Storytellers, visionaries, collaborators: Flying Fish continues to soar

L-R: Samantha Attenborough and James Moore

After 33 years in the business, production company Flying Fish still showcases some of the most engaging, memorable and stunning footage in the country.

With production companies now expected to produce a variety of content, and how and where audiences consume this content changing, how does Flying Fish keep up with the play?

Managing director and executive producer James Moore says Flying Fish is “very much a one-stop shop”.

“We’re not just a commercial production company that concentrates on brand, there are so many forms of content that we are geared to now with our complete offering, via a wide range of production capabilities.”

So, with all these offshoots of Flying Fish– what’s the difference between them?

Flying Fish caters for more of the brand commercials/high-end brand content Moore explains, while Fish&Clips is a brand which was originally set up 18 years ago as a dedicated music video production arm to nurture and foster new talent.

In the last eight years Fish&Clips has developed more into a content division with its own dedicated roster of directors, some at a very early stage in their career to those who are very experienced.

It’s not your traditional production approach, the difference is sometimes a question of budget but also deliverables. 

“There are no rules for Fish&Clips, we tailored the model specifically,” executive producer Samantha Attenborough says.

“You never scrimp on the cinematographer but you can perhaps be a bit more self-sufficient in other areas where you would on a high end TVC production. you don’t need the full bells and whistles.”

However, the production values remain the same, Attenborough adds.

“It still has the mothership of [Flying] Fish overseeing everything in terms of quality and supporting wholeheartedly…Fish&Clips also has a real agile quality because it is content that needs to be out there in the world, produced nimbly and turned around quickly.”

Moore explains further that when a client comes to Fish&Clips they may not even get a director.

“You may just get a creative producer and a cameraman. It’s not necessarily driven by a director – it’s about putting a team together to deliver that final product which may not always be just one big brand campaign.”

How does Fish stand out?

Standing out comes down to its offering and variety of content, Moore says.

“The roster that we represent across Fish&Clips and Flying Fish has close to 25 directors locally. We’re talking about directors who are starting out, who’ve only done a few music videos and are just getting into content, all the way to representing feature film, long-format, well-known directors like Niki Caro, Lee Tamahori and Christine Jeffs.”

Fish also has Auckland central’s largest film studio in its building and a post-production facility ‘MandyVFX’ which means the company can cater for the raft of deliverables needed.

The pair dismiss the notion that increasing technology is over showing talent, with Moore stating he is yet to see a robot that can direct talent or produce great storytelling.  

“If I hear one more person say ‘Just shoot it on your iPhone because it shoots 4K…’” Attenborough sighs.

“I think there’s this perception that because technology is ever changing and constantly increasing it’s therefore making people redundant – this is completely to the contrary. The talent that we employ as filmmakers and creatives is priceless and that goes from the top camera man to the cinematographers. Even if you’ve got the phone that doesn’t mean you’ve got the eye or the vision.”

When asked how else the role and landscape of production companies has changed over the past five years – aside from the technological side – Attenborough says there are certainly a lot more directors out there.

“People are prepared to put their hat in the ring and say ‘hey’. There’s a lot more competition.”

For Moore, he says “the elephant in the room” is agencies starting production companies.

 “We have no qualms. There is just this sheer size, requirement and demand for content that I know agencies can’t handle themselves totally, and production companies can’t handle everything themselves. We have to work in unison and harmony because there is always going to be a demand for it.”

The current state of the nation is a positive one, Moore says.

‘We haven’t seen a decline in turnover. We’ve seen a shift in the amount of work we’re producing at different levels, the high-end big budget work is still there and we’re producing it. There’s a lot of nimble, agile style budgets that make up the numbers at the end of the day when you look at your turnover. Fish&Clips has gone from a ‘x’ turnover company producing music videos to a big portion of our annual turnover.”

The challenges are the opportunities

Speaking further about agencies moving production in-house, Attenborough says Flying Fish is here to embrace it.

“We’re here to help if they get stuck along the way obviously. We’ve got clients who will do the much smaller stuff in-house and we’re fine with that. We don’t have people in here on salaries who can be doing that in-house work, people freelance and contract to us, so it makes fiscal sense for them to look after that.”

For Moore, the challenges are the sheer demand for content and who does what.

“I think agencies are pretty switched on and have been for a long time in terms of what is going to require talent storytelling, and a separation and a collaborative relationship with the production company, agency and client.”

What’s next?

Last August Fish Entertainment released multi-platform crime drama Alibi, its first foray into long-format episodic dramas.

Moore says the reason it set up Fish Entertainment was to move into that realm – a natural progression for the company.

As it seems that every writer wants to write a novel, there’s always a burning ambition from members of the Fish family, be it its own directors and producers, others in the wider industry, a crew member to a director of photography, to make their own film – and Fish is ready to support their vision and passion.

“Everyone’s got a story to tell, everyone’s got a script,” says Attenborough.

“It’s actually really exciting. If you sit in this office on any given day you hear the directors talking to each other about their own scripts … all these passion projects they’ve poured their heart and souls into. It’s about whether they can get them off the ground,” she says.  

When Plus6Four approached Moore with the Alibi idea he says Fish could see the potential.

“It was under-resourced budget-wise, so we pulled in a bunch of favours based on the relationships that we have commercially and managed to produce something that we think is pretty outstanding for New Zealand cinema/drama.”

Looking forward, Fish Entertainment has a slate of over a dozen projects in development. While specifics can’t be discussed, this ranges from feature films with the NZ Film Commission, episodic dramas for Netflix and HBO, live activation and events.

“We want to do stuff that stands out,” Attenborough says.

 “We don’t want to be producing Filthy Rich and stuff like that which I think New Zealanders are so tired of. We said that with Plus6Four if we were going to do this it needed to stand out visually.”

Flying Fish also has a tech/VR/AR offering with DotDot which it represents commercially. The Kiwi company, which also has an office in New York, specialises in room scale VR and experiential.

Moore says the way Fish and DotDot are approaching AR/VR with clients and agencies is going to them with ideas upfront.

“We’re workshopping ideas that we believe are relevant to brands and the right agencies and approaching them directly.”

And with that, Attenborough, Moore and two of the resident dogs are back to work; giving eyeballs around the country something interesting and exciting to watch.

This article is part of a content partnership with Flying Fish.

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