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20 November 2018

The Untold story.

by Jason Stone


After plying their trade at The Mill for a number of years, Neil Davies and Darren O'Kelly are heading an ambitious new post-production enterprise called Untold Studios.

As they were quick to point out when DAVID popped by to see their eye-popping new HQ in Old Street, they could have opted to dip their toes in the water with a boutique-sized operation. After all, a number of start-ups in this realm have proven it's possible to build slowly towards success with a relatively small investment, so we were interested to find out why Davies and O'Kelly had decided to buck the trend by going big.

'Big' is certainly the right word. Taking up the whole of the fourteenth floor of a building overlooking Old Street roundabout - at the heart of London's digital hub - Untold Studios's premises makes a bold statement about the kind of company they want to be. And fear of heights is only one possible explanation for any giddiness felt by visitors as they're shown round by O'Kelly and Davies... a terrifying vertigo could just as easily be provoked by the thought of being responsible for a start-up of this scale.

How do we create conditions to attract the very best talent that's out there, the very best talent on Earth?

Darren O'Kelly   


It's all the more surprising then that Davies and O'Kelly are so sanguine about the path ahead. If they are daunted by any aspect of leading this ambitious start-up, it dosn't show, and both seem incredibly relaxed as we chat about the journey ahead. Despite the ambition, theirs is a quiet focus... O'Kelly is slightly the more effusive of the two, but both are pleasantly understated as people often are when they know that their track record and their work speaks for itself.

They focus on their excitement, and an approach centred on creativity. As O'Kelly says: "We have a very simple approach, which is if you work with good people, doing good work... then good things happen. How do we create conditions to attract the very best talent that's out there, the very best talent on Earth?"

That's the most important question, 'what's going to creatively excite us?'

Neil Davies   


This philosophy lies at the heart of their decision to pursue such an ambitious project, as Neil Davies puts it: "If we were going to do something then it had to be a something that was going to excite us... we would have been able to put together a very, very, very good post-production company for commercials, but that wouldn't have excited us really. That's the most important question, 'what's going to creatively excite us?'"

Another key plank of their proposition is a determination to be ready for whatever the market dictates next. The last five years has seen an enormous shift in the landscape with a demand for ever greater adaptability. Companies haven't been limited to a single realm for a long time but they're less and less coy about it, and a multi-discipline offer is now commonplace. For Untold Studios, this translates into an open-mindedness from the get go when it comes to supporting others' creative endeavours.

That's not to say Untold Studios are inviting all and sundry to pitch that script in their bottom drawer, because there's an important rider to this commitment. Although they are excited at the prospect of getting behind personal projects, they sensibly recognise the importance of getting behind ideas where there's a realistic expectation they'll find an audience.

To what extent would they support a director who came to them with a brilliant idea scribbled on the back of an envelope? For Neil Davies, it's a balancing act: "We're a commercial business, but the best creativity actually comes out of businesses that are commercially strong and focused. You've got to be making work that finds an audience, whether that's an audience that's online or that's an audience that's paying to get access... or it's a piece of entertainment that a network wants to buy. That's the key."

If that takes us to spaces we hadn't imagined, it will be interesting to look at those when they arrive... rather than try to predict where it's all going.

Neil Davies   


That said, they recognise how important it is to avoid certainty about the way the landscape is shifting, because no one can accurately predict where the opportunities of the future will lie.

In any case, they are primarily focused on the here and now: "What we have is a belief in what we want to do today... a fiercely creative, independent studios getting on with the work. And that means concentrating on relationships with the best creatives out there, producers, directors, networks.

"If that takes us to spaces we hadn't imagined, it will be interesting to look at those when they arrive... rather than try to predict where it's all going."

Their focus on immediate challenges is hardly surprising when you consider they had only moved into the building four weeks before our conversation. They currently have twenty-five people working in a space which could accommodate as many as eighty and their first task is to get the existing staff up to full capacity. It's a prospect which brings "a slight feeling of terror", admits Davies but it's nothing they can't handle and the early indications bode well: "We set up some really interesting projects, prior to opening. And we've had a a lot of positive support from the market... we're looking forward to working with the best companies out there, and producing interesting work."

For more information on this bold start-up, contact Annie Ayers on 020 8016 6111 or email her using annie@untoldstudios.tv. Ask nicely, and she may arrange a tour of their HQ, which we heartily recommend.

David Reviews is hand-crafted by Lovely Lenzie Ltd, 7 Seven Sisters, Lenzie, Glasgow, G66 3AW. Editor: Jason Stone. Phone: 0141 776 7766. E-mail: jason@davidreviews.com.