Close-Up: It's all about the work, not the economy, stupid

The US production company Smuggler is sticking two fingers up to the recession by setting up in the UK.

A global economic crisis, an ever-weakening pound, clients tightening their budgets, an over-populated market and an impending script drought - not exactly the ideal climate for expansion into the UK production market. But Smuggler, a US-based production company, has done just that by opening an office in London.

"If it was me and I was looking at the market now, the last thing I'd do is open a production company," Rattling Stick's president, Johnnie Frankel, admits. So why on earth would Smuggler - whose roster of top-notch directors includes Randy Krallman and Henry Alex-Rubin, the man behind last year's "Whopper freakout" for Burger King - want to open its doors under the cloud of a recession?

Brian Carmody, who founded Smuggler alongside Patrick Milling Smith, explains: "We set up Smuggler in America in a very difficult economic climate seven years ago. There's never an ideal time to do it and there are always reasons why not to. We're not financially driven; we're driven to do good work, so it's not vitally important how the economy is doing."

The UK office will be run by Fergus Brown, an ex-line producer who is generally respected as a safe pair of hands. "He's an incredibly able, solid producer and a great cultural fit with Smuggler," James Studholme, the managing director of Blink, says. Milling Smith adds: "Fergus has experience we don't have in producing big ads and setting up offices."

While the recession may not have been a major factor in their decision to launch, the fact that Stink, the UK production com-pany which has partnered with Smuggler since its launch, has opened up a US office, Skunk, may well have been a catalyst. Stink has represented Smuggler's directors in the UK and vice versa.

Rather than there being anything sinister behind the proximity of their international launches, Daniel Bergmann, Stink's managing director, says: "It's been a co-ordinated effort with Patrick and Brian - and for us it is a completely natural progression. It's about the size of our rosters and making sure we can service our directors well."

And that's exactly what Smuggler UK will do: represent its US directors over here, although it also plans to keep its eyes open for UK talent. "Every production company is always looking for new blood. We'll be looking out for someone with the right talent and attitude," Carmody explains.

And with the expensive trend for shipping in popular American directors fast falling out of favour, Madeleine Sanderson, the managing director of Partizan, argues that Smuggler's approach is the right one: "With budgets being as low as they are at the moment, it's quite an expense to fly directors in."

With even established UK production companies scratching their heads over how to get through the difficult year ahead, it's clear that Brown has some big challenges in front of him. But if the company cares about the work as much as its founders claim, then it's not inconceivable that it will overcome them.