CEOs, Founders, Interviews

Balancing the Grind With Chris Grainger, Co-Founder & CEO of Grainger VR / Grainger Films

July 18, 2019

Chris Grainger is the Co-Founder & CEO of Grainger VR and Grainger Films, a multi-award winning, independent production company.

Over the past 20 years Chris has made over 150 programs for some of the of the largest global broadcasters including National Geographic, BBC, Discovery, Travel Channel and multiple prime time shows across Australia’s Channel 7, Channel 9, Channel 10 and the ABC networks.

Balance the Grind spoke to Chris about getting his start in film, running Grainger Films & Grainger VR with his brother, juggling work, family and travel, and plenty more.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

I’ve always been lucky enough to be surrounded by film. From a young age my father was in news and documentaries, so it was almost inevitable I would follow suit.

When I got out of school I started doing work experience at Channel 7 News every Friday while I was studying journalism at college. I was only suppose to be at Channel 7 for two weeks, but at the end of my time I kept asking if I could come the following week. I kept showing up and they ended up having me for the entire year.

At 19 I started working as a freelance cadet journalist at Prime Newcastle for their local news. They had me producing and presenting the puff pieces, along with a few notable stories. Over the years I worked throughout the Prime Network, in Wollongong and Canberra, which was a really great place to cut my teeth in storytelling.

During this time I also got in to documentary producing and was lucky enough to get the opportunity with my Dad’s company to produce a special called ‘Taming the Tigers’ which aired on National Geographic channel in prime time.

This was the start of a great run of adventures, around the globe, producing a range of documentaries and travel shows for the BBC, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel and many of the Australian networks.

Over the years we kept producing many series and specials, but were very mindful the landscape was changing and short form content was becoming a big opportunity for content creators. In 2015 My brother (Jefferson) and I started our own production company ‘Grainger Films’ which specialised in branded content, storytelling, commercials and corporate work.

In the last three years we also moved in to virtual and augmented reality where we are producing a range of 360 experiences and app development.

2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?

These days, my brother and I are the owners of Grainger Films & Grainger VR. My main role is creating concepts with our team and producing an array of enticing content for our clients.

We’re lucky enough to work with some of the world’s biggest brands, like Qantas, Tourism Australia and Audi so every day is full of creativity and beautiful visuals.

In a business like ours you have to be skilled in a lot of areas, so we can be brain storming new concepts one moment, flying drones around Uluru the next or capturing history in a WW1 virtual reality experience.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

There is no ‘typical day’ in our office as we have between 40-70 active jobs at any one point. We’re always in different stages of production but ensure we have project managers for each.

In the last week we’ve been filming a kids show, storyboarding a car series, animating a short film, interviewing new staff, and designing company water bottles, among other things.

I do however ensure we have our production meeting and follow up leads at the start of every day so everyone in the team knows what they’re doing and we push new projects along. And I always clear my emails before the end of each work day.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

Managing workloads is all about priorities. We have new projects come out of the blue almost daily so the goal posts are constantly shifting and we need to delegate productions accordingly.

We always try to find excellent trustworthy people, who are invested in what we are trying to achieve as a company. When we have stressful deadlines they are the ones who make it all manageable.

We do have systems in place for every process of production but it’s the communication during the busy times which makes the difference. Sometimes a two minute conversation, to debrief after a hectic week, will save hours of guess work.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

If you don’t have balance you can’t have perspective on what’s actually important. Burying your head in to work is a great thing, and we all have to put in long hours when we want great results, but I’ve burnt out before and I don’t want to do that again.

These days I have a young family, who are the most important part of my life and I want to be there for them as much as I can. When I have to travel for work, which can be months throughout a year, I always make sure to take time out with my family and try to fit some exercise in there as well.

With work, make the small decisions fast so you don’t linger on them. This gives you more time for the bigger projects and other decisions.

Also, don’t micro-manage your team. People want a chance to prove themselves and if you let them they will shine. This will free you up to drive other areas of your business and have more personal time.

6) What does work life balance mean to you?

Coming up with creative ideas and seeing them through, spending as much time with positive people, listening to great music and find something to look forward to every day, whether it be a 20 minute run, a nice meal, or getting home early to go for a skate with your kids.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

We’ve always had creative goals and exciting projects as a team. We ensure our team do plenty of charity work and have love projects that we create as a team. This gives us something to really own together and make a difference where we can.

We’ve always targeted the clients we want to work with, make the videos we would want to watch and try to fit in the 3pm Mario Kart sessions when we’re all together.

8) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I always like biographies by people who inspire me. Anyone in our line of work loves David Attenborough and Life on Air was a wonderful read about just how far things have come in our industry, and what an extraordinary life he has had.

9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Being transparent in every part of your life. Life is far to short to mess people around and transparency builds trust which is so important in every aspect of business and in your personal life.

10) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Avoid toxic people at all cost. You can smell a bad client or project a mile a way. It’s ok to say no to a job. Always trust your gut in these times. We’ve learnt this the hard way but have come out the other side better business owners.

Also, give time to as many people as you can who are starting out. One tip or referral can mean the world for someone who wants to make it in such an exciting industry.

This job has allowed me to meet my idols, travel to untouched parts of the globe and surround myself in exciting projects. So if we can inspire more people join us in this creative journey then we’re all the better for it.

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