The future is now…. David Kilkelly
Written by Tracey Duke, Photography by BlinkBack Films
In the words of the great Ferris Bueller “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it”.
Whilst life has certainly moved on from the game changing days of Top Gun & Ferris Bueller, the sentiment is as true today as it was then.
Technology is certainly no exception to this and especially so within the film industry where mediocre, amateur productions, simply won’t cut it with an audience and consumer base demanding increasingly, sophisticated, cinema-quality footage.
Devon-based BlinkBack films are a production company that understands this only too well. Working with some of the UK’s most exciting, forward-thinking innovators they are leading the way with their investment in film technology.
I caught up with co-founder David Kilkelly at his Ashburton home earlier this month to talk breaking free, driverless cars, and mentors.
Ok, David, as always let’s jump straight in and talk a little about BlinkBack Films. You guys appear to be at an incredibly exciting stage of growth, but how did this all start for you?
I think I actually first picked up a camera at around 12 when my friends and I would run around making goofy films. I then ended up doing film as an option at school and then integrating it into the art courses I later took. From there I went to the University of Sussex to work as a technician but later fell into a teaching role; I taught documentary film production.
At around ten years into my time there, I just started to feel a little bit frustrated. Universities can be great in some respects, but they can be quite slow, lumbering dinosaurs, almost, in others. When you’re working in a much more technical, cutting-edge, industry like film you need to keep pace with changes.
Over the time that I worked at the University, film technology had changed hugely and I just felt like they weren’t really connecting with that.
I also wanted to do it myself; I was bored of helping other people to create their stuff and not really having time to do my own. And then at the same time, we wanted to move; we wanted to come to the Westcountry because it’s just so much nicer here. We have small children and we wanted them to grow up in a place where there was more green. More water. More space!
So we literally cut the strings on our salaries, left and came here to Devon to start again from scratch. We founded BlinkBack in 2014.
I want to say that’s a brave decision and whilst in many ways it is, there are so many people now doing the same and saying ‘Enough. Let’s do this now, because I don’t want to be earning the money for someone else; I want to be authentic, do the thing I love and just make the leap’. It’s so much more common now.
You’re right and I think the other thing is that right back then in 2008, everything looked quite volatile. There were also a few books which I had read, which probably most entrepreneurs have read, such as Rich Dad Poor Dad, which really makes you think about your financial future. There was a definite glass ceiling in terms of what I was earning at Sussex when what I really wanted was to grow something really big.
I’ve always been really good with work that I’m personally invested in and not quite as good as when I’m not. I remember way back, there was a rock concert at school that we put on; we organised the whole thing. It was incredible and I remember the teachers saying ‘if only he could work as hard at his school work, as he did on the concert’! So looking back, the clues to my future style of work were there.
I think that you’ve just hit the nail on the head; the clues are always there, but we don’t often pay attention. We’re often so wrapped up in and distracted by the white noise of everyday life, that we don’t pay attention to the signs. But they are always there; whether that’s with our health, relationships or work life.
For sure! We once ran a club night in Brighton for a few years which, honestly, I don’t even think I looked at as a business. For me, it was just a way of having some fun with my mates and playing some music. But again, you look back and realise that actually, it was a business. I made a lot of mistakes and we lost a lot of money from doing it but we didn’t care.
And aren’t those the best kind of mistakes to make; the ones you make whilst you’re having fun, so you can then apply that knowledge, and lessons learnt, later down the line.
Totally! One of the things I think I learnt from that time, was the importance of networking and connecting with people who can help grow your business. You can’t just sit in a room and do these things by yourself. You have to get out and connect.
Absolutely! And also to look towards mentors and influencers. You mentioned Rich Dad Poor Dad earlier; it’s a great book that is regularly recommended by those I interview. But if you were to name a couple of influencers you might have, to whom would you turn?
It’s interesting. I’m a bit of an ideas person and tend to turn to different influencers, depending on what I’m looking for at that time. There are a lot of online gurus and great books by writers like Gerber, but I’ve never really stuck with anyone for too long because my ideas keep evolving. I’ll tap into someone for a year or two and then move on and then tap into someone else.
Quite often I find that after a while, there’s a ceiling on what you can learn from one person. If you listen to podcasts for a while, for example, you’ll find you’ve listened to everything that person has to say and you’re not getting anything new from it; you have to find someone new.
Right now, I’m listening to Reid Hoffman; one of the founders of LinkedIn. He has an amazing podcast at the moment called Masters of Scale. The line of up entrepreneurs he has is fantastic!
That’s right! I remember he did an interview with the founder of Airbnb who said how, in the early days, he would turn up and sleep on the beds of his customers to see what their experience would be like. It’s a great, fascinating, episode that stuck with me.
That’s the one. Take a listen to the whole series! It’s great and I think the new one is coming out this Autumn.
When you stop and think about the new online businesses that have emerged over the past few years, it’s really incredible to see the success that technology has allowed. What are the main changes the film industry has seen?
I would probably say that it’s the ability for people, on smaller budgets, to create a finished product that looks more cinematic. Aerial footage from drones is very much a part of that because previously you’d only have been able to get that footage in a helicopter. There’s a vast array of affordable technology on the market that allows us to capture amazing results.
I’ve watched the development of digital video and how it’s progressed over the years. I’ve gone right the way through from when we had those massive great, cumbersome, VHS recorders, which resulted in amateurish work, through to using stabilisers, sliders, aerial shots. When you pool all of that together, you can basically make something that looks more like a cinema piece and you can make it for your business.
And so what’s the next big development in technology that’s getting your attention?
Well, we’ve just finished a project with our first London based company. It’s an investment company called Amadeus Capital Partners which was founded by Hermann Hauser, the founder of Acorn Computers. They are investing in a lot of artificial intelligence and are currently focused on helping to build the European version of Tesla; the autonomous version that will revolutionise the transport industry in this country.
That’s exciting but, I’ll be honest, just a little terrifying at the time. Driverless cars sound incredibly futuristic, but the reality is that the future is almost here.
For BlinkBack it’s an incredibly exciting area to be working in and we’d definitely like to expand into it a little bit more; communicating these phenomenally complex ideas behind the products into an understandable, straightforward, message.
Ok, David so moving a little closer to home; here you are in Ashburton and obviously you’re very well connected to Exeter. What is it that you’re getting from the city and the business community; is it working for you?
Sure it is. The thing is, we’re geographically placed and our clients are from all over. Whilst the location here is great, the business community in Ashburton is very small and so I spend quite a lot of time going up and down the road.
I love Exeter and the whole feel of the city. It’s a little like Brighton, in that it’s small and you can walk around the whole place in an hour or so. The business community is great; everyone seems to know each other and it’s very well connected.
Our first big client in Exeter was Stephens Scown; we did a project for them last year. It was fantastically successful for them; one of the best campaigns they’ve ever done, doubling their revenue for that period. And we’ve just this week, finished another project for them. On the whole, we’re definitely seeing our relationship, with Exeter businesses, grow.
And what about next steps for you? What’s the bigger plan looking like?
So we’re at a stage of growth now and I’m keen to step away from the production side of things to focus on that growth. As I said earlier, I’ve always been more of an ideas person; I’ve constantly got things on the boil.
We’re looking at the innovation sector because I’m personally interested in that area. There are a lot of new innovative companies doing really interesting things, but many of them struggle to communicate what those things are; because they’re so woven into them.
Essentially, we’re a communications specialist; we help people take something that is quite complex and digest it into something that is both watchable and engaging. Getting something that is really quite complex into two minutes is really quite a challenge, but it’s something that we’re good at.
Thank you David for your time. It’s absolutely an exciting time to be involved in film; recording such pivotal times. We wish you every continued success and of course, continued growth.
Follow David on Twitter @BlinkBackVideo or check out their website www.blinkback.co.uk