Techie helps filmmakers get with the program
Setkick's Brian Gaffney, Matt Drake and Chris Rickard. Photo: Supplied
When Melbourne computer programmer Chris Rickard heard how films were planned and scheduled, he thought there had to be a better way.
Before the cameras start rolling, a script has to be broken down into a shooting schedule that makes the most efficient use of locations and the cast and crew. When production starts, multitudes of people need to be told where they have to be at what time for each day's shooting. Each production generates thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper.
It sounded really interesting to me as a programmer, like a problem I could solve and it went from there.
To Rickard, the traditional use of spreadsheets for such a mammoth exercise seemed inefficient, prompting him to get together with fellow programmers and an film director to set up the website Setkick.
“One night at a party [co-founder Matt Drake] mentioned the problem to me because he was an assistant director and doing scheduling and logistics and getting everything in order and it sounded like a real hassle,” the software developer says.
“It sounded really interesting to me as a programmer, like a problem I could solve and it went from there”.
Setkick is the result of their party conversation. It's an online tool for scene and shot management, day-to-day task management, cast and crew organisation, and shooting location management. The site automates and digitises much of the work.
Users of the site can upload their film script and Setkick breaks it down into scenes, characters and locations, allowing the user to schedule day-to-day shooting. Rickard says it takes up to two weeks to schedule a film on spread sheets, but the job can be done in a few hours on Setkick.
Once shooting starts Setkick is used to generate daily reports for each production department, as well as the all-important daily call sheets – the pieces of paper handed to every member of the cast and crew with details and instructions about next day's shooting.
“Basically we wanted to make management and logistics as easy as possible, so the real focus is on the visual side - not making sure person X is in location Y on time,” says Rickard. The site charges users a monthly fee.
Rickard says the film industry is quite conservative and didn't want any changes to its long-established information formats.
“The film industry has been doing these sorts of reports in the same format for a very long time; we're not really doing anything revolutionary in terms of the information we're giving, we're just presenting it in an easier cloud-based way that's also available on iPhones and iPads and things like that,” he says.
Rickard, 29, says that once the site has more traction they might start innovating.
“In our mind we've done the bare essentials to get going – people are using it and liking it – and now we can start to bring our touch on it and make it more efficient,” he says.
Soon after starting work on the site in late 2010 Rickard and Vancouver-based Drake decided they needed more help with development and so brought two more co-founders into the company, one of whom, Brian Gaffney, remains.
The three Melbourne-based founders worked intensively on the site through 2011 while holding down day jobs, while Drake stayed in Vancouver and tested the site on films he was working on.
The late last year Rickard and Gaffney decided Setkick was more than just a hobby project and quit their jobs to work full-time on it. “We were a little naive in how to start a business. We didn't know how to get it off the ground business-wise, but we were starting to get users and people talking about it,” Rickard says.
They were accepted into Sydney start-up incubator Startmate, which invested $25,000 into the site and provided mentorship.
All four founders moved to Sydney for the three-month program, sharing a house, and living and breathing Setkick. “When we were in the office we were talking about it and arguing about it, even though we were all great mates, and then we'd come home together and have beers in the backyard, and still be debating the pricing model and what we should be testing and ways to get user feedback.”
The most valuable part of the program has been learning about how to start a business, “pushing your idea from the small seed of a hobby project into realising that it can be a lot more and kind of jumping out of a plane and building a parachute on the way down”.
The site was fully launched at the start of February and 680 users have signed up, with five to 15 active productions using the site each week. In all, Setkick has been used on 52 productions so far. Users pay $30 per month – a price that Rickard says is low enough to attract film schools and independent film makers.
Initially Setkick charged more and was targeting major production houses and film studios, but found they were reluctant to use the site. “Basically there's a lot more risk for big production companies to change the system that they already use, even though it might bring a lot more efficiency,” says Rickard.
Some 8000 feature films are made in the US every year, but the number of independent film, video clips, advertisements and film school projects tops 150,000.
“Our game plan at the moment is to get as many smaller independent people using Setkick," says Rickard. "They don't have these big risk committees that need to decide whether they move their whole production to this scheduling tool.”
The partners are finalising a round of investment after a trip to the US. Initially they were seeking between $500,000 to $750,000, but now think as little as $200,000 might give them what they need to grow and still leave the three remaining partners with a majority stake in the business.
“We want to be the go-to tool for production management, it's not going to happen in six months, but it's an amazing opportunity and an opportunity that no one's been able to crack.”