Series Interview: The Operators Creative Production Studio

The Operators Creative Production Studio is founded by the creative duo of Ben Le Tourneau and Scott Freeman.

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How many years have you been in the business?

Scott:  Coming up to 20 years now.  I was very fortunate to have been given an opportunity straight out of school, where I was able to pick up a lot of knowledge in the pre-Press process including scanning, artworking and colour management.  I used these skills when I moved to Creative Retouching.  I still make use of  all those creative skills including photography, image direction as a business owner and founder of The Operators Creative Production Studio, with my partner and creative duo Ben Le Tourneau.

Ben:  201o, I started in the “advertising” business, at the same time I started my creative production studio – The Operators Creative.  Before that I studied Film & Animation, and started my career in the VFX sector where I helped bring to market some awesome VFX tools that are now commonly used by digital artists around the world.

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Are you self-taught or photography school taught?

Scott:  I guess self-taught in terms of schooling, but influenced heavily by the experience of working in the creative industry, and the post production sector for so long, and working with some great photographers throughout that period, picking up tips and tricks on the way.

Ben:  I have a Masters of Art, which allowed me to explore all sorts of weird and wonderful mediums over the years.  However, I ended up being excited by animation at the time as it had no boundaries. You could make anything with any medium, all that was needed was your imagination.  Although I loved playing with all mediums I did find that I had a passion for experimenting with in-camera techniques like stop-frame animation, pixilation, as well as mixing these mediums with digital artistry. All my university films were weird and the world must never see them!   They are all on VHS and Betamax in my attic, I think.

When did you take your first photograph?

Ben:  This is a tough question for me, the definition of photography maybe different for me than the more traditional concept. I don’t think I have ever taken a traditional photograph with an intention to showcase it for a portfolio or piece of standalone art. Like most people my age 35, I have been capturing moments since I can remember, however I still to this day would never call myself a photographer. I like to think of myself as more of an Image Director because I like to collaborate with other great artists and use any medium to create my work.

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What led you to photography?

Scott: It seemed a natural progression for me from starting in pre-press, at the final part of each project, then clawing my way up the chain of production to digital artist as creative retoucher, to then creating our own material with knowledge of the whole process, to help make those important decisions without the fear of ‘fixing it in post’ term being required.

What professional goals do you still have for yourself?

Scott: To be in a comfortable financial position with a fantastic portfolio, to be able pick the best, most creative projects that are presented to shoot and work on, without fear of finances and creative compromise hindering the final delivery and quality.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

Scott:  Founding The Operators Creative, our London based creative production studio. It’s safe to say that when discussing a business opportunity with my partners at the time, it sounded straight forward, but it’s also safe to say that I was wrong. It’s nothing like straightforward, and the last 7 years have had its ups and downs, but still going this long is a massive achievement in itself, and still loving every up and down that comes our way.

Ben:  My greatest professional achievement has been to help build my creative production studio from very little to a well-established brand here in London. Not knowing the industry at all when I started allowed me to approach creative problems and the industry from a somewhat different angle.  Although my processes maybe a little unorthodox, my passion and approach has always allowed me to tackle some great projects. My next goal is to keep innovating, creating, and stretch both mine, and The Operators Creative legs, to explore this great big vast world.

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What’s missing from your career that you could add to make it complete?

Ben:  A little bit of stability would be a joy!  Not knowing what’s around the corner is both exciting and frightening at the same time. It could be argued that this is what an artist and creativity needs, however with a little bit of knowledge and foresight would allow the me the creative freedom to tackle bigger, bolder, and more demanding personal projects.

What part of your work do you find most demanding?

Scott:  Trying to find enough time in the day, wanting to spend enough time to facilitate all things work related to the best it can be whether it’s on set, directing the post production, or marketing ourselves, as well as spending time with my young family before both of my boys are teenagers and forget me…

What is your creative philosophy?

Ben:  You can’t be rigid about what medium you employ or how you go about making things. Instead I believe you must be resourceful, collaborative and creative, leave your ego at the door please!

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Can you tell us about your state of mind when you are shooting/creating?

Ben:  Excitement and enthusiasm, I love to problem solve and getting really stuck in watching all the pieces of the creative puzzle come together is just so rewarding.

How do you work best – in teams, with assistants, on location, in studio, etc…?

Scott:  All of the above, collaboration is by far the best working practice for problem solving and producing the best quality in both creative and efficient production, bouncing ideas off your team for the best solutions to delivering high-end every time is key and sharing the rewards without ‘ego’ taking over.

Ben:  I truly believe in equality throughout a creative process. I believe in forums and platforms where all my team, crew, and production guys, can manifest and debate great solutions. I see myself more of a creative mediator sometimes rather than a Director. Yes, I do have ideas, and yes, I can be stubborn in how I would like things approached, however the team and approach is far greater than anything a single person can achieve.

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What is your work philosophy?

Scott:  Work hard to the best quality possible, please the client to the best of our ability, and try to make a few pennies (cents) at the end of the day.

What is the ideal relationship for you with your clients?

Scott:  We’d like to be the team thought of when the most creative project appears, which requires some real thought for a fully integrated project across all media platforms. Communication is key, and we love being in the discussions on projects at the earliest stage possible, so we can hopefully add value to all things creative and efficiency.

Ben:  I love working with clients that like to disrupt the status quo of production and direction. Clients that understand that a creative idea will always sit in a multitude of places, and are willing to address this at the earliest possible stage. My ideal clients work with me at the earliest possible stages of a creative idea, and hasn’t pigeon-holed myself or my production studio into being a one trick pony.

What adjectives describe who you are now, at your core?  What adjectives describe who you want to be in the future?

Scott:  Now: Passionate, Control Freak and Perfectionist    Future: A Rich, Thin, Passionate, Control Freak and Perfectionist

Ben:  What’s an adjective? I’m dyslexic?  : )  Cheeky, hardworking and passionate.

How did you achieve your vision?

Ben:  Cliché, but blood sweat and tears.  Our industry is about rejection and being criticized on a molecular level, I just believe in what I can do, and work really, really hard!  Also, Whisky.

What are some obstacles you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?

Ben:  Breaking traditional prehistoric ways to being commissioned, as I have been championing an integrated approach since I started. It was always hard to get buy-in from all departments. Fortunately, times are changing and new practices are getting put into place so Image Directors like me can be commissioned to deliver great stills and motion campaigns all at the same time.

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What’s your advice to handling rejection?

Scott:  Not sure, I could do with some myself. Rejection is very hard to take particularly if your passion, effort, and skill has been given at maximum capacity with no appreciation. Having thick skin with an understanding team and family around you allow you to bounce back and positive ready for the next opportunity.

Ben:  Have a day of getting angry, spend a few hours doubting yourself, pace up and down a bit, sit down have a whisky, go to sleep, and the next day chin up and smile, because you never know what’s around the corner.

How do you market yourself?

Ben:  In the USA our wonderful rep TMAR are always putting our folio in-front of the right people and submitting our work to awards. Back in the UK it’s currently been attending events, networking and getting meetings with potential commissioners.  Fortunately, The Operators Creative has developed a strong brand over the past 7 years so we regularly get opportunities based on word of mouth and portfolio.

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What inspires you?

Scott:  Some very creative influencers around the globe producing amazing quality projects as well as the smart business pioneers who can juggle the creative, business work life while making a good profit.

Ben:  Humour and observation, I love to watch people and situations unfold. I think creative people spot beauty and narrative in the strangest of places.

Where do you seek inspiration?

Scott:  Online, visiting photographer & directors sites as well as visiting London galleries and portfolio based platforms like Behance along with all the relevant social sites. The flexibility to view the world’s creatives on your mobile devices while on the move makes keeping up to date so easy now.

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Would you have any advice to artists/photographers just starting out?

Ben:  Believe in yourself and if you really want it, you will make it happen. It’s rare to get things handed to you on a plate, and for every mistake or criticism, which there will be lots, keep believing and moving forward.

What are you passionate about, gets your blood pumping, or gives you joy?

Scott:  The complex projects out there, I like a jigsaw puzzle of multi-part images to create a beast of a composition with a fun colour grade to finish things off. The more difficult the better…Crazy I know!

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How do you approach your down time?

Scott:  I wish I could say I have much down time, but as much as I can I spend with my family and children is great, but even when I’m not with them, or working on commissioned work, I’m usually working on personal projects, or learning new software packages, as well as building websites… can’t switch off!