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Framestore CEO William Sargent reveals how to lead a creative business

Neil Bennett | May 26, 2014
It's always interesting when you hear heads of leading creative firms talk about their business purely in the terms of it being, well, a business.

How clients have changed Framestore
William says that another of the biggest drivers for change has come from their clients. Used to working with the film industry and its notoriously tolerant culture to everything from clothing to language, Framestore had to appear more businesslike when they wanted to work with Nokia directly in 2010. More recently, working directly with Beats meant they had to learn to be able to respond to a client's requests very quickly.

For Beats, Framestore created a series of traditional ads featuring two CG characters based on the company's Pill speaker, but then were asked to create a real-time 3D engine so that they could respond to what was happening at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards as it ran, based on live commentary by a group of comedians.

That responsiveness was what Beats came to expect from Framestore. William received a call from Beats at 3am one night, along with an emailed copy of Pharrell Williams' then not-yet-out music video for Happy. Beats wanted a similar riff on the video to what they'd done at the VMAs. By 9am, a Framestore crew was boarding a plane to New York to create that.

However, William was quite open about that he didn't work through the night on it, he phoned people and delegated (and went back to sleep). While creatives at Framestore, like all VFX firms, work extremely long hours on projects, William thinks it's fine for those on the business side not to exhaust themselves so that they can function properly at all times.

"I don't feel the need to be there at 10pm at night if I wasn't contributing," he says. "You need to be well rested, to be a leader who can think when everyone has their head down after doing a 72-hour week."

How to be a leader in a creative business
Another time when leaders need to step back, says William, is when trusted staff are going to fail (as long as they don't do it too much or too often).

"[Staff members] need permission to fail, permission to try new ideas," he says. "As a leader, even if you know someone's going to fail, you got to let them so they learn something."

Both of those approaches only work if you trust your staff, and William says that this is a key skill a leader needs to have so they can focus on the most important decisions.

"There's always a crisis on a major movie," he says, "but I have talented colleagues who have already tried to fix the problem before it gets to my desk."

If a project really is in trouble because it needs more resources or time (or budget from the client), William has to be the one to make the difficult decision about what


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