Producing the best

4 minutes read
Posted 26 April, 2024
Julian GrimmondJ on Location in Wadi RumJ Jordan

Julian Grimmond on location in Wadi Rum, Jordan

Tucked discreetly in rural tranquility off Speargrass Flat Road, one of New Zealand’s most successful film production and risk management companies is quietly doing its stuff, interacting with global film heavyweights on a daily basis.

GFS was co-founded in 2004 by three-time Emmy Award-winning producer Julian Grimmond and his wife Frith O’Hagan, and over the years has won a host of industry honours. But for this humble Dunedin boy, who started out as a freelance researcher 30 years ago, that’s not what it’s all about.

There’s plenty of hard grind, 16-hour days with 3am calls around the globe at times, but for Grimmond it’s a passion and it’s all been worthwhile.

GFS has worked on feature films, television series and documentaries all over the world.

Confidentiality is paramount in the film industry and while Grimmond strictly keeps his clients under wraps, the long list of credits on GFS’s website highlights plenty of big names in film and fame. From History Channel, National Geographic, Fox and CNN through to Netflix and Sony, most recently these include Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey’s Apple TV mini-series and Academy-award-nominated ‘Don’t Look Up’.

Starting as a director for TVNZ and Natural History New Zealand in Dunedin, Grimmond developed and helped sell an idea to Discovery Channel for a realty ski season series – ‘Adventure Central’, shot in Queenstown in 1999 which he directed.

A producer on The Amazing Race, working all over the world, he won three Emmys and a Producers Guild of America nomination as part of that team.

His export focused production company was established to sell content overseas for various shows and series. “Our clients are the streamers, studios and networks across the US and Europe.”

In 2022 Grimmond launched screen production company, Emissary Pictures, with a number of films and productions underway, including ‘The Rider”, written by Kiwi actor Jospeh Taylor, who appears in Dev Patel’s latest movie Monkey Man.

“It’s a beautiful film about Indonesia’s first female motorbike stuntwoman who rides the Wall of Death – a huge passion project for us.”
“You grow your reputation through hard work and making tough decisions.”

Key to GFS’s success has been its ability to identify a gap in the market and deliver with “unquestionable quality”, leaning into new technology like AI.

That gap was managing risk on filming locations around the world. “Good producers admit they may not know everything, so they seek expertise from people with that specific knowledge.” That’s where GFS steps in as consultants for major industry clients around the world. “We’ve produced and consulted on productions in pretty much every country on earth.”

That’s required considerable cultural empathy. “We love the differences in the way people do business and the way cultures exist. You’re always trying to find common ground. You become a cultural shock absorber between your clients and the communities where they want to film.” It’s exhilarating and a great opportunity to work in far flung places like Jordan and Indonesia, he says.

“A large amount of what we do we’ve pioneered. We definitely occupy a leadership function in risk management and screen productions,” Grimmond says.

He’s learnt a lot since he and Frith, the company’s COO, first launched GFS from Queenstown almost 20 years ago, originally as Global Film Solutions. The company has become expert at assessing risk in a game where reputation is paramount, Covid obviously creating phenomenal demand worldwide.

Despite its location this gutsy Kiwi company was first out of the gates supporting film productions around the world as the pandemic was starting to emerge overseas. “That was an incredibly busy time for us. We’d spotted early signs overseas and advised our industry clients that it was coming.” Instead of hindering their business it became an opportunity to expand. “The clients came to us. We recruited hundreds of skilled people all over the world to work alongside us,” he says.

At the end of the day though it’s about budget and time – time on task. “It’s just about absorbing every challenge.”

“Anyone can pursue their own creative business. You just need passion, drive, and determination to get there, humility, and an openness to work in collaboration with others,” he says.

“There’s a plethora of different characters in this industry. Just find your tribe, keep to the content that’s yours and don’t judge other people.”

“We’re often constrained in business by expectations – geographical and resources, but if you know what these are you can overcome them. We offer services to global companies by not being constrained working from here.”

While Queenstown’s viewed as anchored in tourism and construction and that’s vital, there are some highly successful creative businesses here, he says.
“We’re a diverse economy.”


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