Organic Canvas: My not so gory start-up story

Some people spend their lives transforming from career to career seemingly able to chameleon into anything they want. Yet others are never captured by an industry and seem content with a job that doesn’t become their life. I used to envy some of those people, because in truth – I’ve never really had a choice and at times I’ve even thought I might be a slave to the thing I enjoyed, and just hoped to high heavens it wouldn’t chew me up and spit me out. This is industry is no picnic. Anyone in it will tell you that. But then, we’ll also tell you – it’s kind of why we love it.

How I discovered film, or rather it discovered me

It all started the year after high school when I came across a brochure to do a creative, one week winter workshop at a local college, City Varsity. We learnt how to make a mask. And my take away from that week was genuinely, “You’re telling me I could do this kind of thing for a living…what as in professionally?” Hook. Line. Sinker. I enrolled for the following year. But my hunger to learn and grow was so ferocious that I couldn’t wait to get through first year before hitting the gory stuff. So I enrolled in an international course online – Dick Smith’s Prosthetic Make-up Course – to further my knowledge in the industry.

Straight into my second year I found myself snatched up in the film industry, working for one of the bigger film companies, doing moulding and fabrication for the year. I did go back to complete my diploma but was actually already fulfilling the role of a 3rd year lecturer to certain modules in the course. I spent two more years honing those skills whilst lecturing full time before stepping out into the film industry one hundred percent, and fortunately working for the biggest film effects company in SA at the time as their head of the sculpting department. My understanding of the industry grew immensely there throughout another 2 years of hard grafting and late nights, or shall I say early mornings.

There and back again

Not many health and safety regulations filtered through and little was understood about chemical poisoning and material knowledge in the industry at the time. Consequently, my health took a serious beating. I made the call to leave the film industry. As much as I loved it, I was still in my twenties but felt like a bloke in his 50s. So, essentially stepping out to recover, I tried to find my footing in other industries all together, gravitating towards fitness, health and wellness, purely because of my own desire on personal wellbeing. Home delivered, pre-prepped dietary meals and nutritional supplements were just some of these ventures. But something was missing.

Prepacking boxes of measured out carrots and protein wasn’t fulfilling (to me anyway) and I craved being able to work with my hands. Having had a taste of the creative process, nothing could replace it.

I decided to make a go of it again and founded Organic Canvas in 2015. Starting from scratch – working for myself, but committed to ensuring I used industry-safe products, without compromising on materials and health and safety for price.

I worked out of the garage on our property on small projects for advertising and marketing commercials mainly, before landing the first big job – Of Kings and Prophets. This was when everything really took off.

 

Entering the big leagues

 

It was time for big risks and big decisions. I needed a larger studio and team to be able to keep up with the bigger industry players. When the big leagues arrive, you say yes and find your bravery on the way.

I took on more and more projects that required massive creativity and responsibility. I guess you could say I was the new kid on the block creating waves, mainly because I was taking on large projects and also paying my crew larger sums of money. Prior to me only 2 other companies in SA were even in the game.

 

Breaking the stereotypes of international talent on local pay

 

I felt, whilst working as a freelancer, that SA artists were getting paid far less than international artists doing the same thing. And I wasn’t about to start a company on those values. Our artists are equally as talented and I wanted to pay them what they would be worth internationally to retain those skill sets in our market

 

 

@juanette_s hard at work punching eyebrows in one of our silicone masks. #eyebrows #hair #prosthetics #specialeffectsmakeup #movieeffects #silicone

 

A post shared by Chad Waller (Organic Canvas) (@wallerchad) on

 

And suddenly there we were – the competition – delivering same or better quality work without having the experience these giants had, something I am so proud of. As the studio grew, so we added new departments, now being able to cater for props, fabrication, automation, life casting and prosthetics. For every negative experience I had, because like I said, it’s not a squeaky clean industry, I was more and more determined to improve the processes.

How to not get eaten up and spat out

 

You need a thick skin – because you will get knocked down and as the common film industry talk will let you know, “You’re only as good as your last job.” So, that’s our motto. We make sure every job we do is an amazing last job. My toughest learning throughout it all would definitely be that nobody will ever work as hard as you will in your own company. I have in the past tried to take on partners and team up, but really no one is ever going to be as committed and dedicated to a company you’ve birthed – and it’s a lesson that only comes with severe blows and losses before it actually sinks in.

But at the end of the day, I get to wake up, daily, to create something new and so every day is different to the day before. And when I get paid to do my hobby, it doesn’t ever feel like I’m going to work.

And when competitors say they can’t do it for that price or in that time – we often enjoy taking on the challenge just to prove to ourselves more than anyone else that it is possible.

 

I get a real kick out of shaping the perspective of international producers that SA artists are equally as talented and that there is no need to be scared of coming to our country with HUGE ideas – because we can pull it off.

 

 

We already have the most spectacular scenic backdrop so come and trust us with your big ideas and international standards.

Creation is in its very essence the making of something out of nothing. And the opportunity to do that is what makes all that fibreglass so damn worth it.

If you love the stuff film and fiction is made of, follow me on Instagram to experience a bit of studio life.

And if you move in film industry circles, know anyone who does or just enjoy learning about how stuff was made and want to know what life on set is like, become an Organic Canvas Insider and sign up to my weekly newsletters where I share tips, insights and valuable learnings that you won’t find anywhere else.