On a mission to drive a smarter and fairer future for the media and entertainment industry, Kate McLaughlin founded and leads a start-up business which straddles film and technology. She tells IBC365 about the importance of having an appetite for change.

Kate McLaughlin CEO Co-Founder POP

We Got Pop CEO and Co-Founder, Kate McLaughlin

The combination of being “mission driven” and not afraid of taking risks is key to Kate McLaughlin’s success. The founder of We Got Pop claims after recognising the disparity among productions in the UK in choosing between compliant processes and diverse, happy teams, launching the company was the “obvious thing to do”.

Headquartered in London and now New York, We Got Pop prides itself on being passionate and committed to film and technology, led by strategy and solutions for the creative industry underpinned by diversity and inclusion.

McLaughlin says: “Pop has revolutionised the way people in production are found, hired, managed and paid with their digital portals, providing a streamlined and secure system for production companies, their productions, crew, casting directors and background artists.”

She established the company in 2014 with the aim of adopting technology to digitise, connect and open the industry to everyone working in it. It is an effort to solve an industry wide problem to perform and operate better.

Its production portal has been widely utilised within the UK, with industry leading clients including Sky Studios, Mammoth Screen, Sid Gentle Films, Studio Lambert and Two Rivers Media.

It followed a career in the industry. McLaughlin began by working in the Irish film sector 15 years ago, working her way up from assistant director. She says she took on every challenge that came her way, realising that her strength was in both creativity and solving the logistical problems on set.

“Connecting people and opening access to opportunities and information was critical”

Moving into work at a casting company whose clients were big profile films, she identified the “pinch point” in the industry - the inefficient processes involved in productions and other challenges such as disconnected departments and executives who were far removed from “the trenches” and those freelancers who worked tirelessly to deliver shows under pressure.

Pointing to her experience within the Irish entertainment business she says as a freelancer the chance to seek out opportunities, different genres or geographies for work was challenging - often nearly impossible, in fact – because, she says, it really is who you know and who you are connected to.

McLaughlin explains that whilst she was never disadvantaged within her career and was fortunate to have doors opened to her, she says: “I definitely experienced frustration early on in the Irish film industry as I was keen to work in UK and on bigger films being made but that took time and luck to make that transition. I had peers who worked in film and wanted to work in TV but it was challenging the make that transition.”

Mission driven
The “transformative movement within the industry” McLaughlin says was when workflows were optimised with technology and digitisation began: “Connecting people and opening access to opportunities and information was critical.”

The Pop platform was designed to connected productions with talented crews and to ultimately open up the labour market in a positive and efficient way.

“I see our future as a massive opportunity within the industry to offer insight and reality into how productions can operate effectively”

She started with the casting portal which “took off” in 2016 with some market movements and a high degree of adoption in 2017.

“The real change began when the next generation of casting talent was to run successful operations using Pop and on a broader scale across the industry.

She admits: “Some people love technology for the sake of technology - but not me. It is about how it serves our goals.

“I see our future as a massive opportunity within the industry to offer insight and reality into how productions can operate effectively. We don’t have any good data around that at the moment but we are working towards that.”

With studios and productions houses beginning to operate with technology underpinning large amounts of data of its operations allows for active insight into the opportunities to optimise and eventually make smarter changes to the business.

She adds: “We are excited to support our clients across productions and enable the industry to optimise as a collective.”

we are pop team photo-2019-cropped (1)

We Got Pop team

Coping with coronavirus
McLaughlin first spoke to IBC365 prior to the lockdown regulations that have been enforced across the world due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, she says the times are “really concerning” and issued a call to action for the industry to take responsibility for the freelance community it is so reliant on.

With organisations like Pact and Bectu rallying behind freelancers now more than ever it is critical to support the freelancers behind the film and TV the public knows and loves.

She says: “The problem we are coming into now is that many people have a number of months of work lined up as its the busiest time for productions.

“Freelancers are expecting to work and there are a number of conversations going on but what can we do to support the lower income and lower junior roles in the industry who will struggle.”

The crisis came as the company was planning its future following its sale to US giant Entertainment Partners last month in a multi-million-dollar deal.

Entertainment Partners owns the largest casting company in the US, the Central Casting company, which has been involved in casting for the likes of Criminal Minds and The Good Place.

The acquisition will aim to provide best-in-class technology and services for the casting and production management needs of its clients around the world. The two are committed to optimising process efficiencies across productions, providing real-time access to information and data insights globally.

On the partnership, McLaughlin explains it is a full transaction which will synchronise the business. It will remain its own brand and offer independent value as part of Entertainment Partners.

Her priority for the next 12 months is “seamless integration” she says, adding: “One of our core objectives is to have Central Casting open and running on the Pop platform. We will be touching 50% of production on extras across the US by the end of this year.

“As well as driving the adoption in the UK to solve the problems of our clients and drive standardisation.”

Having previously pitched to Entertainment Partners and worked with them for several years on the Pop casting portal with technology demonstrations, Laughlin says the deal made sense.

“On that journey, we got to know the leadership at Entertainment Partners and realised how much alignment there was for a smarter fairer industry and our commitment and belief and play a key part in the transformation of change in the industry.”

She explains there is no shift in Pop’s short term strategic plan and it will continue to deliver what the business set out to do, while the medium term plans offer “huge opportunities to bring increased value to clients and the industry by leveraging other products and services in the ecosystem.”

Optimising technology to enact social change
The changes across the industry in recent years to drive gender diversity, fairness in pay and representation on and off screen has been significant.

“Technology plays a key role in surfacing data and real access”

McLaughlin adds: “There has to be willingness and motivation to drive objectives and agree as an industry there is a problem of lack of inclusiveness.

“We are starting to explore the root causes of that,” she continues. “Some part of that is a lack of transparency in hiring but there are other causes too,” she points to the long hours which are expected, the challenges to parents and the competitive entry for juniors.

She adds: “Technology plays a key role in surfacing data and real access. More transparency and giving access to information are key ways technology can support goals of more inclusivity.”

An inclusive workforce is critical with a variety of people contributing different skillsets and outlooks to make for a more dynamic operation. Looking at various statistics and research figures, McLaughlin says from her experience she values those that offer different ways to solve a problem.

“Technology will serve objectives, but we need to have aligned goals for the industry to drive a positive future.”

She adds, in the media and entertainment industry the association between cutting edge technology and change is mostly associated in front of the camera however it is also proven the change the workflows behind the scenes from casting to creating a varied skillset.

“As a business, we are very committed and passionate about this industry to align and support those within it and being part of the journey towards a smarter and fairer industry, particularly at this time during the crisis, we continued to be interested in ways we can support the industry and art.”