Wild Horses Wouldn’t Hold Her Back
Written by Sharon Goble, Feature Photo by – Juliette Mills
Photographs provided by Philippa Waddell – Wildhorse Films
The founder and owner of Wildhorse Films, Philippa Waddell, has got the bit between her teeth since moving from Dartmoor to Exeter. She was chosen last month as one of Grow Exeter Magazine’s 100 most influential women in the city. Sharon Goble caught up with her to talk strategy and her vision for the future.
It’s a busy morning at Philippa’s home in St. Leonard’s when I arrive for our interview. A smart meter is being fitted by her power supplier and someone arrives mid-chat to pick up a hard drive for repair. Despite all the hustle and bustle, Philippa is 100% focussed on the task in hand. She tells me, “It’s amazing what happens when you focus and connect with like-minded people.”
When Philippa set up Wildhorse Films in 2012, it was very much a lifestyle business. Not any more. 2018 is all about taking her production company to the next level.
She loves her new life in Exeter and the city’s “gung-ho” attitude to business. Since moving here just six months ago, Philippa has been busy planning her route to success, strategically growing her network of contacts and portfolio of clients.
“I’ve been networking and going to workshops, and really focusing on what I want this business to do and how I’m going to achieve that. I’ve always believed that if you wish for something and work hard enough, you’ll get there. I’m not complacent. I put in the work to get where I want to be.”
It’s been a steep learning curve, but she now has some great new clients on board, a mix of exciting film projects in the pipeline and is partnering with other companies whose services complement her own. That includes working with associates in PR and digital marketing to help her clients raise their brand profile and increase their videos’ reach.
As part of her plans to grow the business, she wants to find “cool premises”, not just as her office but as a ‘media hub’ where people can drop in to talk about film and learn from each other. In the third and fourth quarters of the year, she plans to run a crowdfunding investment programme to finance her growth strategy. In her sights: new clients with bigger budgets; ethical, sustainable and green organisations; and women – other women in business and women’s brands, products and services.
Her expansion plans don’t stop there. She’s on the path to launching Wildhorse Academy, which will give local media and film students a real production to work on. She’s partnering with Exeter College media department on a behind-the-scenes documentary about Exeter Chiefs’ elite rugby academy for Under 16s. Called The Road to Wellington, the film will record the young players’ journey to the huge Wellington rugby festival in London this April.
“The students involved in making the film will get a credit on a proper doco, which is a big leap and helps them move forward in their chosen career.”
Philippa’s also been asked to guest lecture at Exeter College in film and TV, and has set up a Video Workshop to teach sole traders, who don’t have the budget for a professional production, how to make their own short film using nothing but their mobile phone.
Then there’s Wildhorse Women, which is about giving women a platform to develop their skills in the film industry from a tech point of view, and giving back by working with charities. Philippa is passionate about making sanitary products free and accessible to women, in the UK and globally, but that’s a chapter still to come!
Philippa says: “I turned 50. A real turning-point. Up until now, I’ve been learning, always learning. And when you get to 50, it feels good to give something back and share the knowledge you’ve acquired, whether that’s lecturing to college students or helping other women gain a foothold in the industry.”
Philippa’s own journey to becoming a filmmaker began when she moved to London from the family home in Sussex after leaving school.
“I didn’t know what to do at school, didn’t connect, and had to find my own way. I knew I had a drive to do something creative but wasn’t sure what or how to get there. In London, my first job was working for a famous photographer, David Montgomery. He was the first American photographer to take a portrait of the Queen, and photographed the Rolling Stones and a huge list of celebs. I ran his studio for a couple of years and loved organising everything, setting up shoots, booking hair and makeup, being part of something very creative.”
That was the start of Philippa’s journey of discovery. Since then, she’s criss-crossed the globe working variously as an employee, freelance and now self-employed business owner.
After her first stint in London, Philippa moved to New York for three years and got a taste of producing. She worked for a live events production company run by Mike Sinclair, a fellow Brit who had been a creative producer at Stiff Records.
She recalls: “It was an amazing experience. I was young and crazy, barely slept for three years. We produced some wild, incredible shows.”
A plummeting economy took its toll on live events and Philippa moved back to the UK to work in corporate TV and video production, quickly working her way up to being a producer.
“I travelled with it, always travelled, to all sorts of amazing places – Russia, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan. I freelanced for different companies in the 90s, getting better and better at my job. Alongside commercials, I did a great job for Tiger Aspect, producing 100 idents for them. We went off to LA and filmed behind the scenes on the set of Friends, ER, and loads of other shows.“
“The great thing about my work is it takes you to places off the beaten track that you wouldn’t go as a tourist. I was working as a producer with a female director and we went to Fairplay, Colorado, which was the inspiration behind the characters from South Park. We almost got kidnapped by cowboys, never to be seen again! A really crazy place.”
“I also met a Brazilian arms manufacturer for a mini doco. He had cold, grey eyes but I’m there telling him how to sit on his chair! Generally, people wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to him.”
Travel is a running theme in Philippa’s life. Her current journey to build up the business is no less of a voyage of discovery. She founded Wildhorse Films after moving to Devon ten years ago. By then, she was a mum of two – son Barnaby and daughter Biba – and her life in London had changed beyond recognition from her youthful years living on Portobello Road. “Party Central,” as Philippa describes it.
On weekends away from her then home in London’s Queen’s Park, she and her husband would pick up property pages. One day they put a pin in a map and decided to move to Devon.
“It was the beginning of an incredible relationship with the countryside and horses. We found a lovely big Victorian house three miles out of Chagford, a thousand feet up on top of the moor. I thought I was going to be a country wife, but very soon realised I needed to get back to work!”
Her next job at Plymouth-based production company, Twofour, proved to be a game-changer. That’s where she went from being a producer to a director:
“They are very different jobs and mindsets. I never had any aspiration to direct, but when I started doing it I realised I loved it as well.”
Projects for VW and DuPont once again took Philippa around the world. DuPont (a huge research and development corporation) commissioned a dozen two minute documentaries about sustainability and how to feed and protect the world.
“All great stuff,” she says, “but working for a big corporation is not really me and I can only do it for so long. I left in December 2011 looking for a new challenge.” She set up Wildhorse Films from her home in Chagford a month later and hit the ground running.
In London, Philippa had run two small companies of her own – Love It Productions and Prettycool Productions. The latter was set up with friend and international makeup artist to the stars, Jane Bradley. Jane’s connections in the cosmetic industry proved invaluable when Philippa founded Wildhorse. Her first client was Liz Earle.
“We made 60 videos for Liz Earle: 20 commercials and 40 how to films for each product in the range. For a few years the business was doing really well. But people move on, change jobs, and you find you are no longer flavour of the month. The phone stopped ringing.”
There were lots of film projects Philippa wanted to do but she grew increasingly frustrated relying on cameramen to help her:
“I bought a grown-up, broadcast camera and made a film about my mum for her 70th birthday. People liked it and the filming and editing evolved from there. I spent the next couple of years, practising and making mistakes, and learning and improving.”
Her family has been instrumental in her flourishing filmmaking career. The committee of her daughter’s Devon pony club liked the idea of her shooting a little doco about the club’s pony camp at Bicton Arena. That proved to be the start of a budding relationship with Horse & Country TV.
She says proudly:
“They loved it and bought it. That was a brilliant moment, being recognised as someone who was okay at making films. As women, we always berate ourselves for not being the best but sometimes you need to recognise that you are good enough.”
Encouraged, she wrote a series Equus Worldwide and went to India to shoot a documentary which has just aired on Horse & Country TV. “It’s my guilty pleasure really,” says Philippa. Two more Equus films are on the horizon for Horse & Country TV: Mustangs with Monty Roberts in California will be shot in May, and in the autumn Philippa is scheduled to go to Africa to explore zebra and what makes the ultimate safari horse.
I assumed Wildhorse Films was named after Philippa’s passion for horses, but that’s not the whole story:
“Really it’s me – I’m the wild horse. Philippa means ‘lover of horses’. I’m a Sagittarian, a sign which is half horse. In the Chinese horoscope, I’m a fire horse as well as being born in the Year of the Horse! Altogether, a truly powerful indication of my strength, fire, forward thinking, and capacity as an ideas person. I’m always on the move, ever evolving. I haven’t done my best piece of work yet, but it’s coming. It’s definitely coming.”