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Business & Economy

Interview: Thinking outside the box

The film industry is alive and kicking in the North East. And young, ambitious companies like Motif are thriving in the sector and helping put the region on the map. From their small, but expanding, base in Gateshead, James Craggs and Tautvydas Baranauskas are producing clever and innovative features which are taking the film and football worlds by storm. With final preparations underway for the World Cup in Qatar, Colin Young finds out more about the pair who are putting the game’s biggest stars on the silver screen.


James Craggs places an emptied-out television on business partner Tautvydas Baranauskas’ head. The pair pose for the camera.

Next, the co-founders of Motif sit cross-legged in front of a beautifully restored fireplace in their first-floor office in Brighton Road Studios, hidden deep in the streets of Gateshead.

Sitting between them is an enormous pink Darth Vader head (donated by the artist downstairs).

It’s just another day at Motif.

“This is what we do,” says James, as he nonchalantly carries the television into the Motif offices.

“We ask people to do this sort of stuff all the time, so we can hardly say no to anything ourselves now.”

It is fitting we are flitting around the corridors of Brighton Road for Christopher Owens’ photo shoot, which starts outside in the cobbled back streets opposite. We borrow a football from the after-school game on the pitch over the road.

After just two years in business together, James and Tautvydas – or Tauts – are moving up in the film world already – and within the confines of this building too.

But they are firmly rooted in the North East, and just one of the many start-up companies in the industry now showcasing their talents across the globe. 

Two framed film posters dominate the wall behind the red, white and black fireplace; ‘HD Cutz’ and ‘Croatia: Defining a Nation’.

These two FIFA commissions have put Motif on the map, while also taking them on adventures in the football world, with iconic stars as their guides.

Their first pitch to FIFA, alongside Fever Media, was, James admits, ‘a ludicrous idea’, but the football Gods liked it.

Covering the rise of Croatia, and its football team, as they reached the World Cup Finals just seven years after the end of the Balkan War, ‘Croatia: Defining a Nation’ is bulging with heart-breaking and brutally honest testimony from legends of the era; Boban, Suker, Prosinecki, Boro’s very own Boksic.

Inspired by FIFA’s desire to engage with young fans, rather than the old men in blazers still perceived to run the game, they pitched an even more outrageous idea, following the exploits of the barber of several superstars.

In the ‘HD Cutz’ series for FIFA+, we follow Sheldon Edwards – AKA HD Cutz – as he travels across the globe to cut the biggest football stars’ hair; it is a fascinating and rare insight into today’s footballers at ease.

Chasing a man with football’s hottest clippers for the early morning flights to the capitals of Europe, or chilling in his chairs in Clapham, all makes for compelling viewing.

Like the Croatia film, it has a significant guest list, including Pogba, Wan Bissaka, Rudiger, Bellingham and Hudson-Odoi.

James says: “HD Cutz is not really a football show, it’s a factual entertainment show and it needed to have pzazz to it and a really different feel because it is such a different concept.

“It is very outside the normal realms of football.

“That’s what we wanted to do, and we want to ensure we do things in the North East as much as possible and use people up here, so our first choice for director of photography was a guy called Ross Marshall, from Teesside.

“Wherever we can, we try to keep the money up here because that’s really important to us; one of the mandates I wanted us to have was that we would always look at the North East first.

“All this work is to make us sustainable and, hopefully, genuinely become the company that provides a pathway for people up here to go on and work on high-end stuff.

“It sounds very worthy, but that’s what we want the company to be.” 

James, 37, is the football fan and worked previously at Sunderland AFC, Sky Tyne and Wear, Setanta and The Roundhouse creative agency.

Lithuanian Tauts, who joined Roundhouse in 2018, is not.

He says: “I just love what I’m doing. James has the knowledge and loves football, and he is passionate about those things.

“I like it when it comes to making stuff, and it doesn’t matter whether you love football or not.

“You are telling a story, and if you love what you are doing, you are just going to put everything into it.”

James adds: “I’m very, very fortunate to know Tauts because he’s immensely talented.

“I’ve worked in London, worked at Sunderland, worked at Sky and with proper top-end TV production individuals, and I’ve never met someone who has the abilities that he has intrinsically.

“The way he examines things, the way he sees things, the way he will always see an option.

“If there’s a problem, he will go around it, through it, over it. He always finds a way.

“I’ve never met anybody who can answer so many questions in so many different ways.

“He’s an incredibly gifted editor, incredibly gifted camera operator and we get on incredibly well.

“I’ve ensured that I’m absolutely tethered to him.

“I was very fortunate to meet him. We hit it off straight away, and I think we both saw an opportunity to work for ourselves and do our own thing.

“And we wanted to make scripted stuff, comedy sketches, higher-end productions, and we’re driven by ideas, we’re driven by entertainment and driven by producing something that people want to watch.”

When they arrived in the Brighton Road Studios after setting up the business in August 2020, they had one laptop between them and borrowed their first camera from a friend.

But they had contacts and they had ideas. Lots of them.

And with a collective passion to create, they now had the independence to do what THEY wanted.

The ground floor ‘office’ where it all began is now an ideal editing suite and provides storage space.

Tauts has added some colour and hand-painted film posters to the walls.

It must have looked like a dark cage on that first day.

“It was just a completely empty room,” James says.

“No carpet, white walls, absolutely nothing.

“But it was important we had an office and somewhere to call work.

“Home is home for me, and the office is the office.

“I didn’t like working from home during pandemic.

“Tauts had a laptop, we put in five grand between us, we didn’t want to borrow any money because you are just servicing debt before you make anything.

“It sounds stupid now, but I had faith in us, and it had reached the stage where my wife Amanda said, ‘you have to go for it’.

“I remember saying to my parents, who are terrible worriers, that the worst thing we can do is fail.”

“But we knew we wouldn’t,” adds Tauts.

“James thinks up the pitches and I usually come in when stuff is there, and he asks for some ideas.

“That’s when the fun begins for me.”

The confines of their new home were never going to suppress their creativity, and Tauts and James set about thinking outside the box while sitting in their own box in Gateshead.

It didn’t take long for them to break free.

The pair met – and hit it off instantly – when Tauts joined The Roundhouse.

They worked together with NewcastleGateshead Initiative on a ‘Creative Cities’ promotion, and were then commissioned to produce the bid film for Channel 4 hubs in the North East.

The spark was lit by a short comedy sketch on drinking culture in Newcastle – ‘We’re Gannin’ Oot Oot’ – which was nominated at the Royal Television Society Awards for North East and Borders Comedy and Entertainment.

After months of conversations on the concept of setting up their own business, they took the plunge in the first COVID-19 lockdown after Tauts had been furloughed.

“It is always a bad time to start a business – you never know what is going to happen – but I believed in what James was saying.

“It was a bit of a risk, but it just made total sense to both of us.”

Last year, ‘Things You Wish You Said In An Argument’, one of two commissions for Channel 4 along with ‘How To Make Your Boyfriend Better’, won the same Royal Television Society honour.

The first commissions for BBC Three were created in March 2021, alongside North East Comedy Hot House, and they made five original episodes of ‘Laugh Lessons’ with partner company Storymade, working with local comics and writers Joby Mageean, Raul Kohli, Amber Doig-Thorne, Will Wyn-Davies and Chess Tomlinson.

Encouraged and backed by Alison Gwynn at North East Screen, the work has streamed into the company.

Motif has also taken on new staff; the office where Darth Vader resides is the home for the new recruits; scripted development producer James Boughen, filmmaker Richard W. Scott, junior editor Nat Knowles and intern Greta Maksevičiūtė.

As well as their collective passion for their craft and creativity, James and Tauts share colourful backgrounds; a reflection of their desire to produce something different to their audiences.

James was born in Stroud and has lived in the North East most of his life, his parents Patricia and Peter worked as British Airways cabin staff, before running a shop in Corfu, and his Irish mother is from the ‘Fields of Athenry’; perhaps fittingly she was a club singer in Manchester, known as April St Marie.

Tauts’ story reads like a Louis de Bernieres novel.

Born in a small town in Lithuania, he lived and worked in the US, Canada, Denmark and Spain before returning to his home country, where he worked as a marketing manager in a dental clinic.

He soon escaped to work in a hotel in the Scottish Highlands, where he first started filming, before taking a life-changing role at The Metropolitan, in Glasgow.

“That’s where I got my first gig,” he recalls.

“The bar manager saw a few of my videos, and said, ‘I like what you’re doing, is there something you could do for us?’ and I made six cocktail videos for them.

“I didn’t know how to do a promo video, so I watched some cocktail videos online and I’d do a 12-hour shift, then film for an hour, go back home, start editing and so on.

“I just loved it.

“I thought, ‘this is it – I have to quit being a waiter and this is my springboard’.”

Unable to find permanent work in Glasgow, Tauts moved to Newcastle to live with his father Virginijus – although mum Virginja was less enamoured with his job at that stage – delivering pizzas and fish and chips around the city.

He did manage to get some video editing work before applying to join The Roundhouse, and James, in 2018.

James adds: “We have more things in the pipeline, and we want to bring, ideally, high-end broadcast, scripted production to the North East, and be a part of the people doing that.

“We are very independent and trying our best to be collaborative and work with people.

“Never did I expect our work to be on a global streaming platform within two years.

“We’ve been incredibly fortunate the way things have opened out, and no one’s got a clue what is going to happen next.

‘We have invested in people, kit and post-production facilities, so we are able to do whatever is thrown at us.”

“Who knows what will happen next,” says Tauts.

“We will just keep thinking outside the box.”