Spotlight On… Cheat Studios: Cutting no corners on enhanced capability and client satisfaction

Features  |  24 February 2021

This month UK Screen Alliance talks to Toby Tomkins, Director and founder of the expanding London based post production studio, covering their bolstered remote working capabilities, and changing business models in the UK VFX industry.

Picured: Toby Tomkins, Founder, Director, and Senior Colourist of Cheat Studios

Cheat was founded in 2015, and has been operating for 6 years now, renowned for using their individual craft to elevate the visual experience – Can you give us an overview of how it started?

Over a decade ago I was part of the first generation of independent colourists, using prosumer hardware to grade work to a high standard outside of ‘big iron’ post facilities. Even back in 2011 I was using a custom-built workstation to grade a feature film called ‘Four’ direct from 4K Raw rushes, mastering out studio quality deliverables in my home suite. As larger jobs came calling, I did stints at Tate Post, Clear Cut Pictures, Splice and MyTherapy, but I always had ambitions of setting up something myself. I decided to take the plunge and invest in office space in East London where Cheat is currently based. I took on a studio space which is now ‘Colour 2’ at Cheat and started building a reputation as a boutique alternative to the more established post houses. I rebranded the company to Cheat in 2015 and we started building a fantastic team of artists, producers and assistants that now forms the growing community that is Cheat.

Where does Cheat stand today, and what services do you offer as an award-winning colour grading and finishing studio?

We have slowly expanded our offering to include a wide range of services for any type of visual content, with in house capability in online, VFX and mastering across both longform and short form. We also now offer film lab, CGI and sound services through our partner network with Cinelab, No8, and more to come!

Also, congratulations on the recent rebrand!

Thank you! It’s well overdue and we’re really happy to be sharing more about who we are and how we approach what we do. For me the rebrand extends much deeper than a new logo and website and I’m really excited about this new chapter for Cheat.

We hear Cheat has recently bolstered its remote working capabilities to enhance connectivity with clients and expand your creative offering – can you tell us a little more about this?

We’ve been doing remote grades for a few years now, often connecting to other facilities and on a few occasions direct to client. As we went into the first lockdown, we were determined to keep Cheat open for business, so we leveraged our experience and increased our investment to ensure we could still provide a great client experience while working remotely.  Within a few days of lockdown, we had 4 colour suites fully operational at colourists’ homes and were starting to grade remotely with all of our clients. During the first lockdown we were the first post company to successfully complete and deliver a 4K HDR series for Netflix US. As the weeks and months went on, we refined our set up and now have a great solution in place with Streambox that lets us stream to anyone, anywhere, and on any device.

With the technology and software maturing so much over the last year I came to the realisation that this enhanced creative connectivity can be extended beyond our walls. It has become so much easier to connect colourists to clients. With a recent increase in freelance colourist talent in Europe, we are also launching our remote colourist roster alongside our rebrand, to connect that amazing talent to those who want it in the UK. We can fully manage these projects at Cheat, letting our clients work with this talent from the comfort of their homes, with all the client services we’re known for.

Do you feel that there has been/will be a shift in the UK VFX industry landscape moving forward?

I do. I think it’s clear that there is massive consolidation happening with the bigger facilities to cut costs and increase efficiency. The business models are rapidly changing, and I think it’ll be hard for the larger facilities to pivot quickly enough. I’m also very hopeful that longform will see a huge boom in the next few years with massive investment and big commitments that will bear fruit for all of us. Cheat began by picking up the crumbs of giants, but I think in the future there will be enough pie for us all.

The Cheat team did some wonderful work on The End of the F***ing World, I Am Not Okay With This – Do you have any favourite projects that Cheat worked within the past year?

Thank you, TEOTFW was definitely one of my all-time favourite projects, I don’t think any of us knew how successful that show would be and the cult following it would attract. To stay on board for season 2 and see it go all the way to win a BAFTA for best drama literally brought a tear to my eye.

This last year has been tough, but working with Jonathan Jones at Ember Films on ‘Tiny Creatures’, a 4H HDR ‘animal drama’ was a really fun challenge. We’ve never done this kind of nature/factual entertainment work before at Cheat and I definitely grew a lot of respect and admiration for colourists like Adam Inglis because we were matching complex animal choreography and action scenes that were shot across multiple studios, locations, and times. It was a herculean effort by the whole team at Cheat to get this over the line during lockdown and I’ll be eternally grateful for all their hard work on this one! It’s definitely one we’ll never forget!

Are there any marked goals or aspirations on the horizon for Cheats future?

We’ve come a long way in building trust and solidifying our reputation across all forms of visual content and that will always be at the core of what we do and how we do it. I’ve especially enjoyed growing our commercials department and look forward to working closer with agencies and direct to brand, as well as with studios and content creators as we increase our longform offering. For me now is the time to look inward and make sure that we are supporting and developing our team from within so we can have a really solid base to expand upon as we grow further. We’ve always believed that good colour is good colour, so we’re going to make sure we keep that as our focus and look to keep growing our diverse offering of artists and services to enable this. After 2020 I’m really excited for 2021 and can’t wait to see what amazing projects we will get to work on!

Thank you for your time Toby!

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