Since launching in 2016, Liquorice Productions has shot film for upwards of 60 clients, international companies including Trivago and Red Bull and local brands like Gulf DXB
Brothers put corporate film making in the frame in Dubai
For about three months last year, Jordan Bickerstaffe didn’t have a day off.
“Seven days a week for 12 weeks straight,” says the 23-year-old, one-half of the slick, 18-month-old Dubai-based company Liquorice Productions.
That’s what happens when two brothers are trying to get a film, photography and post-production company off the ground and only one of them is trained in shooting and editing video.
“It’s just what you do to get it done," says Jordan. "The past three weeks I reckon I’ve filmed for 14, 15 days straight. And after filming I would come to the office and edit from 9 at night to midnight and get up at 6 and do it all again.”
It all started out in 2015 as a conversation in the family pool between Jordan, who was in his last year studying cinematography at the Northern Film School in Leeds, and his 33-year-old brother Leon, an aerospace engineer who was working in oil and gas. The brothers grew up in Dubai after their parents moved to the emirate where their dad worked in oil and gas.
“We were obviously talking, you were going into your final year Jordan, 'what do you want to do?'” recalls Leon. “He didn’t really know, so we thought ‘why don’t we just start our own company?’ And one thing led to another and we started our own company.”
The brothers were convinced they could offer the market something that was lacking in Dubai: high-quality video, cutting-edge style, a distinctive creative look and excellent customer service.
Jordan was convinced the city needed a company making videos that could raise the bar from a cinematic perspective.
“One of the main things I don’t like here that you see with video, the colours aren’t great,” he says.
While colour is handled on the post-production side, a lot has to do with choosing locations and lighting while shooting. And Jordan was convinced that with his cinematic background, he could focus on emotion and get superior shots, setting the company apart.
Launching after Jordan graduated, the Bickerstaffe brothers were determined to stay lean – and get started without any outside investment.
They chose the least expensive licence and visas option, basing in Fujairah Free Zone, and worked from home for more than a year.
“The idea was, we were limiting our overheads, therefore we didn’t have to charge a fortune to clients and we could come in competitively straight away, right from the beginning,” says Leon.
“It was a very simple licence, visas in Fujairah and an office out of the back bedroom.”
The brothers cobbled together a show reel – before they had done any jobs – made hundreds of calls and sent many more emails, trying to drum up business.
“We’d sit there for hours and hours and days and days, messaging any company, saying ‘your stuff isn’t up to standards,’” recalls Leon.
It took two months before they got their first job with a storage company, The Box. Since then they’ve shot film for upwards of 60 clients, international companies including Trivago, Netflix and Red Bull and local brands like Gulf DXB, Warehouse Gym and X Dubai, bringing on a few trusted freelancers whenever the volume got to be too much. They were also named as finalists for the Gulf Capital SME Business Awards 2017, held March 21, for the work they did capturing the British chef and restaurateur Sean Connolly’s trip to a new oyster farm in Fujairah, Dibba Bay.
The day before the shoot Liquorice got a call that Mr Connolly, who is based in Australia but runs an eponymous restaurant at Dubai Opera, wanted to advance the start time to capture his habit of having a sunrise bonfire on the beach.
The team didn’t hesitate to accommodate the request, shifting plans and getting up in the middle of the night to arrive before dawn with Mr Connolly. The plan clearly paid off, with the opening moments of the resulting video cast in the gentle pink hues of dawn at the beach.
“If it’s going to make a better video,” says Jordan, “I would rather be up at 1am.”
Two years on, Liquorice has turned into a real family-and-friends business. Leon takes care of the business side of the operation. A friend designed their website, and Leon’s brother-in-law is their accountant. Jordan’s childhood friend Emma Wood has been brought on to work on social media, marketing and storyboards.
Even the name – Liquorice – came from Jordan and Leon’s dad Kevin, who is a fan of sweets. He’s also called in to mediate when the brothers get deadlocked on how to proceed.
“Ultimately if we don’t agree then we bring our dad in,” says Jordan. “We’ve gone to him for advice because we can’t knock it on it’s head.”
More growth is on the horizon. The company has moved to a serviced office in Silicon Oasis, with plans to shift to a full business licence from the Department of Economic Development in Dubai next year, along with space in D3 or Studio City.
Soon Jordan may even be able to get some rest, as they are bringing on a second cinematographer/editor from the UK this summer.
There are continued challenges: the high price of permits in Dubai and difficulty obtaining them in Abu Dhabi, and having to pass on jobs from big clients that don’t seem to want to pay smaller firms fairly.
But they also have big goals, including bringing their drone/aerial work in-house, adding additional sales and marketing personnel and expanding services to be able to cover large-scale, high-value projects.
“Ultimately,” says Leon, “the big dream will be to compete with the big dogs of the media industry and have multiple locations globally”.