Sandstorm Films’ Tom Ward on the industry’s working conditions

October 1, 2021
Sandstorm Films MD Tom Ward

I’ve been involved in film and advertising now for over twenty years. I’d claim to have seen it all, but in truth pretty much every day of my career has been unique from the last in some way, other than one thing – the overtime. 

A large part of the wonder of film making is the fact that creativity cannot be rushed and it seems overtime has always been the way to achieve that, rather than pacing a production out into normal working days, a little like other industries do. 

I split my time between TechnoDolly camera crane operation and running Sandstorm Films and it now feels uncommon – especially with the extraordinary demand for content at the moment – to finish a shoot while it is still light. We arrive at 7am, have a bit of breakfast, but in reality are working while we do it, desperately waiting for the barista’s coffee van to warm up (not a problem I have at my own studios I will just add). We then glacially build up to around 6pm when, for some reason, it is deemed the time to up the pace and ‘maybe shoot something’.  

It blows people’s minds if they’re not from our industry to watch this theatre performance behind the lens. And since COVID it seems to also be blowing the minds of our own industry crews too. 

This is certainly not a moan-athon about our industry. If anything, I actually enjoy the long hours and focused approach to filmmaking – it suits my way of working. But I’m very aware most people don’t agree with me; it’s bad for your physical health, your mental health and your relationships. Crew on set are often shocked when they hear I’m only on my first divorce – as if I need to rack up a few more to get in with the rest of the team.  

Sandstorm Studios

Why am I going on about this? It’s a common theme at the moment and I probably seem like I’m jumping on a bandwagon. Well, actually, long before the APA announced that they will be changing their working hours policy for advertising production, in fact well over ten years ago, I started putting in place steps to change that. I built studios on the site of an old dairy farm on the edge of the Cotswolds which offer full studio facilities that take the filmmaking experience from a cold dank warehouse to something akin to a holiday resort. We opened a members’ club there too, with it’s very own massage therapy rooms, sauna, dining rooms and meeting rooms. Someone recently described it as ‘Soho House with a studio’.  

And it has changed the way some films and ads are made. Maybe not as many as I’d hoped, but generally the response has been incredible.  

Next year, I’m hoping to go a step further and add 48 bedrooms to the site too, so your favourite crew can come on over for that holiday too (while they’re working) and you get the best of the countryside – the chance to see the sunset across the Cotswolds, while still producing films in the way that (until a lot of other uncontrollable factors change) we know and love. Surely that is how something that looks so beautiful in front of the lens should look behind the lens too.

This isn’t a sales pitch though. Anyone else can do this and they should. I encourage all the new studios popping up to try to take a holistic approach to filmmaking too – putting the crew at the heart of what they do – to make all of our lives creatively fulfilling and maybe a little more healthy at the same time. I can assure you it doesn’t cost any more to do it. So, what is stopping you? 

This article was written by Sandstorm Films MD Tom Ward.

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