Happy Birthday to us, and a happy Guy Fawkes night to everyone else!
Yes, Cut the Mustard is now two years old! Officially a toddler, let's look back at where we've come from, and where we hope to go next.
It's been a long, long two years, and at the same time a short one. We certainly had ideas of where we'd be, but what we predicted vs what actually happened are fun to reflect upon.
We started with only a spark on an idea - we'd worked together on two graduate films rather than one, a logistical nightmare, but one that worked somewhat in our favour as we had two varied examples of what we could do. The Big Up and Norwich Love Letter proved to be a great foundation for us, and showed we could do fun, bright cartoons and more natural looking short films.
From there it was onto three very lucky breaks - winning funding from the BBC for the short film Headless Population, funding from the Scottish Wild Beaver Group for a short film Think Like a Beaver, and a small commission from Aylsham picture house. Most of these came towards the end of university, so by the time we'd graduated the transition into company life came quite easily, going from an idea into a reality very naturally.
That summer, we unofficially formed. This website was created, and our completed films were uploaded to make our first ever showreel and portfolio, including some smaller films we'd made at uni, such as Smoke, Hermit Hogs and some group projects. Things began falling into place, and by November the 5th 2019, Cut the Mustard officially existed, we moved into our first office and the world was our oyster.
The months that followed were full of ups and downs - our first clients ranged from projects abandoned half-way through, and odd jobs for little money (that we'd never show here). It was a time of transitioning from student to director, which was fun and difficult at the same time. We all found our footing, our main roles, and the range of styles we were capable of doing. We went to the royal film and television awards, sold Christmas cards and lectured at our old university. It was baby steps into the big, wide world of working in the arts.
Then a little something called COVID happened. We shan't go into it too much as it's a topic we all know far too much about, but it's effect on a four-month old company were pretty significant. We had 0 funding or investment, so when time came to the entire world crashing and burning, we quickly lost most of our clients, were kicked out of our office (the first time), and everything was not only reset to 0 for us, but for everyone. Nobody wanted animation, and were split to the winds working other jobs to get by. We'd recently won some funding for a short film before covid kicked in, so we teamed up with St Martins, a local homelessness charity for an experimental short film, but doing so in the height of the pandemic meant it took us almost eight months to make a short film. Still, it was a great opportunity to build our online presence, and it gave us the necessary tools to work out how to operate our business and communicate with others in an an online world - something we take for granted now, but had to build in at the same time as we shaped our business back then.
Things eventually bounced back - we started taking on some real clients - NUA's Survival Box, Goodwings Sustainable travel, podcast appearances, a dedicated audience and work flow. We were back in a (new) office too, which was fun. Of course, things couldn't last as once again covid kicked in, some clients fell through and we were kicked out of the office (again). 2020 is an odd year for us - we didn't have many clients, were still shaping our business, and for the most part just trying to survive. In many ways, it was another year of setup, and as the status of the world pushed us back, we're still yet to see Cut the Mustard at it's true potential - still, they say it takes five years to see any business (big or small, funding or not) reach full potential, so if we were able to make amazing short films at a time like that, I look forward to seeing our future.
2021 set the sights for a much better year. We finally adapted to working online, and we worked on some of our most exciting projects yet - some you've seen throughout the year, and others yet to come. We've worked on anime-styles Malora films twice, worked with a DnD group, two science companies, a wildlife trust and a Kickstarter video. We've worked on online workshops, subcontracted with other animation studios, had a host of unseen and secret projects, and just about everything else you can imagine. We've also recently found our way back into a new (permanent) office to call home, and we've been more excited than ever to work side-by-side. Sure, it's not been perfect, we spent a lot of time with a magnificently ambitious project we had to part ways with, and we were caught in a nasty financial scam we're still dealing with the effects of today. And yet, in every way '21 was a million times bigger, bolder and more exciting than '20, and we hope to continue to grow even more in our next year and beyond.
So, what next?
That's the big question - and one with an essays-worth of answers. I'll allude to a few more things we have in the pipeline.
We're currently working on one of our coolest and most impressive short films yet, that we can't wait to see you.
We're working on two independent short films in house, and with more knowledge and resources, we hope to really show these off at festivals across the country and beyond, as we didn't really utilise the festival circuit to it's full potential when we were grads.
We've got a third in-house short film planned, one which has a really unique method of creation. We'll share more about that soon.
In general, we'll make more stuff. We've formed some great connections recently, so expect more repreat projects alongside brands, bands, storytellers and broadcasters we'll be working with. With some updates in our working systems and being in-office once again, at full power we could be making 10x the amount of content we had been before, especially with a private office we're able to control how we operate, rather than spending months adapting to new changes out of our control.
We've been posting on social media and these blog post much more regularly, so that is due to continue with more varied and high quality content across a wider range of places.
We've begun putting together pitches for bigger projects - series and films, to look for funding to take us to the next level and begin creating our own stories for a broadcast audience.
We've been talking with local colleges, the council and the government kickstart scheme, so hopefully we could maybe have a new member of staff some time in the next six months.
In general, the mission is to be happy. We're never going to be an animation factory - our business model is based on variety - making unique films for lots of different purposes. We've really enjoyed that we've made a few projects centred around sustainability over the last year, but that's about as close as we'll ever come to a studio niche. Sure, we could have greater levels of success and revenue if we decided to stick to one style and churn it out endlessly, but Cut the Mustard is on a different path, a different mission, and keeps art and storytelling at it's heart. We could run an entire business model off of outsourcing our animation to cheaper third-world countries, like many big studios do, but ultimately we want to not only be creatively successful, but morally successful too. The world is a tough place to make it in any industry, but through thick-and-thin, Cut the Mustard will fight to champion creativity, art and storytelling in business, and we aim to stay pure in our intentions for the rest of our existence.
We're excited for you to join us on this journey, and thank you all for your support so far. We can't wait to continue to share animation with you for years to come.
And as a bit of fun, everyone named their favourite project they've worked on thus far -
Amy - Surrey Wildlife Trust
Fin - Think like a Beaver
Liam - Vulfe Inc
El - The Big Up