As Magic Light Pictures turns 20, Marketing Director Marc Ollington reveals what’s next…

Marketing Director Marc Ollington discusses putting the magic in Magic Light Pictures.

Marc Ollington – Marc with a C – thanks for making time.
Thank you for having me!

Not at all! So you’re the Marketing Director at Magic Light Pictures. The founders are Martin Pope and Michael Rose – which I like; Pope and Rose sounds like it should be the name of a thatch-roofed pub! How did the company come about?
Michael and Martin set up the company in 2003 with a core team of just a few people. There are now well over 30 of us! Anyway, at that time Michael had just left Aardman Animations. He’d been heading up the feature-film division and had produced Chicken Run…

That’s a heck of a pedigree! And Martin?
Martin was also a film producer. He’d spent nine years at BBC Films, collaborating with acclaimed directors such as John Madden and John Schlesinger. He’d contributed to films including Meat and the BAFTA award-winning adaptation of Alan Bennett’s A Question of Attribution. After BBC Films, Martin established his own independent company…

The two of them then met through a mutual friend. As I understand it, they very quickly realised that their different skillsets could complement each other’s and come together to create something special. United by their love of storytelling, they set up Magic Light Pictures – and the rest is history!

You think I might know this from speaking with Aidan Taylor-Gooby before! People can read that piece here… For those not in the know, though, what does Magic Light Pictures do?
Magic Light Pictures is primarily renowned for its beautifully-crafted animated specials based on the picture books written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. They include the evergreen classic The Gruffalo. There’s also Zog and Stick Man, as well as Halloween favourite Room on the Broom.

Marc Ollington, Magic Light Pictures, Film & TV, Experiences

Right. How many of these adaptations have there been?
We’re currently working on our 11th – that’s Tabby McTat for the BBC. It’ll be out at Christmas this year. We’re enormously proud of all these titles which have delighted millions of families around the globe. They’ve also won countless awards, including three international Emmys, two BAFTAs and two Oscar nominations.

And that’s your best-known work, but it’s not all about the specials, is it?
Not at all! In fact, we’re currently enjoying enormous success with our first pre-school series, Pip and Posy. That’s hugely popular with young viewers on Channel 5’s Milkshake! and Sky Kids. We’ll soon be rolling product lines out to the market. We also have an in-house distribution team which sells and distributes our productions internationally. We currently work with over 300 partners. We have a dedicated merchandising and licensing team to manage multiple IPs, including The Gruffalo. And we have a number of other projects in the pipeline, one of which will be announced very soon – so keep your eyes peeled!

“Regardless of the changes, Michael and Martin remain true to their original vision…”

I’m peeling them now! So let me get this right… Magic Light Pictures is celebrating 20 years in business… How long have you been there? And what’s changed over that time?
I’ve only been with the company for a couple of years but from talking to Michael and Martin, I know there’ve been huge changes in terms of technology… There have also been challenges presented more recently by developments like Covid and Brexit which have changed our funding models and the way we do things.

The last couple of years have seen a boom in the animation industry and that’s been very exciting – but I think the most important thing for Michael and Martin is that, regardless of the changes, they remain true to their original vision which is to produce high-quality entertainment content and tell great stories.

Good answer. And to your point, how has Magic Light Pictures itself changed?
From worrying about how to pay the rent in those early days, Michael and Martin have grown the company into an international animation and brand-building powerhouse! However, they’ve always been careful to grow the company steadily – and in a way that doesn’t compromise their underlying values. As well as producing high-quality content, they strive to work with the best people, and grow and nurture talent.

Marc Ollington, Magic Light Pictures, Film & TV, Experiences

And tell me, Marc… When you’re working on licenses as beloved as Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s work, what are the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge is to preserve their inherent charm and humour… And that’s why we’re meticulous about the quality of every single product and experience we produce. It’s also a challenge to grow the audience’s engagement with the brand beyond the books and our specials… That’s why we’ve been so successful with the experiential side of the business.

Marc Ollington, Magic Light Pictures, Film & TV, Experiences

Can you give us some examples of those?
Our Gruffalo trails come to mind, as well as our link up with Merlin Entertainment… That partnership resulted in spectacular immersive experiences at Chessington World of Adventures, Warwick Castle and – most recently – The Gruffalo and Friends Clubhouse in Blackpool.

Ah, yes! The themed attractions are exceptionally well done. And in your opinion, what’s the magic ingredient that Magic Light Pictures brings to the table on these projects?
We always look for inventive stories and evergreen characters. I also like to think we sprinkle a little bit of Magic Light Pictures sparkle onto everything we do. We want to ensure every film, product and experience we’re involved with has the Magic Light vein of quality running through it. Quality is a word that’s overused maybe, but I like to think that anyone who sees anything produced by Magic Light Pictures can tell the love and time that has gone into every aspect of it.

“I think creativity comes from a restless curiousity, and a desire to do better…”

And since I sense this attitude comes from the ground up, Marc, what is it that Michael and Martin do to stay creative?
They have creativity running through every bone of their bodies! I think it comes from a restless curiosity, and their constant desire to do better. From my perspective, it’s more about how I stop them being SO creative, and having less input into my great marketing work!

Marc Ollington, Magic Light Pictures, Film & TV, Experiences

Ha! Very good!
I’m only joking, of course!

You say that now! Let me ask you this: other than you, what stops them from being creative?
Running any business – particularly one that’s growing so much – takes a lot of time. You have to fit creativity around everything else: from HR to controlling the marketing budget.

Yes; fair enough! Great answer. So… What’s next for Magic Light?
We’re very excited about our 20th anniversary celebrations in December. They include a special BAFTA screening of The Gruffalo and Tabby McTat, as well as the BBC One showing of the latter. We’re also looking forward to an educational spin-off of Pip and Posy – Pip and Posy Lets Learn – on Milkshake! this Autumn and the product roll out and international roll out of Pip and Posy series two in 2024. Also, as I say, do keep those eyes peeled. There is more to come from Magic Light Pictures.

They’re peeled already! Let’s end, Marc, with this… What’s the one question I haven’t asked you that perhaps I should?
Why – despite the multiple awards – isn’t Magic Light Pictures as well-known as its competitors?

Ooooooh! I love it! What’s the answer?
The answer is that the focus has always been on the content, and making sure all the products were of the required quality. What they needed was a top international marketing director to come along to shout about the exceptional work that has happened over twenty years!

Well, let’s hope that happens soon!
Ha! Thanks Deej! I know who my friends are!

Marc Ollington, Magic Light Pictures, Film & TV, Experiences

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