Haiku and channelling hangry-ness are all in a day’s work for Nadine Bates, whose animation studio, Like A Photon Creative, counts Disney and Sesame Street among its clients. Take a look into a day in the life of Nadine as she shares her schedule for success.
Wake up to my labradoodle, Bellie, whining. I let him out then lie down again.
I’m a single mother of two teenage boys [Elijah, 17, and Nate, 14]. Their first wakeup call is me letting the dog on their beds to lick their faces. The second is me yelling from the kitchen. I make coffee – Moccona because I don’t have time to French press – and the boys’ lunches, drag them out of bed and yell at them three times to use deodorant. I put on one of 16 black dresses, drive the boys to the train station, put on make-up in a side street and am at work at 7.55. When my millennial staff walks in later, I’m like, “You don’t know what I had to go through to get here and I’m still an hour-and-a-half earlier than you.”
I have 45 minutes to myself to do anything creative: review notes on a script or choose an illustrator. That’s sacrosanct and the only time I’m alone. I do not check email and I won’t connect to wi-fi until later.
Kristen [Souvlis, co-founder and co-CEO] gets in after dropping her sons at daycare. We read emails and discuss last night’s international phone calls. I knew the day we met that we’d be business partners. She’s a brilliant producer, I’m a creative and we both speak at warp speed.
The all-company WIP starts with “fun therapy”. People take turns running it and you never know what it’s going to be – a drama game or racing scooters. We’ve written haikus. A UX [user experience] developer wrote about playing Dungeons & Dragons, which was glorious in a haiku format. WIP is held in an area done up like a living room, with TVs and couches. Our address is not fancy because money would be going towards rent, not the people we employ or what’s on screen. Our employees recognise that so they schlep out to a windowless warehouse in Rocklea [an industrial suburb of Brisbane].
At the production WIP, we discuss crewing – we started production on four new feature films in the past month. We allot and track tasks via Slack and beautifully curated Trello boards.
Jump on the phone to update financiers on the schedule for the year, production rate and cash-flow position. Running several productions, with six animation teams, it’s necessary to have insight into where we are at any minute.
I fast in the mornings to focus better; from about 11, Kristen likes me to negotiate hardball because she says I get cranky. I eat Youfoodz [pre-made meals] to save brain space and because I lost 15 kilograms with pre-packaged meals and fasting. If there’s a large business decision to be made – an acquisition or investment – Kristen and I go to a Korean bathhouse in Woolloongabba. We strip off – there’s no possibility of hiding anything – and we have really frank, honest conversations.
Look at storyboards. Decisions are made based on the triangle: money, time and quality. Creatively you can never be right or wrong but at the end of the day the person who pays gets to be right and that’s me.
We spend time on the casting strategy, negotiating fees and recording schedule with managers and agents. Casting is a balancing act of budget, availability, who’s “A-list” in different global territories and who’s lovely to work with and will actually do the contracted PR requirements.
Call Sophie Byrne – an Oscar-winning producer and a beautiful human being – to discuss the project we’re co-producing. Kristen and I look at things from a multiverse perspective – ways to create digital extensions, augmented and virtual reality apps, graphic novels, an online TV series to sit beside a film – so the audience has multiple places to reach the content.
Kristen and I meet to review the company’s cash flow, which is separate to the productions’ cash flow. We also divvy up “royal duties” – the week’s interviews, panels and events.
I used to vacuum the pool for relaxation, staring into the azure, but now I’m a gym convert, I stare at my red face in mirrors. Today, it’s just drive home, walk dog.
Cook chicken schnitzels and talk to the boys.
International calls for two hours then tell the boys to get off their laptops and go to bed.
I rarely watch TV because the breadth of it is overwhelming and I don’t find my inspiration in seeing the execution of other people’s inspiration. I fall asleep listening to the Calm app on its rain setting. I don’t listen through earphones because I don’t have a partner. I could have a rock band in there. I can do whatever I want.
Power to the people
To foster entrepreneurialism in Like A Photon Creative’s staff, who Nadine Bates says are used to a “siloed, feast-and-famine production model”, experts are invited to give Lunch and Learn sessions. The firm’s chair, Jennifer Wilson, whose media company did digital extension work for Downton Abbey, has given a talk, as well as a fintech app founder and a wildlife expert, whose, well, nugget that wombat droppings are cube-shaped made it into animated film Combat Wombat.
During development periods, Like A Photon Creative has 20 Percent Time, where staff bid for activities at a Monday stand-up and carve out hours each day to work on side projects, such as an AR game, before pitching the ideas to the company. The technique was popularised by Google – former CEO Eric Schmidt said it “empowers the employee with… dignity” – and has been credited with leading to Gmail and AdSense.