends on your motivation for running a business of this kind and how deeply connected to it you are.
LBB> What were your Riff Raff highlights of 2015?
1. Making Angry Birds 2 with Wieden+Kennedy and Francois Rousselet because it’s ridiculous.
2. Signing the wonderful Alex and Liane who are insanely talented, check out their reel.
3. Making it up our spiralling Soho staircase countless times without keeling over in a flapping pile of skin.
4. The office being burgled in the second week of joining while Matthew was on holiday.
5. Breaking Ben Reed commercially.
6. Putting roots down.
7. Not shaving Matthew’s hair off while he sleeps.
LBB> What are your goals for 2016?
1. Continue the creative success of 2015 and build on it in 2016.
2. Finish the children’s book I started in 1765.
3. Stop smoking.
4. Break more young directors.
5. Take a proper holiday.
6. Work more with our US family, the Directors Bureau.
7. Shaving Matthew’s hair off while he sleeps.
LBB> At Riff Raff I know you’ve got a good relationship with the crew at giffgaff. Rhyming names aside, how have you found having that close relationship with a brand/client (as opposed to working with an agency)? Do you think it changes the way you work? Do you think the industry as a whole will see more of these prod co-brand collaborations?
BR> That question is like a gargantuan velvet fork covered in algebra and ladybirds.
Our relationship with giffgaff is very natural and they are a 100 per cent anomaly in terms of how creative they are and how they like to do business. I don’t imagine every direct relationship to be this way but simply by not having multiple layers of process and hierarchy / sign off, the creative source being closer to the end client and working in actual collaboration, the ideas breathe truer, there is less fear, complexity and miscommunication – things happen faster and more fluidly.
It doesn’t change the way in which you work on the whole; sure, there are different problems to solve but that’s what we do. Agencies do however have a huge role to play in a lot of client relationships, they have an immense resource that most production companies don’t have and don’t want to have.
And yes, the industry will see more of this, it’s already happening a lot and it works but it doesn’t work for every brand and every production company. You have to choose your partners wisely on either side both in terms of creative output and cultural empathy.
I have to dash now, but it’s been a joy – there’s a porpoise knocking on the door asking that I turn down the music.