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My Biggest Lesson: James Drew

How Ethos Studios EP James Drew stays curious and embraces change in an ever-evolving industry

My Biggest Lesson: James Drew

James Drew, EP at Ethos Studios knows the importance of staying one step ahead in the industry, a lesson he's taken from his early days as an assistant at The Mill to building the foundations of Ethos. Here, James takes a reflective look at the path that got him here.


Is there one event/piece of wisdom from your career that's always stayed with you? What is it? 

If my career to date has taught me anything, it’s to never be complacent. The moment you start to feel really satisfied with yourself, your edge is lost. I never get too comfortable. I like it that way. Ours is a fast-paced and ever-changing industry, and if you stop keeping up for even a moment, you’re left behind fast. 


Set the scene! How old were you when you learned this insight, where were you working, how long had you been there, what year was it, what was your role, and how were you feeling generally about your career at this point?

I was a young whippersnapper working at The Mill London. I had just started to work as an assistant to all the Colour and Flame suites: ingesting source material, prepping jobs, laying to tape, QC, and creation of all masters and dubs. 

At the time I thought I wanted to be a colourist. I had watched the guys in that department walking around with trolleys of film negative, and watched them scan negative on the Spirit Datacine machine. The Mill even had a small film lab with an old guy who worked there on an old Steenbeck film editing suite. I was obviously very excited to get some hands-on experience, especially with film which I have always loved as a medium. However, this was all during the rise of digital, and the subsequent departure of film. So, rather than rolls of film negative, the media was coming in on hard drives. 

Nowadays, digital workflows are relatively easy, but back then (without getting too technical and boring) it took a lot of figuring out since it was all brand new. I spent hours (and sometimes days) wrangling digital camera files. Cloning hard drives was hardly the creative line of work I had imagined. Needless to say, I was pretty uninspired. 

I don’t need to explain the impact on the industry that digital cameras made but the shift from film to digital was fully happening…


Tell us about the chain of events that led to you learning this insight… be as specific as you can!

Seeing this change happening in real-time, I had the realisation that you must stay ahead of the curve to survive. Our industry is creative, but also technical. Media, formats, tools, technology will all evolve and change. Any company that wants to be competitive can’t be stuck in their ways.

Staying nimble and having the ability to pivot and adapt is everything. You always have to be looking to the future. 

 

And if you got some words of wisdom from a particular person or there’s a key, influential person in this story – tell us about them! What was your relationship to them, what were they like, how did you feel about them (admiration, awe, respect… disrespect)…

Why do you think it struck such a chord? 

I watched industry veterans, my mentors, get laid off because they couldn’t keep up. A medium I loved was in decline. It’s such an overly clichéd lesson in every aspect of life and work, but it’s true. Keep up with the times or die. It’s almost laughable when I say it so bluntly!

  

How did it change you as a person and in your career? 

All through my various roles and in my career as a whole, I’ve continually attempted to look to, and learn from, the next generation of unconventional, radical content makers. Whatever cool shit they’re doing today will be what ad agencies reference for brands tomorrow. 

What if we embrace change? And what if we’re not afraid of the unknown? Being led by a spirit of curiosity is the attitude that’s going to save us.


And as you’ve progressed in your career, how have you re-evaluated this piece of advice?

Whilst building Ethos, I wanted to ensure that we would never be left behind. A lot of companies claim they are innovative, but it’s merely a marketing tool - they absolutely aren't. I’m not saying Ethos is the answer to everything, but it’s definitely something we’re very conscious of. We adapt to new ways of working. We problem-solve. We don’t complain when things are non-traditional. Basically, we’re really and truly collaborative. 

 

Is this insight or piece of advice something you now share with others – if so, how do they respond to it?

When I tell people ‘back in my day’ stories I usually get eye rolls. Ha! Luckily the team we have at Ethos are very forward thinking and also way cooler than me, so I usually am the one asking them for advice!

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