5 Minutes with… Dave Cadle
London-based post production house Envy turns 10 in March. Over the past decade they’ve grown to include five separate sites, with a sixth on the way and they work on some of the most watched TV shows on the planet. But, unusually, they also blend that long form work with short form commercials editing and post, which has led to a unique mix of creative talent and clients swirling around.
But there’s a method to the magic; co-founder and MD Dave Cadle approaches the growth of the business in a careful, considered, but quick fashion. With 22 of the company’s shareholders working there, decisions can be made fast, allowing Envy to flex and accommodate the demands of the market. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Dave to find out more about Envy’s amazing journey.
LBB> How did you first get into advertising?
DC> My first job was working at an agency as a 16-year-old. It was a company called Davidson Pearce Berry & Spottiswoode. I remember turning up for an interview and the Head of TV said, ‘what are you good at, apart from being young?’ And I said, ‘I like football, I used to be an apprentice footballer. I love movies’. I got the job – I think I got it because there were 50 kids in the reception and he just didn’t want to see any more kids! I remember Ridley Scott was doing a commercial there.
You had to make an impact, whatever you did. You had to know if you were good enough. No? Then you were fired. That was really handy for me to learn what I was really good at in a very short amount of time. It was a very mad time but it was a very good time too!
LBB> And then you switched to post and became a technical operator and eventually moved to VTR and then helped set up Blue…
DC> At VTR there was a lot of madness going on, quick turnaround. The PLC that owned VTR came to me because they wanted to branch into long form editing, which I knew a bit about from my Carlton days. I didn’t want to acquire something because if you acquire something you’re the bad guy, turning up and changing things. My plan got aired to the PLC and they all preferred that. So I left VTR and we started up Blue. We opened in a March 1992 and by July we were in an operating profit, three years ahead of our time. They wanted to put more money our way to develop. It was a combination then of the branding, short-form commercials and the long-form stuff. I was at Blue for ten and a half years. We worked on some very exciting stuff.
At the time in TV, they were spending a lot of money on branding too, which meant we could get involved with the client in the early stages. It got you into that sphere. You’d start to work on that short stuff and the guys making it began to be repped by the likes of RSA, so we got a lot more commercial work. So I suppose the combination of VTR and Blue were a dry run of what we’re trying to achieve here, looking at the relationships and the work and the business we’d built up over the years.
LBB> So you set up Envy in 2006. How did you go about setting it up?
DC> It took me three months to figure out the business on paper. I went to a firm of accountants that don’t deal with media companies because I want it to stand up on its own value as a business plan, not just because it appealed to media luvvies. They marked it high. They tweaked it a bit and it went out for investment. Investment went up very quickly. We had 14 slots for people in here and then we went outside to someone who was worth a lot of money for the final million pounds we needed. We needed £5.6 million to get the ball rolling. We opened in a March, as did Blue all those years ago, although it wasn’t planned that way! And we too went into an operating profit by July. So we knew we had something quite special.
But our problem was that we ran out of space very quickly. The long form people suddenly said, instead of having two rooms for a year we want ten rooms for six weeks. They said it was quicker for them and they were multi-tasking on a few jobs at one. We only had 14 offlines here. We developed building one after year one, building three after year three, four after year five and we’re now planning number six.
LBB> And you’re about to turn ten! Even though you opened with an audacious name like Envy, did you foresee growing quite like it has?
DC> We’re ten year’s old in March! Envy. I hated the name – you can print that – my wife chose it. She said ‘we’re calling it Envy.” I said, “We’re not calling it that, on your bike, see ya later.” And… I did get on my bike and I did see her later! A design friend of mine said ‘don’t’ do it’. But when he saw the space he said, “Actually, I can see where Tash is coming from.” Now I’m not worried about it but at the time it was quite a statement to make.
We knew what we had to do. We had cash for three months; we had to make it work and had to be very productive otherwise it would have just fallen over. Everybody knew that; the 42 people who started out were very understanding and just got on with it.
LBB> So have you thought about opening outside of London?
DC> We thought we’d get to three buildings in London. About three years ago the regional stuff started hitting us, the regional funding kicked in and the BBC indicated that they’d take a lot more work outside of London – which terrified us! We looked at Bristol, we looked at Glasgow, and we looked at Manchester. That’s kind of gone away, because all the talent is here. There are places in Bristol doing very well but can you afford to put up an editor for ten weeks in Bristol when he lives in Richmond? There’s a gravitas about where we are.
We’ve gone to New York and spoken to programme makers out there. We looked at Manchester a while ago but it’s not my bag. Bristol keeps coming up, Brighton comes up regularly because there’s lots of creatives there but there’s not the need. We keep going round in a circle, but it always comes back to London. That’s where it’s at. The support structures are here, recruiting is easier.
In the original business plan I wrote, I put in a line about ‘passing traffic’. If we’re located centrally, we’ll get passing trade. I thought that would account for 4% of our business, thinking if people know we’re there they’ll use us… and at the end of year one that was 18%! That’s why we had to grow so quickly! People kept saying ‘we’ve heard you’re open, can we have a look?’ It worked a treat.
LBB> You run Envy with your wife Natascha, who is the facility director. What’s that like?
DC> We don’t often bump into each other! The closest we get on the working day is when we get off the scooter out there – she goes one way and I go another. I hide a lot; I look at the numbers, acquire the staff and do all that. She looks at the place like a client would look at it. She’s at Ravensbourne now, talking to the next generation.
She started the Academy because we couldn’t go around stealing people, so she thought that we should try and get the talent in when they’re partly schooled and then train them in what we do. Over half the company now has come through that way, and they’re all in various departments. All the buildings are being managed and run by the kids who started with us. They’re looking after the clients for weeks and weeks and weeks – and clients can be demanding!
LBB> That’s interesting – so many business owners bemoan a lack of skills among the younger generation but you’re actually investing in training them and building them up!
DC> Most of them come from university so they’ve done that three or four year-long course. They get a training manual that’s so fat and they have to train a certain number of hours per week. If they don’t they get sacked. And then they progress and progress and once we’ve found them an assistant position, they’ll get that job. We go outside to hire the big hitters, if someone says ‘if you had that person it would work better for us’, but the underbelly of the talent is home grown.
Danny was home grown, he was flipping burgers three years ago but he’s gone into grading and got into it really quickly. We’ve got these ‘pedestal people’ that we can look at and tell the young ones ‘if you can do that and work hard, then you could be there one day’.
The kids here do very, very well, but they work very hard too. If you’re designing cars, you need to have been down to the factory floor. It’s very important. They all know where the light switches are.
LBB> Do you feel like you run the business differently to other post production or edit houses?
DC> There are 28 shareholders in total and 22 of them work here. If I get stressed out about something here, I can go and talk to someone in production who is also a shareholder and they can help steer me in the right direction. We don’t go to a governing body somewhere in the sky – when I was at VTR everything had to go through the board that met every six weeks. And in six weeks’ time the problem is over and we’d have lost the job by then!
With the fifth building, we knew had a chance to get the Voice and Top Gear but we had nowhere to put it, so we had to find a site and convert it in three months. We’re quite lively in our business strategy. I’m not clever enough to say, ‘this is what we’re going to be doing in 18 months’; I look at the business every three months very closely. I look at it every day to see how it’s breathing, what’s coming in. When you’ve got five sites, you have to be very mindful of cash, and that’s when the business hat needs to come on. But we run very quickly. It keeps it interesting for clients and staff but we know next year we’ve got a massive amount of work to do!
LBB> You do both long form work – for TV and documentaries – as well as short form commercial work. What’s the split between the two?
DC> The business currently is about 28% short form and the rest is long form – I check every month. At the moment we’re running 157 offline suites till March. We’ve got a pop up running at the moment because we’ve got three big clients running at once and we wanted to make it work. We even looked at hiring hotel rooms but we found somewhere round the corner and invaded it, put our equipment in. But it is mad, especially if you look at the amount of material feeding into all of these rooms.
LBB> And how much cross-over is there between the two?
DC> Whether it’s 90 minutes long or three seconds long, it shouldn’t really matter to the environment or the tech side of things. But you bring in your different creatives to do the long form or the short form. Very few cross-fertilise. You’ve got a room full of people who win Baftas and then down the corridor you’ve got someone else doing a 30-second spot.
We find it crosses over quite well, because of the interest people have in different kinds of work. The Gogglebox team has a whole floor apart from four rooms and there’s another company up there at the moment, one’s cutting a documentary, another’s doing a short film. Clients bump into one another and they really like that. Long form, short form, we mix and match the buildings.
LBB> You've worked on loads of commercials, trailers for The X Factor and various Channel 4 shows and even a One Direction promo. Are you seeing much interest from the advertising agencies in the longer form work?
DC> The longest thing we’ve done on the advertising side of things recently was for The Times. It was a series of short films produced by Betsy Works. They came out of Channel 4 to form this company, to do longer stuff. The Times work won awards after awards after awards…
LBB> On the TV side of things, one of the most exciting shows you work on in Gogglebox, the hugely popular UK show that features families watching TV. What’s that like?
DC> On the long form side of things we do Gogglebox on a weekly basis. We can strip a promo look out of it as we’re cutting the episode. Editorially they know what they’re doing. That’s an event that really comes to life here on Wednesday or Thursday, and then it’s voiced in here on Friday morning and shipped that evening.
There’s ten rooms cutting away and there’s a very clever lead editor. The brief is ‘make me laugh, comedy, comedy, comedy’. The other week had people laughing and in tears. It’s a great show.
With Gogglebox, there’s a secret to it. The editor, they keep him locked away but he’s just got this talent for cutting dialogue. If you gave it to a commercial editor, he’d be looking at the pictures, but cutting the dialogue is a real art form.
LBB> And the other one is, of course, Top Gear! According to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s the World’s Most Widely Watched Factual TV show. How do you put that together?
DC> When we’ve got Top Gear coming in, the world goes crazy for us. They shoot it on Wednesday, we post it Thursday and Friday. Saturday was a day where we’d pause and look at it for the production side of things, to see if they’re happy with it, once it’s viewed on the Saturday if they like it, ship it. The BBC version goes out on the Sunday and once that’s out we do the international cut and that goes out to loads of countries, where 55 million people watch it. The languages are voiced locally – we send it out in English and they have to get it. So we shot it on Wednesday and it went out on the Sunday – and I don’t think that will change for the new show. It’s quite a lot to do in a short space of time because they want that particular ‘look’. There’s a massive preamble doing the inserts, to want to make them look like a Rolls Royce.
Is it scripted? To a point. Is Gogglebox scripted? No. The ‘script’ emerges as we cut it and do our things. These two are the real ‘hot’ ones. And then you get the stuff that is very scripted and very locked off and approved that you can’t move. You want an environment that suits the commercial people and that can also be used to cut a documentary – everything’s got multiple uses. Apart from the creative people, unfortunately, if I could find someone that could do them all I’d be away, but they are few and far between.
LBB> And you’ve also finished a VR project recently. What are your thoughts about that as an avenue?
DC> We finished it a few weeks ago – I’m a little bit nervous about trying on the head gear! It was a Circus show, filmed at the Round House in London. I think there’s a real avenue for that because it’s a skill set. You have to get the right people to work on it. We guinea pigged ourselves on our own project, built up our own experience and we found there’s a real science to it. What you can do, what you can’t do… you don’t want to freak someone out! It’s a bit like the stereo stuff – we got involved in that quite early on and we were really pushing the boundaries of what was possible with the tech.
I think it’s going to be a corporate vehicle, for example, for showing a virtual reality model of a car. It could also be quite useful as a market research tool – if you can’t build a physical model, you can test a virtual one.
LBB> And in terms of where you want to grow next, are there any other areas you want to get into?
DC> We’ve done a few movies here, kit-wise we can do it. It’s not really our tool-up scenario, we haven’t got a hangar full of people who matte and paint stuff out and it’s not something we want to get involved in. We love the TV side of things, we’re in control of it, we know the etiquette of it and it works.
I think over the next couple of years, the amount of TV advertising and programme making are going to be quite high. Our order book for next year is looking scarily good. People want more of it.