Interview: Neil Rostance, Managing Director, Fat Free Media

Having to tailor content for multiple platforms and screen sizes, the demand for new formats and resolutions such as 4K – there’s always some new challenge digital creatives have to contend with. To find out more, we chatted to Neil Rostance, who’s Managing Director at Fat Free Media, a Nottingham-based video production company specialising in content for the web…

Who are Fat Free Media, and what kind of services do you currently offer clients?

We’re a video production company sitting firmly on content marketing for the web, doing video and animation – 2D and 3D – 99% of the time for online brands. We’ve specialised in that for about eight years now, but obviously in that time the landscape has changed massively for online digital content. We now try to make as exciting and authentic video content as possible, in whatever shape or form. Our team covers everything from live action and production through to 2D animation, and then the more specialist 3D visualisation and animation side.

Does that set you apart from other companies in the region, having all those different services and content available in-house?

It’s a little bit unusual for a regional company, having it all in-house, and it’s something we’re proud of. It’s really cool to be able to say to clients when they ring up that you’ve got someone who’s able to answer any questions. A lot of other companies outsource, or there’s a network they rely on, but from the start we were never interested in that. I wanted to have a team that works all at once on projects and make that the offering, and clients have really responded to that. That does set us apart both technically and also just with the rapport with clients – if they’ve got a team on their site and not working remotely in a city they don’t know, they can get answers quickly.

Neil Rostance interview

What kind of brands have you worked with before? Do you have any favourites, or any that stick out as being particularly challenging?

We do a lot of work with larger, well-established brands, so at the moment, we’re doing some cool projects with Center Parcs and Genting Casinos, as well as the industrial wing of Toyota. They’ve come to us specifically for something that is either outside their comfort zone or a new way of speaking to their clients – video. Even though these brands are household names, we get the exciting challenge of starting from scratch on how their brand talks and feels on video. You’re really going into uncharted territories when a brand that everybody recognises hasn’t done video before or maybe has but it hasn’t been as strategic as their print or direct marketing. That’s equally challenging as it is exciting.

So you can really tailor your offering to clients’ needs?

We’ve been surprised how niche we can get. Someone will come to us with a brief that sounds really specific but we’ve been lucky enough to be able to say ‘Yes, we’ve done that three or four times in different ways’, and we can show our track record. It doesn’t matter what industry it is, they get a feeling for video, and then can apply that to their own brand.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing digital creatives like you these days?

I still think there’s a lot of education to be done both as content creatives and brand holders in defining what the purpose of video content is and how people consume it. There’s still a bit of a hangover from the corporate video days and practices that do not sit well in highly interactive short form content. Big brands still seem to be thinking in old ways, and one of the biggest challenges is trying to reflect how people today consume video, and work backwards from that, rather than start by saying ‘Let’s make a ten minute video’. It’s trying to get what the viewer wants and work back from there, rather than applying content onto them.

Have you found there’s a big demand from clients for newer formats like 4K, and has that challenged your workflow?

We’ve only just tested the water with a 4K workflow, and although we want to incorporate it, we’ve only had a handful of clients even mention it, let alone require it yet. If you look at the delivery outputs we’re going through, which is web, there’s an even smaller portion of our viewers that can even access on 4K. So our output is not particularly screaming for it, but that doesn’t stop us wanting to explore it. We shoot in 4K, we sometimes edit in 4K, but to us it’s more of a testing ground rather than ready to go.

So it’s more about being ready for what clients may demand in the future?

I’m not saying there’s no future for it – it could be that we are suddenly working 100% in 4K from next month – but we don’t want to be behind the times. It does exist on the web, it’s just that we don’t get requests for it. Again, it’s a case of telling our customers that it does exist and that we can work with it, which is all part of our package.

As you’ve been going since 2007, you’ve probably seen formats and resolutions evolve quite a bit since then?

When we started, it was just at the tail end of DV tape. I started my studies shooting on reel to reel. So I have experience of analogue all the way to digital, and even though it moves very fast, 4K just means clients have more choices. Why not go with the best possible quality and work back from there? It gives more flexible options for the viewer, really.

Does it mean you’re having to update your infrastructure to cope?

The only issue that we’ve found is processing times. We’ve not had to change our infrastructure too much – luckily we’ve been given a good infrastructure from Jigsaw24 that can already handle it quite well. 4K just extends projects and takes longer to do anything, which is purely down to computer processing. So we can do it, there’s no extra special magic we’ve had to add to the workflow, we’ve just had to be a bit more patient with it. That will change and we will get used to it.

Are there any other challenges you can see on the horizon?

I’ve been seeing that our content is getting shorter and shorter, and spread across many more platforms, and many more outlets and channels. So the creative challenge has changed from creating one video for one set of viewers, in one channel, and building it from the start, to having to consider all different forms of content and how it’s consumed. That’s the biggest challenge at the moment – having to think ‘What would it be like if someone watched this on a train?’, ‘What would it be like if someone watched this on a 4K monitor?’, and having to be prepared to adapt for that full range, from a smartphone to a 4K monitor and beyond.

So you want to come up with a concept that can cover all platforms…

It’s the chicken and egg scenario when we’re brainstorming – do we create an idea and fit it to the technology, or do we bear in mind the technology and come up with an idea that forms around that? Do we let it always sit on technology that’s relevant to that idea, or do we look at all the available channels and really build the idea around the technology? I’m not fond of that, because it’s undermining the potential of the content. That’s the biggest consideration and challenge that we have creatively and technologically in our business at the moment.

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