Chisel Turns 5: How The Agency Sculpted Production Magic

Chisel Turns 5: How The Agency Sculpted Production Magic

Back in 2018, Zak Kaczmarek and his business partner Patrick Sidoti came up with an idea to start their own production agency. The pair’s plans were loose, to say the least, neither one having worked agency-side before.

But, five and a half years later, Chisel has grown into an established agency pulling in some major clients including ASICS Global, Gatorade and Football Australia to name but a few. Now standing at 15 full-time staff and a range of contractors including editors, producers, designers, motion gfx, creatives, a strategist and in-house film directors. Not bad for two blokes with no agency experience.

“When Pat and I came up with the idea of wanting to start our own shop, it wasn’t like a traditional agency. We didn’t come from agency or another production company,” explained Kaczmarek over lunch at the Paramount Coffee Project in Surry Hills, a stone’s throw from the agency’s office.

Right: Zak Kaczmarek and Isabelle Seeto.

“We were both freelancers. I was working as a stills photographer shooting in the rain, covering live sports like the Australian Open and travelling around the world shooting fashion and the odd ad. When I met Pat, he was doing similar kinds of work but he was editing and freelancing for M&C Saatchi, mates, DPs all that stuff. It was a huge leap of faith.”

That leap of faith, however, has clearly paid off. Chisel, named as such because Kaczmarek’s father was a founding member of Cold Chisel, now has more than 30 brand and agency client partners. It was also shortlisted for the 2021 B&T Emerging Agency of the Year Award, as well as the Production Company of the Year and Best Video Campaign at the 2023 B&T Awards.

But what’s the secret behind that success? Much of it, as with any agency, is hiring the right talent. We’re joined for lunch by director Emily Mays, who has spent a little over three and a half years at Chisel and was herself a B&T 30 Under 30 People’s Choice and Women in Media Power List shortlistee.

“I’d just come out of university and Izzy [Isabelle Seeto, Chisel’s first employee, currently general manager and partner] put an ad up for someone to assist her with producing. I was into cinematography and directing, I didn’t have any experience with producing, but I thought I’d shoot my shot,” she explained.

After an hour-long chat with Seeto and a quick meeting with Kaczmarek, she was offered the job. But, as Kaczmarek explained, when they realised how impressive Mays’ directing was, they moved her back into the creative side. While agencies need to have one eye on the business side of things, Mays’ story is indicative of its main priority,

“We’re craftspeople at heart. Like the way a sculpture comes together, it starts off really rough and that’s kind of my personality, I’m a bit rough around the edges and I think if Pat was here he’d say something similar about himself,” said Kaczmarek.

“We’re pretty raw people, driven by impulse and emotion. At the end of the day, we wanted our work to be the best in class and polished.”

The work it produces is fairly spectacular and while the agency has a sporting background and launched with Western Sydney Wanderers as a foundation client, it has started to expand its horizons. The scope of its work has grown massively, too. In fact, when we caught up with the pair, most of the Chisel team was offsite shooting a new global campaign for ASICS. However, it hasn’t lost sight of its core differentiators as a production agency.

Top left: Emily Mays.

“What we’ve found working with brands and agency partners is that they like working with hands-on people. The fact that they can talk to Emily, myself or Pat about anything from how an edit is coming together and the storyboard on the piece we’re working on, or the commercial agreement we have, gives us an advantage being a nimble, small, specialist team,” said Kaczmarek.

“It means they can go direct and soundboard and bounce-off between the creative, copywriter and filmmaker to create something.”

Mays added that “agencies are quite structured” but that “when it comes to production, you need to just execute.

“Sometimes that means jumping here, there and everywhere to understand how you’re going to create something. You do that heavy lifting for them so you can go back and explain things in a really simple way,” she explained.

Beyond producing great work, Kaczmarek explained that Chisel measures its own success on staff retention, as well as core business performance and client perception.

“We’ve had one or two people move on, but that’s all natural, to become freelancers, a few people move overseas. But it’s been pretty steady. Our first-ever employee, [Seeto], Chisel was her second job in the industry and how she’s GM and a partner with equity in the business,” he said.

“We’ve got great client retention, too. One of our clients, MATE Internet and Mobile, are really beautiful people and they invite us to their family Christmas parties. You don’t do that for anyone.”

So what does the next five years hold for Chisel? While it’s largely more of the same — keeping its focus on the best and emerging talent in sports, entertainment and marketing, as well as continuing to be a top-drawer creative production agency — there are some things it will be changing.

“We don’t have grandiose plans to become a 100-staff agency. We love being specialists in a collaborative, tight-knit family sculpting ideas together,” said Kaczmarek.

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