THE CREATIVE ISSUE: Consistency lies behind this production house’s success - In the oh-so fickle world of production, Park Village is a survivor, Emma Hall says

It started life as a riding school on the edge of Regent’s Park.

It started life as a riding school on the edge of Regent’s

Park.



Its second incarnation was as a squat. But for the past 25 years, a huge

Victorian building in NW1 has been Park Village, home of one of London’s

more civilised production companies.



In the transient and often fickle world of commercials production, Park

Village has been almost unique in maintaining its identity and still

attracting good scripts.



Peter Webb, who founded the company with Roger Woodburn and Mike Stones

in December 1973, moved into the stables as a squatter in the late

60s.



Surviving with just a paraffin lamp and a sleeping bag, Webb attracted

considerable hostility from his well-to-do neighbours. But he

perservered, gradually patching up the building and developing it into a

thriving photography studio.



When the neighbours eventually started seeing members of the Rolling

Stones and other 60s icons turning up for photography sessions or just

to hang out, they developed a respect for Webb and even orchestrated a

successful protest against council plans to pull the building down.



So when Webb, Woodburn and Stones broke away from RSA 25 years ago, the

old riding stables seemed to be the natural home for their new

production company, which was named after its address at number one Park

Village East.



Hovis was the campaign that put Webb on the commercials map back in the

early 70s, and it is also the most recent ad Webb has directed. ’Hovis

is like Halley’s Comet,’ he declares. ’It comes round every so often and

always brings a sprinkling of good luck with it.’



But can such consistency and predictability be healthy in an industry

that is always on the look-out for something new and different?



A quarter of a century on, Woodburn and Webb are still the company’s two

star directors and neither has surprised anyone by doing something

unexpected.



Even David Seers, the 33-year-old who took over from Webb as managing

director of Park Village five years ago, has been at the company for 12

years, having started out as a runner. When he first took over, he tried

to shake things up, but the monolith that is Park Village resisted the

attempts at change.



Perhaps the most high-profile mistake was Enda McCallion, who was

brought in to inject a bit of ’hipness’ into the culture. Unfortunately,

he moved permanently to France soon after signing up with Park Village.

Mitch Walker and Maxine Tabac didn’t work out either, and Seers learned

that the Park Village brand was not as flexible as he had thought.



Seers says: ’I wanted to add different strings to our bow and add some

visual directors and some youthful energy. We had a few experiments but

they didn’t work out very well - it was like trying to put a square peg

into a round hole.’



For now, he is happy with eight directors - Webb, Woodburn, Richard

Dean, John Clive, Charlie Stebbings, Bob Spiers, Mick Rudman, who joined

this year, and the newcomer, Omid Nooshin. ’Eight is a good number for

us’ Seers says. ’There is a natural equilibrium and we can service them

well, although we keep our eye on the ball and there is always room for

new people.’



Nooshin, who is just 23, was taken on straight from film school and has

already made a series of films for McDonald’s through Leo Burnett. But

he was recruited because he fits in with Park Village’s gentle,

character-based story-telling style rather than for his youth and

vitality. Seers adds: ’There is an integrity about Park Village that

agencies respect. We want agencies to look at a script and say ’that’s a

Park Village deal’.’



The core business is still based around Webb and Woodburn. Woodburn

directed the Carling Black Label ’dambusters’ film ten years ago but was

still winning awards this year for his ’lifeboat’ spot for Alka Seltzer.

And Webb made his name with his series of three films for John Smith’s -

’song & dance’, ’wrong crowd’, and ’Yorkshire love’.



Park Village has endured its fair share of breakaways over the

years.



Simon Cheek was the top editor when he left to form Redwing, and both

Branded Films and Darling Films owe a debt to their origins at Park

Village.



But for the most part, the company has held a steady course, housed in

its splendid building which boasts a whole corridor decked out in

original William Morris tiles. It has its own studio - set in what used

to be an indoor paddock - as well as editing suites and a projection

theatre. It’s all a far cry from the early days.



Seers acknowledges: ’My job is to maintain the company. We have to

remain true to our heritage - we are not chasing rainbows.’



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