Papaya Films was born in Poland and will always be Polish at its heart. But with a founder and executive producer like Kacper Sawicki, it was destined to be instilled with international values and ambitions from day one. Growing up he made regular trips to London, which deeply informed the border-spanning approach to creative work he went on to pursue.
Since its inception in 2006, Papaya has been transforming the film, advertising and media industry, with global campaigns, high-quality content and world-class entertainment from around the world. Papaya’s teams, today based in London, New York, Lisbon and Warsaw, pride themselves with creating authentic and energetic stories that matter, for an audience who cares. With a roster of global directors, Papaya’s integrated services have produced award-winning content for television, online, mobile and VR.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with the man who started it all.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what were your first memories of being interested in filmmaking?
Kacper> I was born in Warsaw and my formative experiences were on film sets accompanying my dad, and also at the radio station where my mom worked. From the beginning, I had the opportunity to travel as my mother worked for the Polish section of the BBC in London.
Although I spent my early childhood on film and television sets, my first conscious memory of film production was on the set of Kieslowski’s ‘Decalogue’ [a Polish drama series]. I was 11 years old then and I thought to myself that working on a film was something magical, that it was what I wanted to do.
LBB> As you were entering the world of filmmaking, what were some key projects that helped you develop and learn about production?
Kacper> My serious career in film production started with ‘All My Loved Ones’, which we shot in the Czech Republic in 1999. But what happened was later more important. During my studies in Lodz Film School, I freelanced for Reuters and simultaneously produced music videos which led, among other things, to my freelance collaboration with MTV Networks. And through this I got the chance to see other cultures, ways of working – drawing inspiration and knowledge from my surroundings.
My trips to London were a study in incredible diversity, respect for other people and their work, and that’s what I would draw upon later. It shed a completely different light on my experiences thus far. Thanks to all this, I started working with the Polish section of MTV when it started up.
LBB> What lesson do you wish you had learned earlier and why?
Kacper> The lesson that I wish I had learned earlier is that diversity is key in building a company. Not only diversity in terms of cultural background or gender – that has always been at the foundation of Papaya Films. What I mean is diversity in thinking: when we started the company, it was my habit to look for people with similar production skills that I considered to be key.
When we started building the company, we grew at a very dynamic pace. It was only when we reached a certain level that we started looking for people who produced or communicated differently. To put it simply, in the beginning, to start our business we were mainly looking for people with experience. But, in fact, the crucial thing turns out to be youth, freshness, investing in the new generation and diversity. This is a long-term strategy and commitment that we always return to.
It was a valuable lesson for me in terms of being open to other people's resources and competencies, people with completely different approaches, and finally learning to delegate to those people.
LBB> When you established Papaya Films in 2006, what was the production landscape like in Poland and how did you want to change it?
Kacper> There were 10 major production companies in Poland at that time, and they each had a large share of the market. There were virtually no newcomers, and the market was high-margin with close-knit relationships between agencies, clients and producers. Much of the work was based on social relationships and there was a huge dislike for new companies.
The fact is that we faced ostracism from the industry 15 years ago and this still goes on today, affecting young creatives who typically have little or no chance to prove their merits in the industry. And how have we changed that? I think the key thing is that Papaya was built on European standards and values from the very beginning. That's why we were the first to forge stable relationships with the creators we represent. This way, we have a real impact on the promotion of young creators in the market. The second key element for us was transparency and open conversation about the effectiveness of business with our partners. If a business is not efficient, it cannot be ethical and vice versa.
From the beginning we have also focused on sustainable development, including Earth-friendly production solutions. We were the first to start auditing our productions for environmental performance, some of our actions being the first in Poland to use hybrid and electric cars during production. In the future, we want to move over to this type of transport altogether. We also broke stereotypes in terms of understanding diversity and stimulating social change. In terms of respecting diversity, this happened faster at Papaya than in Poland more generally.
We continue to strive to make everyone feel safe and our team itself is presently very diverse. Moreover, we have a number of anti-discrimination tools and we are constantly improving our education and training. I can add that today women hold the majority of management positions in our company, and our communication team for example, currently consists of seven people, with only two native Polish speakers.
LBB> More recently, what have been the biggest moments in the company’s growth?
Kacper> There have been a few of them. First, producing global campaigns for Toyota, Mercedes, PlayStation, Nike and Samsung, and then contracts with global clients such as GSK, Carlsberg, Asahi, Ikea and Unilever.
Of course, opening our offices in London, New York and Lisbon were all milestones. But the year 2020, in which – apart from the fact that we came out stronger in the face of the pandemic that was also difficult for production – we made important international additions to our staff. Mariusz Urbanczyk, previously CEO of Hogarth USA & Canada, is now our COO, and Justyna Górniak, previously HR director of the Walt Disney Company for CEE, became our chief people and sustainability officer. These hires complement what we already had – a capable, creative team of people who needed expertise in a different arena. This is a long-term investment, which raises the standards of our work day by day.
More recently, a big success is working with Robert Lewandowski and Amazon to make a documentary about the world's best footballer of 2020.
LBB> One of the key ways that Papaya is different from other production companies is the Papaya Young Directors (now Papaya Young Creators) competition. How does that impact the way you work as a film production business?
Kacper> Papaya very quickly became an integrated production house, and today we refer to ourselves as a ‘Creative Collective’. We are founded on three core values: inspiration, creation and production. But we also value a strong community around our company, and we build this involvement through education – educating the youngest filmmakers and giving them a chance to participate in an international competition.
Thanks to Papaya Young Directors we are able to give something back to these young people, bringing them closer to the market. We can use our resources to give back to those who are struggling to emerge in the visual arts and media.
At the same time, working with young artists gives us constant access to what is fresh, original and not obvious. And in addition, it creates an incredible base of creators, who can now respond to changing demands in a context of vast content.
But the contest is not our only initiative. We also have our Polish and English language media hub – Papaya Rocks
, which has over one million page views a month. Another project is Papaya Originals
, which involves the production of a series by young people for young people in the ‘coming of age’ genre.
Today, saying that Papaya is a production company does not quite capture it. Papaya – today – is a brand experience.
LBB> You also represent cinematographers and photographers as well as directors. How does that affect the way you function?
Kacper> Papaya It's All About Talent is something that ensures that we are responsive and that the creative team is not just the creative producer and director – we also have cinematographers: professional camerawomen and cameramen on site.
This is part of our mission of bringing people into the industry. It's definitely easier for us to encourage agencies and clients to work with new cinematographers and photographers when they have solid working relationships with our directors – we pair new talent with more experienced talent.
LBB> Papaya Films has made the commitment to eliminate its carbon footprint by 2030. What are the biggest changes that need to happen to ensure you meet that goal?
Kacper> The work that needs to be done far exceeds our production tasks, it also includes close partnerships and collaboration with clients. The most important things that need to happen are the reduction of transportation by centralising productions and limiting waste of materials for sets and costumes – in other words, achieving full recycling. Productions need to be centralised within production centres. Scaling up and consolidating production should be done in places where we can give something back to the local community.
These concrete actions primarily lead to a change in the awareness and mindset of people on set, as well as among our partners and customers. We want to offer customers a green production alternative and in this way both educate and make a real difference.
LBB> What work are you most proud of recently and why?
Kacper> I’m proud of how we are coming out of the pandemic. On the one hand, we got stronger as a team and, on the other hand, the collaboration and effort of all team members achieved good results: the number of shoot days in 2020 was only 10% down from the previous year and 2021 was record-breaking in terms of revenue. We continued to attract global and local clients, produce remotely and develop new production tools based on artificial intelligence.
For six years in a row, we have won the title of Production House of the Year in the biggest creative advertising competition in Poland [the Klub Twórców Reklamy (Advertising Creators Club)].