I used to work with Pete when we were both at News International, years ago now. It’s great to see him having made the transition from working at a corporate that had little alignment with his values, to running his own businesses that are solidly advancing his view on the world. Filmmaker, retail entrepreneur and someone who is endeavouring to change the mark that this generation leaves on the world, Pete talks about his journey to date below:
Tell us about what you’re doing now and how you got here…
I always had filmmaking and editing in my head as something that was cool. My grandfather was a filmmaker, making wedding videos and that kind of thing, and I was really proud to carry his tripod around. I went to university in Australia and studied marketing, in the hope to make TV commercials. I thought that’s what marketing people did, but I soon realised there were lots of other, less exciting aspects of marketing.
I was then on a marketing career path, working for companies like News International, and earning £60,000 a year just for selling advertising space. I thought it was really easy, and I was pursuing my love of filmmaking on the side. Then about three years after being in London (2006-2009), I started to feel unfulfilled. The money was great, but it wasn’t really enough for me anymore.
I did a bit of soul searching and tried to work out what I really wanted to do, and I decided I wanted to go back to making TV commercials, my original aim. I enrolled in film school in 2009, while working at News International, and did a one year Masters course in filmmaking, specialising in directing. The course was every Wednesday night for 3 hours and all day Saturday for a year – no Saturdays free for a whole year! I’d get home exhausted, but it was really good. I started to make films with buddies, but no one really gave me money to make films at this point.
In 2009 I started making short films whenever I travelled to a new city, about craftspeople and local artists, finding an insight into their cities. This evolved into a web series called INDIE CITIES. I got funding from the BBC to go to Africa and film some episodes, and that was my first paid gig.
Then in 2011 I won the MoFilm young filmmaker award as part of the Cannes Lions - Festival of Creativity. That really spring-boarded my career, giving me the confidence to be able to ask for money to make films and putting me on the radar of brands looking for film-makers for branded content. That was when I quit my job and started my production company - STAY GOLD STUDIOS.
IN 2014, Channel 4 bought INDIE CITIES as a short form film series. That was my first job that really got proper attention. The shows name was changed to 'MAKERS' but was pretty much the same format, but with an actual budget for professional crew and film equipment.
I had more fun making these films than I ever did making commercials or branded content or anything else. It felt like the perfect fit with a philosophy I was developing at the time about inequality in the world and how our generation is being fucked in so many ways, whether it’s high property prices, unemployment or student debt. I wanted to promote our generation making its own world, a better world than the one that we were born into. In my perspective, the baby-boomer generation made businesses that weren’t very cool, made up of call centres, low quality product and bad customer service, whereas these young people I was filming were making things with their hands and going back to a real artisan movement.
I loved shooting MAKERS, and it was easy to shoot beautiful stuff because their workshops are beautiful. Slow motion shots of people making things made it easy to be cinematic. Six months ago I decided that I just wanted to focus on the subject of young ethical entrepreneurs and to make a feature film on this topic. My focus was then on how I could fund it without getting funding from a big brand or broadcaster. With both of these options, you have to make concessions that you don’t really want to make. Channel 4 wanted to call my series ‘Money Making Hipsters’! They have to sensationalise your content to make it more clickable, but it’s not what I want to be doing.
I couldn’t ask the makers for money, because, like me, they’re leaving their corporate jobs and trying to do their passion projects and don’t have much disposable income.
One way I thought it could work was to help sell their products in some way. I thought I could use the medium of film to build value in these products and help sell them. That's when the idea of THE MAKERS TRADING CO. came to me. the big idea was to set up interactive screens inside shops, so customers could 'meet the maker' of each product by watching a short film, and then have a chance to buy their products.
I also wanted to support independent shops and give shoppers more choice than was currently available on the high street, where most of the products are poor quality, mass-produced and manufactured by a small number of big multi-nationals.
The business model is a very simple mathematical equation. The makers get the wholesale price of 50%. 25% goes to the retailer for giving us their space and 25% goes to THE MAKERS TRADING CO. (my business). The money goes to making films, buying iPads to go into the stores, putting up the shelves, and buying the stock.
I’ve got 2 stores at the moment. One in London, and The LA store opened recently. I also took the project on the road with the Renegade Craft Fair across the US, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, LA, and Chicago.
I found through opening the LA store that I really need to be physically near the shops - to make sure the shop are charging the iPads properly and that the staff are knowledgeable about the products. The plan is therefore to open 10 new shops in LA this year. Distribution and importing in the US has been really difficult. There is so much customs legislation and it is very convoluted. America is supposedly all about free trade, but they’ve got so many tariffs and duties it’s ridiculous. The less I have to send things out, and the more I can just house them in a warehouse in LA and take them physically to the shops, the better.
2016/17 will continue to be pop ups in existing retail spaces because it eliminates all over-heads like staff and rent, because our margins aren’t enough to pay for that. My ultimate goal is to open a ‘makers space’ of our own in downtown LA. It would be a big ‘incorporation free’ zone. Everything in the space would be anti-corporate, advertising-free and independent. An antidote to the corporate world that is feeding us information on a daily basis about what we need to buy, who we need to be and how we should change ourselves. It’s just going to be a place of independent truths.
The big question is - are you going to ban macs from that environment?!
That’s the thing! And do you accept Visa and Mastercard payments? There are a few things I think we’ll have to compromise on, but we can make it as independent as possible without being ridiculous. I think there can be compromise.
Initially you said this was devised as a way to pay for the films, but it sounds like this has taken on a life of its own now, and the retailer side has become the passion project?
I still consider myself primarily a film-maker and that’s want I want to focus on. Ideally, I'd like to find a business partner who loves managing logistics, accounting and contracts, which will free me up to focus exclusively on finding new makers and shooting the films...do you know anyone like that?
When you first started on your own, how long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress?
I made films for two years after graduating film school without making any money. Even now, I’m still learning the craft of film-making, trying to reach 10,000 hours to make me a master. Every film I make still makes me hate the previous film! That makes 6 years of learning the craft, but I’m still in the early stages of being a great director, but watching my skills evolve is fun, and I'm in no rush.
In contrast, the retail side happened really fast. I spoke to Ramon, who owns ONE GOOD DEED TODAY (the shop in London) about my concept for film-based retail, and he was like, ‘great – you can set up a space next month’! I had one month to become a retail person. I had to buy all of the stock, learn how to make shelves, and learn how to program iPads. I had to work out budgets and borrowed £5,000 to buy the stock, with a small business loan from the British government. I had to write a business plan, it got approved and then it all happened really fast! The shop was a success, but it was only 1 month of learning and doing.
How often did you feel like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
I constantly doubt myself and whether THE MAKERS TRADING CO. will be a success. About 95% of the time, I’m thinking ‘this is a ridiculous idea, it’s not going to work – but somehow there’s enough momentum to keep me going with it.
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
I spend nearly all of my free time at the moment reading literature about wealth inequality and how the world is basically geared towards big corporations and against small business. I’m constantly pissed off and angry about how the systems are set up – how governments in America, Britain and Australia have been corrupted by corporations at every single level, and how policy is there to help big corporations and people with money over those who don’t have money.
That’s the motivation for MAKERS TRADING CO. I want to do my bit to change the system and if I can convince people of my generation (and younger) to buy well made products, made by a person that they know, then that person will get paid fairly, the shopper will get better quality products, and the independent shops will thrive and keep the community alive. So it’s very much an altruistic drive that keeps this business going.
Is all big business bad in your opinion? Or is it about growing with a set of values and a certain ethos?
There are a lot of big businesses that are really good, like Patagonia, Whole Foods, and Toms Shoes. All of these businesses have a strong social enterprise mind-set. These are giant companies and they’re listed on the stock exchange. On the whole though, the bigger a business gets, the less accountable they become to stakeholders other than shareholders – their employees, the environment, their customers. It dehumanises it and they lose touch.
You’re obviously managing making commercial films, Makers Trading co., and the film projects that you’re passionate about. What do you find difficult about managing all of those aspects?
Luckily all of the elements of the business have joined a singular path in terms of fitting into a single genre of activity. I’m doing a commercial job for Mountain Dew at the moment, and the film is about young makers in Detroit. It’s an authentic documentary piece so it’s very much the same style and genre as the makers films.
I’ll make a profit that can then be reinvested into Makers. I’ll become a better film-maker by learning some new shots and tricks in the process. Everything is pushing me to the same goal.
What or who do you find intimidating?
I find legislation and legal documents intimidating. Documents for importing and exporting, and setting up businesses, working out things like if I can accept card payments in the US with my visa situation – all of these bureaucratic things really intimidate me. I also think that these documents are more complicated than they need to be. We were told that we had to make a contract for the retailers. A business adviser gave us a 40 page template which basically said ‘we’re going to hand over stock to you on this date, if you lose it or it gets stolen, it’s your responsibility.’ But it took 40 pages to say that! So we threw it away, and covered the same points in about 2 sentences, and we were both happy. It’s still legal!
What makes you feel good / powerful?
Seeing a film idea develop from a written treatment to a physical film on screen and seeing people enjoy that film, that’s really empowering. What’s even more empowering is the physical side. Imagining a physical shop with sunglasses, razors, candles, and perfumes, getting that going and being able to pick those things up and touch and feel them. A film is ultimately digital pixels on a screen, but having a physical shop is great.
How do you find the Makers?
I read every single magazine that focuses on these types of people. Instagram is another good source. My life is now focused on this group of people. Every market I go to, I find someone new. It’s a lot of word of mouth as well. I feel like I must be in the top tier of about 100 people who know about this new wave maker movement as I’ve focused on this for the last five years. I'm beginning to make a feature film that is about the new breed of social entrepreneurs, changing business into a force for good. I’m just finalising the research part of it and beginning to raise money.
What drives you, your legacy, or enjoying the moment?
Definitely not legacy! I’m not thinking about the future at all. I just want cool shit to happen, right now. I’ve got no idea what next week holds, and I don’t really care!
How do you define success now?
I think it’s very much about internal satisfaction. An internal feeling of ‘have I done everything I can today’ to push towards my ambiguous goals of changing the world bit by bit.
Where would you like the business to get to?
The biggest thing in my mind is the feature film. If the retail side can help me fund that, that’s great. The business plan is basically my goals and check-list now, although I don't want that to turn me into a business man. I know I have to get 10 new retailers 2016, 25 the year after, 50 the year after that. 10 films about makers in 2016, 25 the year after, 50 the year after that. That’s the goal I’m pushing towards.
Are you staying away from external investment given the goals of the organisation? Or is that something that you’re considering?
I have one angel investor, and that’s my mum! That’s it! I think we do need to get investment at some point – when we open 10 shops we’ll have $100,000 worth of product just sitting on the shelves, so we'll need capital to get this initially. I was thinking of launching a Kick-Starter campaign. We’ve got lots of products to give away to those who invest.
How do you start your day?
I write down a list in my notebook, and I love crossing things off through the day. I always start my day with an hour of reading and coffee, normally between 9 and 10. 10-11 I plan the day and then after 11 it’s working on whatever is top of the list.
Where do you most like working?
There’s a café and juice bar called ‘Verve’ in downtown LA, owned by the same people who have the pop up for MAKERS in Silver Lake. They serve good juice, good coffee, and they’re good people. I’ve got an office in the arts district that has about 8 directors in there working on projects. I like to always be changing locations and to keep it fresh.
How do you come up with new ideas?
I come up with them just by talking to each Maker, taking notes, asking questions and then I sit in a café and write until the story is awesome.
What idea do you wish you’d come up with?
I bought a product last week called a Soma water filter. It’s a really cool business and a simple idea. A young guy from San Francisco wanted to buy a water filter. He saw that the ones available were pretty rubbish, so he got some capital together and created this Soma Water filter. Everything about it is perfect. The design is perfect, the packaging is perfect. The materials used are organic and great, the website is amazing and it's a social business - every filter you buy gives money towards clean water projects in the third world.
Would you like to come up with your own product?
I definitely want to work with makers to collaborate and produce products. Then that 50% of wholesale comes to the business as well! It’s a natural next step.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a film-maker – from working with Pop!
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
I went to film school when I was 29 and that’s pretty late to be finding what you want to be doing. So I guess I’d say, if you don’t find it for a long time it doesn’t really matter, hopefully it will come.
How do you treat yourself?
I’ve given up alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex! I’ve got rid of all my vices and desires on a material level. But I love to travel – I spent two months in Japan last Summer and was in Barbados late last year. This year I want to explore California and the USA, there is so much to see right here!
If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
When I was in the process of deciding to go to film school, I wrote down a list of 50 things I’d love to do, no matter what my skill level was, what my education level was, or where I was in the world. Number 2 on my list was to be a professional surfer – and film-maker was number 1, so I guess that would be it.
Single best piece of advice you’ve been given along your journey?
My mum always said “find something you love to do and you never have to work a day in your life”. It’s kind of a cliché, but it’s really true.
To see what a MAKERS pop-up shop looks like, check out the London launch party here: https://youtu.bue/YeFu0yGp0zE
Or check out one of the latest films, of maker - PF Candle Co. A small batch soy wax candle co from Downtown Los Angeles - you can see the film here: https://youtu.be/sSRWcR4llJA
To keep in touch with what MAKERS TRADING CO. are doing, check out their website, or follow them on their social links below:
The Makers Trading Co: http://www.makerstrading.com