It’s time for a Small Business Chat update, and we’re all happy that it’s time to chat again to Tone Hitchcock of Anthony Hitchcock Art & Design. I first interviewed Tone in May 2012 and then we did updates in June 2013, July 2014 and September 2015, at which point, when asked where he wanted to be in a year’s time, he replied, “More film prop work would be nice, more museum stuff… and of course, I’ll be writing the next update from my yacht in the Bahamas…” Well, I’m not entirely sure that he was in the Bahamas when he last got back to me, but here’s an update on what he’s been up to, and some photos, of course …
Hello again, Tone! So, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
This year, I’m very happy to be able to say that I’m actually much further along than I hoped I would be. To be honest, being a propmaker, there isn’t really a grand over-reaching masterplan that I’m working to (cooked up in my Volcano lair, whilst stroking my pet shark with a laser on his forehead, obviously), other than to keep on doing more of the same, to try to get more into film and TV props, and to get the work to come in more regularly, and this does seem to be happening now.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
At the end of last year, I had a really bad dry spell, where everything I quoted for fell through. It got to the point where I was seriously beginning to wonder if I should pack it all in and get a proper job; my equivalent of a mid-life crisis, I guess. While chatting about leads with a friend who is also a propmaker (the splendidly named Clemency Bunn, have a look at her awesome work on http://www.clemencybunn.com/), I was pointed in the direction of the Art Dept Facebook group, which has proved an absolute Godsend: rather like someone opening the door and finally inviting you in to the party where all the cool kids are! They post jobs there every day, and I’ve been working constantly ever since.
All of this coincided with my wife leaving her old marketing job, and taking on a new position working for the University of Bath. As it’s a part-time post, I’ve been much freer to take on jobs that otherwise would have left us overstretched, particularly with regards to childcare. I’ve produced props for Sadler’s Wells through Leviathan Studios, worked on the unbelievably large and impressive set for the upcoming series The White Princess (in fact, if you see publicity shots for the series taken in a stone passageway with a spiral staircase in it, you’ll know who detailed all of the ‘masonry!’), worked on some massive sculpts for Burberry with Johnny Mann Scenic Services, and created a series of props for the CBBC show Art Ninja. This last one in particular earned me extra Dad Points, as both of the boys are huge fans of the show.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
One thing I’ve learned this year is not to undervalue what I do. It seems an obvious point, but often for freelancers, there is a massive tendency to take anything that comes along to allay the ever-present and nagging fear that every job might be your last. Sometimes, though, this can be counterproductive; I was waiting for builders to finish their part of a project to allow me access, and I had a week and a half to kill. I scouted around, and found a small production that needed a hand, so I thought I’d do them a favour. Long story short, they were an absolute nightmare to deal with, and a bit of a kerfuffle ensued over payment as a result. One thing that this confirmed for me was the importance of being a paid-up Union member (BECTU, in my case), as without them I wouldn’t have had much recourse. Lesson learned? Sadly, it is probably that trying to do favours for people is something that should be approached with the utmost caution, or not at all…
Any more hints and tips for people?
A Top Tip for people trying to get into the same line of work is, as it is for most freelancers, is that Networking is vital. I’m terrible at deliberately trying to be businesslike, so this isn’t something that I’ve felt comes naturally to me. I can’t stand Linkedin, for instance, as most of it seems very self-serving, and often completely wrong anyway, but I am quite garrulous, and, in the case of the Art Dept groups on Facebook, I’d managed to do some inadvertent networking anyway just by actually making friends along the way. So, I’d say “play to your strengths“ – find a way of connecting with people that doesn’t feel contrived to you, and run with it. For me, that seems to be just nattering to people who I work with, and also Facebook (which is often the solitary freelancer’s equivalent of a watercooler chat anyway).
BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?
The question that I’d always wanted to ask others in my boat was “Where do you get your leads from?” It felt terribly un-British to actually ask this, but when I did, the question was answered. Apparently, asking for directions gets you to your destination faster than driving up random roads and hoping for the best. Who knew, eh?
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
This time next year? More of the same, hopefully. I have some potentially ace stuff coming up (some of which was potentially ace at this point last year too, but is now a lot closer to potentially happening…), so I’m feeling very optimistic for 2017!
I love Tone’s honesty as well as the fabulous makes he shares with us each year. I’m glad there’s a union that can help, and I agree, it’s often those little jobs we take on to fill in a gap that prove troublesome; it’s very difficult to learn to go with the flow and accept the quiet times as well as the busy ones.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.