Decoupling Production

I’m interested in the trend of decoupling going on in the world of TV and film production companies. It’s the world that I used to live in so it’s close to my heart. Decoupling refers to the process of reducing costs to the client by outsourcing some of the work to freelancers or external services, rather than providing them in house. Decoupling offers big opportunities to everyone in our industry from company directors to freelancers and runners, if we can be brave enough to embrace it.

Increasingly, over the past 20 years, production companies have been expected to be flexible, pressurised to increase their skills, enabling them to deliver every possible service and format to their clients. This entails increasing staff to cover all areas of production, extending the capabilities of the company so they can also generate content for new and emerging mediums (web, mobile devices, games etc). The result is increased costs due to wages and also investment in bigger studio spaces.

The inevitable has happened, the work that was plentiful during these times of development has somewhat dried up. Production companies are competing even harder for the same jobs and clients find it harder to differentiate between companies as they all offer essentially the same services. Frustrated freelancers who weren’t finding the right amount of work (or satisfaction from it) started to create their own collectives which for a while injected some new life into the industry but they too have suffered from what I call the “jack of all trades syndrome”. Feeling that they must offer all services in-house, often stretching the capabilities of their employees and making the work suffer as a result.

Of course there are pros and cons with everything in life, this is no exception. On a positive note, decoupling could provide the opportunity to return to an industry where craft specialization matters. Instead of all production companies offering essentially the same services and competing for every scrap of work, each could become king of a particular area, passing work onto other companies when the work is more suited to their specific skill-field. A certain amount of this already goes on within Soho but I really believe this could be extended. It would improve the quality of work, employee morale and confidence within individual companies.

By letting some of their in house designers go and instead using freelancers, companies could open up to diversity, calling on different specialist skills appropriate for each job. It could create healthy competition between freelance creatives but also opportunity to create alliances and a network for swapping skills. In house designers can sometimes find it hard to maintain focus and motivation, so those more suited to a freelance lifestyle could benefit greatly here.

However, I worked as a freelancer in the industry for over 12 years so I know, only too well the challenges that can be faced. Remote working is not easy, you need to be motivated, focused, pro-active and willing to network. Ideas can be harder to develop on your own, it’s amazing how much creative development goes on during breaks around the coffee machine or meetings in the pub after work for production companies. Get rid of your in house team and you risk losing the teamwork that’s so valuable for the development of ideas and a sense of company identity. It can also be hard to find the right people at the right time to work on a production, they may be busy with another company.

On the whole though I see decoupling as an exciting prospect. It increases the unknown to the equation. Risk and uncertainty can be scary but embrace them and you often find new exciting challenges that, combined with a bit of initiative, can be the impetus to creativity in it’s truest sense. I’d love to hear the thoughts of other design professionals about the whole debate associated with decoupling, and also any stories about the challenges associated with remote working. What are these difficulties and how can we find ways of making it work?

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