UK production and distribution outfit Pulse Films is growing its production output at an impressive rate.
Pulse Films was recently voted the 38th fastest growing company in the UK by the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list. The integrated company, which produces films, music, TV, ads and brand campaigns, was the only film and TV production outfit on the list. It’s easy to see why they made it.
The London-based company manages an impressive roster of young commercials and music video talent and has garnered interest from a number of larger media companies. Financier Sharon Harel bought a 20% stake in the business last year.
Thomas Benski set up the company in 2005 with co-founder Marissa Clifford. Vital funding soon followed from businessman Sir Harry Soloman.
The outfit now has a staff of around 55 between London, New York, LA and Paris and manages a roster of around 21 writers and directors.
Play the Hits
Benski and in-house producer Lucas Ochoa have had success with a number of feature documentaries, including Sundance 2013 title Who is Dayani Cristal?, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, and LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits.
The company co-produced hit documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me and is now working on an all-access Backstreet Boys documentary from director Stephen Kijak.
Associated talent includes Shut Up and Play the Hits co-directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern and Katy Perry: Part of Me creative executives Ed Lovelace and James Hall.
“The idea was to create an integrated company that could leverage talent across multiple strands as well as financially sustain a model that could engage the industry in an innovative and interesting way,” Benski tells Screen.
“The classic production model is precarious and relies on a hit. What we wanted was for a more sustainable model. That was the genesis. In the last seven years we’ve managed to do that.
“We wanted to become a talent warehouse so verticalisation was key. Now we’re in the next phase of that. The next few years are about developing the projects we have created around that.”
“It’s a virtuous circle”, adds Ochoa. “A feature we make can stimulate interest in that director in the ad world, or vice-versa, talent we work with in a music video can lead to a feature.”
Lovelace and Hall are a case in point after they met Perry when directing a T-Mobile commercial in which she starred, produced by the Pulse advertising department.
To date, Pulse has been flexible in its level of investment.
On Dayani Cristal and Shut up and Play the Hits, the company was at the core of the process: developing, financing and editing, and also distributing the latter. On Katy Perry, the outfit was a co-producer, with two of its directors involved from an early stage but Paramount handling distribution.
“Backing can be significant on the right project,” says Benski.
“On the right film we could fully finance development and production but we like working on projects with sustainable budgets.”
While the focus to date has been on documentaries, Pulse is now looking to build its narrative output:
“Scripted has become more important recently. But we wanted to make sure we had the resources to tackle it in a meaningful way,” acknowledges Ochoa.
The outfit is currently developing around five features in-house and is working with third parties on around five others.
Projects on the slate include a feature version of video game Gangs of London and a feature about singer Edwyn Collins. Ochoa and Pulse also recently produced Channel 4 TV doc Attenborough and Bjork: The Nature of Music, fronted by legendary naturalist David Attenborough and musician Bjork.
Feature distribution is also increasingly a priority for the company, with Anna Sissons joining from Dogwoof in September 2012 to oversee the team’s distribution arm. The boom in distribution of alternative content serves the outfit well.
“The UK is a territory that doesn’t require huge muscle for the types of films we have made to date,” says Benksi.
“Distribution was a natural step for us. A traditional distributor would put fairly low value on some of our films but we continue to make good money from it.
“Eight months after the opening of Shut Up and Play the Hits we are still making money from merchandise and DVDs, for example.”
Corporate expansion is also on the cards. “We’re looking at the US as a growth area,” he reveals. “Brazil is also a place we’re circling. And on the staff side there should be a couple of hires in the next few months.”
“The next couple of years are the ones that define us”, adds Benksi.
“We have some very interesting projects coming through which we’re very excited about so we want to make sure we put all available resources behind them.”