If there is an embodiment of a “we think differently” approach in the form of a production house in China, Achill would be it. A small team of six doing work that often requires others double the manpower and double the time. Founder Maomao and EP Mika say the common reaction to their efficiency is surprise… and SHP+ is curious to discover why.
This is the team that once pulled off shooting 8 commercial spots in 10 days. A team, which is so motivated by the idea of doing interesting work that big budgets are not their priority. This is also the team that values the production process and believes in efficiency but thrives to make it enjoyable for everyone involved.
Achill‘s founder Maomao Achill创始人毛毛
The founder, Maomao admits, his background is puzzling. He hasn’t studied film or production and didn’t even have a mentor who’d taught him the ropes of the trade. Regardless, he dove right in and the first thing he did entering the industry was to co-found a production house. After having worked in Hangzhou for 7 years, he then set his eyes on a bigger stage of Shanghai, relocated there and solely established Achill in 2018. The EP Mika describes: “People have different passions. When I met Maomao and joined the company (this year), I discovered that he’s an entrepreneur, and has the right character for it. The strange thing is, he may lack technical knowledge, but he can take one look at a script or a director’s reel to tell if it’s good. That kind of judgment works like magic”.
Achill‘s EP Mika
The founder’s approach to production, the ability to think outside the box, and make the best out of even small budgets is what sets Achill apart. And the agencies that reach out to them want apparently exactly that from their production partner. “In this market you have to be different to survive. A lot of production houses go the same route: they make work, start to focus on business, the business expands, then they standardize every process, and then they go extinct. I think there’s a lot of ways to make money, but I wouldn’t want to turn creative industry into a purely commercial product”, Maomao shares. Mika adds a more practical understanding to the company’s difference: “I think some production houses waste time on “procedures”. We have our workflow, of course, but I think in production what matters more is precision. We don’t give endless options on locations, directors and crew. All that back-and-forth feedback and discussions is a waste of time and energy. Instead, we offer a few selected options we’re confident in, and efficiency applies to everything”.
Tmall International shoot 天猫国际
Achill is a small team of multitaskers, where an EP, for example, can also do casting, styling, and even directing, if it’s in the best interests of the film. True to their slogan, the team is “only allured to the interesting and meaningful”. With different examples, Mika and Maomao define “interesting” as an unforgettable experience. The kind of shoot where everybody is so heavily invested in the final product, that no matter how exhausting the process is, everyone involved goes above and beyond to create a positive atmosphere. For Maomao an example of such interesting work is the “Ancient Vlog” spot they shot for Tmall International. For Mika— Feizhu commercial.
Achill明晰制作虽然团队不大，但人人都是身兼数职，例如，监制也可以做演员，造型，甚至导演，只要是对拍摄有利就没有问题。正如他们的口号，这支团队 “只对有趣感冒。” 通过例举不同的例子，Mika和毛毛将“有趣”定义为难忘的经历，一种所有人都投入大量精力于最终产品的拍摄方式，无论过程有多累，每个人都在努力创造一种积极的氛围。对于Maomao来说，有趣工作的一个好例子就是他们为天猫国际拍摄的“古代Vlog”系列短片，而Mika最喜欢给飞猪拍的短片。
Tmall International 天猫国际
Ancient Vlog turned out way harder to shoot than the initial simple brief suggested. The location had to have the sea and the desert and be beautiful from all directions as the vlog format meant constant movement. When the two days was not enough to shoot everything, Maomao in a split second made a decision that from both script, and budget perspective, it would actually be more cost-effective to extend the shoot for an additional two days shoot instead of just trying to cram everything into one extra day. “Seems counter logical budget wise, but first, I didn’t want us to end up in the situation, where we added one day, and it was still not enough. Also, with logistics and organizing part of the crew earlier departure, shooting two days was not much different than shooting one day until late, when everyone’s stressed to finish in time”, Maomao remembers.
The Feizhu commercial shoot, which Mika says stands out the most for her, wasn’t smooth either. Even though Travel genre commercials are now Achill’s forte, these styles of films are often tricky as you frequently need to shoot a big, epic and “wanderlust” imagery within a limited budget. In addition, on this project, the director Ding Yuchen got injured during the shoot, which complicated the transportation and shooting. “Getting from one place in Yunnan to another, we had two cars— so the director could lie down, and we fit in the second one with all the clothes. But I remember the atmosphere during the production was great. We would drive around, then shoot, then hit the road again. I did the wardrobe to cut the expenses, and there were so many clothes to iron, one day when I lay it all out it occupied the whole room. But even though we were all exhausted, in the end it was a great experience”, Mika reminisces.
Feizhu commercial 飞猪
When we ask about what kind of directors Achill prefers to collaborate with, there’s a long pause for the first time in our conversation. Then Maomao lays out three seemingly simple characteristics: first, the director must have a nice character, second— have a talent, and third— love the industry and what he does. Interestingly, Maomao disagrees with the prevailing idea that pandemic gave local directors a chance for extreme growth: “Yes, many directors got a chance to be noticed, because there’s so much work. But since the pandemic, I don’t think there was one groundbreaking commercial. Without foreign competition that diversifies the market there’s no healthy development. I really hope the situation soon changes, and we can again cooperate with foreign directors and shoot abroad in the near future”.
As to Achill’s future plans, Maomao says he’s focused on the Now. This year they decided to adjust their work mode, decreasing to doing only one-two commercial films per month. Fueled by the goal to shoot only interesting projects, Maomao and Mika fear sometimes to fall into the trap of losing sight of what’s quality work. That’s why they are straightforward about the question if awards are important to them? Even though most awards notoriously ignore production, focusing mainly on the agencies, but for Achill receiving the recognition of the industry is one of the standards to measure their work. To date, Achill’s work earned 2020 IAI Award (China production company of the year), 2020 Golden Lion Awards (Best Producer?), 2020 ROI Award among others. Maomao concludes: “I do hope our team produces only quality work in the future. I want every film we make to drive the whole industry. Some companies dream of big growth, but I want us to stay small and precise. To keep our core and continue to be driven only by interesting, meaningful works.”
On set of Bosie 拍摄现场
Lenovo shoot 联想 上场拍摄现场
Maomao at Keep shooting 毛毛在Keep拍摄现场
OTHER WORKS BY ACHILL FEATURED IN SHP+:
Futuristic world of Bosie 伯喜的未来世界
The odder, the better: Gen-Z beauty ads｜越奇特越好：Z世代的美妆广告