"As if this is our job!" The Preston film production company aiming for the stars
Teri Moran and Michael Jon Dawson joke that they started Route Nine Studios, a burgeoning video production company based in Preston, by accident. Teri - who studied Screenwriting at UCLan - and Michael - who spent three years at the Manchester School of Acting - went to the same college, but only properly met when Michael needed show-reel footage for his agent.
They soon realised that they shared an artistic vision which had the potential to blossom into a business.
"When I met Mike, it became apparent that we shared the same interests and so we started making our own short films for festival runs and it spiralled from there," said Teri, 27. "We've self-taught ourselves everything: writing, directing, cinematography, firming, editing, sound design, colour grading... and now, because we possess all the skills, we're not waiting on anyone.
"It's hard to crack into the industry but, after a while, we realised we didn't have to 'crack into' anything, we could just develop the skills ourselves and it's been really successful," added Teri, who is from Preston. "I've always been interested in writing and we've both always loved films and theatre; making visual ideas come to life is such a cool creative outlet and we can make each project to our vision."
"Teri and I met through mutual friends and forming a creative outlet together just happened," added Michael, who played basketball at Leeds Metropolitan University before injury forced him to return to Preston early and subsequently take up acting. "Before we knew it, three years had gone by! It's almost an accidental business.
"We had to learn the ropes - taxing, accountancy, all that kind of stuff - and it can be a bit of a struggle," explained Garstang-born Michael, who is also 27. "But thankfully, project after project has rolled in so we've been able to keep going. The way we've viewed it is that nobody can tell us we can't do anything if we know how to do everything ourselves."
A full-time venture for the pair for the past two years, Route Nine Studios specialises in short films for festivals, music videos, live events coverage, actors' show-reels, and narrative brand advertising. Cultivating both the more commercial videography side of the business whilst also working on short films for festival release, Route Nine has an emphasis on narrative storytelling which drives their content.
"Because we've got a narrative background and it's our passion, we lean into working with brands which have a story to tell," said Teri, who retained and worked as a teacher for a few years after uni. "One of our first projects was for a candle company, so we told the story of the candle from the candle's perspective throughout history from candelabra in the Victorian era to flickering candles in air-raid shelters, '70s blackouts, blowing candles out on a birthday, and laying candles at a grave.
"The message was 'from your friend, the candle'," she added. "That got such a great response; the story carried it."
Keen to use narrative to help clients stand out in an increasingly-saturated market which is already geared towards video content on websites and social media, Teri and Michael hope to be at the vanguard of a less superficial form of marketing.
"We noticed a trend of brands looking to tell stories a while ago," said Michael. "I think more businesses are seeing that they can do more to engage with their history in their advertising."
"We live in a 'skipable' generation and people don't want adverts: to make someone stop and watch, you've got to offer them something in return," added Teri. "We want to tap into that and offer people something more than just being sold to and I hope we can be pioneers in that kind of realm of advertising."
Having also released a number of short films - including 'Feedback', shortlisted and screened at the Colchester Film Festival in 2017; 'Still Time'; and 'LOLAH' - Route Nine have also recently finished a short film called 'Curtain Fall' in aid of The Honey Rose Foundation, the only UK charity to grant wishes to those over 40 who have cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. They also helped produce an original song with local musician Tom Metcalfe for the charity, too.
"Running a film business is 99% problem-solving," said Teri of the job. "It's been hard work, but it doesn't feel like hard work because it's stuff we've been doing for years without being paid anyway and we've always wanted to do it. We always say to each other 'as if this is our job!'"