Keep Moving: A Conversation with Mikey Rossiter from The Mill - Musicbed Blog
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Keep Moving: A Conversation with Mikey Rossiter from The Mill

Mikey Rossiter, veteran colorist at The Mill, would tell you he chose his career by accident. He never set out to become a colorist. And when he interviewed for an internship at The Mill (at the young age of 18), he wasn’t entirely sure what The Mill did. Still, despite the fact that he seems to have stumbled into his dream job, we don’t think there was anything accidental about it. Mikey has that one essential quality shared by all successful people: He keeps his feet moving. Whether he’s knocking on doors or hanging out in different departments at The Mill, his career keeps moving forward because he is active.

After eight years at The Mill, Mikey has some great insight into what a successful creative culture looks like and how to find your dream job — even if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for. Here’s our talk with Mikey from The Mill.

“I was lucky because I happened to stumble into this thing that I didn’t even know existed, and I enjoy it more than anything else I’ve ever done. ”

Computer Voice: Hello, and welcome to the meeting. Please enter your passcode followed by the pound key.

Computer Voice: Thank you. Please hold while your passcode is confirmed.

Computer Voice: Thank you. Your passcode is confirmed. Please wait for the tone and then say your name.

Computer: Thank you. You will be the second person to join the meeting.

Mikey Rossiter: Hello.

Hey, man. Wow. The Mill’s conference call system makes me feel like we’re about to have some super high-level national security discussion. Pentagon level.

We try to make it as uncomfortable as possible.

I was waiting for the retinal scan.

We still like fingerprinting.

Keeping it old school.

Exactly.

Cool. Well I think my first question is why you’ve decided to go by “Mikey” instead of the more traditional “Mike” or “Michael.”

{Laughing} You know what? It’s a weird story. No one ever called me Mikey when I was growing up. I was always Mike or Michael. It was actually my first boss at The Mill, Kirk, who started calling me Mikey. I don’t know if he’d watched a film where Mikey was a pivotal character, but that’s what he called me and it stuck. It trickled down until everyone called me Mikey. And then it kind of infected my own psyche and I just became Mikey. It’s weird because now my mom even calls me Mikey. It’s quite nice though. I think it makes me seem less threatening.

So The Mill literally gave you your identity.

They’ve sculpted me in every way possible.

So how did you get into filmmaking and how did you end up at The Mill?

I was quite into photography from a young age. My brother got me my first camera. He’s the person who instilled in me that I should do something I love. He said, “Find what you love doing because that is the only way to do something well, and that is the only way to be happy.” It’s funny though because he ended up doing something that was financially secure but he never truly loved it.

I enjoyed photography but I was much more into music. I studied audio engineering and played in bands. I had this gap year before I went to University, and my dad was like, “You’re not going to play Final Fantasy for the next 12 months. Go find a studio. Go do something. Go learn something. You don’t need to travel, but go make something of yourself.” So I went and knocked on doors.

There’s this sort of magical square mile in London called Soho that’s like the heart of post-production. There’s everything there: music studios, post-production houses, small agencies. It’s this crazy, incestuous place just full of creativity. So I went around there, this 18-year-old kid, knocking on doors and asking for a chance with a CV that consisted of absolutely nothing and this cheeky grin. I’d say, “Hey, does anyone want me to make tea?”

You were actually knocking on doors?

Totally, yeah. After a few weeks, after I continued to harass a few places, this one lovely receptionist was like, “Hey, I don’t have a job for you, but I’ve got friends at a company that you can go talk to.” That company ended up being The Mill. I interviewed for a runner position, which is where you make tea and coffee, handle food, run packages. It was quite a fun role.

What were your first impressions of The Mill?

They’ve moved now, but back then it was this very, very big office. And the first thing you saw was the Oscar they won for Gladiator. I was kind of intimidated. But then I was greeted by the receptionist, the warmest welcome. Someone offered me a cup of tea. It was super welcoming. And I was nobody. I was some 18-year-old kid street begging for an internship. But I immediately sensed that this was a company of people who were there because they enjoyed working there. It was that culture where everyone was pushing everyone else to be better. It wasn’t a factory. You could sense people’s passion.

“There is no right or wrong with grading. It’s all opinion based. It’s all subjective, which is partly why it’s so fun and creative. ”

So you got the internship?

I got the internship and I met some good people instantly. I ended up coming across this one department that handled footage encoding, tape dubs, web delivery, and so on. They were a little bit ahead of the curve when it came to digital delivery, and I thought it was interesting. There were a lot of aspects that crossed over with what I’d been studying with audio. Things like sample rate, etcetera. So I ended up hanging out down there quite a bit, and I got on with some of the guys.

Just before I went to University, they offered me a full-time job. I was like, “Okay, I’ll do this for a while, put off University for another year.” But during that year, the first RED digital camera came to the shores of the U.K., and nobody had really tested it or worked with it before. It was still pretty experimental. So me and some of the other guys started working out how to use this thing. Like, what the hell is an R3D file? It didn’t make any sense. It became this mammoth task. But it’s a testament to the resolve and brilliance of some of the guys at The Mill, because we were the first to really do that type of work on this new, untested camera.

After we pulled that off, some of the higher-ups at the company were like, “Okay, we can see where things are going. You should probably start a new department — a data lab similar to a film lab, but for digital.” So that’s what we did. Me and another guy set up this department from the ground up, and that’s what led to everything else. It was kind of this crazy whirlwind accident. But that’s when I really started falling in love with image manipulation and grading.

The head of color in [the London office] saw what I was doing and helped train me. He was like, “You know what? You’ve got the eye for this. You should probably get into color.” So from there on I started assisting the Telecine Department a lot more, learned more about film and pictures in general, and it kind of escalated from there.

I was lucky because I happened to stumble into this thing that I didn’t even know existed, and I enjoy it more than anything else I’ve ever done. I get to play with pictures all day and be surrounded by crazy talented individuals. It’s different every day. There’s always a challenge, a puzzle.

You say you ended up where you are by accident. But the way I hear it, you were knocking on doors, exploring new departments, always looking for possibilities.

I guess you’re right. I did put myself out there. I just wanted to do something. And throughout my career at The Mill, when I’ve found something I want, I always push for it. To be fair to the company, anything I’ve pushed for, they’ve helped me achieve. No one has ever held me back. Even on that first interview when I was like, “Hey, I’m only going to be here for a few months,” they were like, “Yeah, cool, come and give it a go.”

I put myself out there and then I work my fingers to the bone. Which is how everyone is when they find something they love doing. I think that’s the driving factor. When you feel lost, when you don’t have any sense of direction or a goal, that’s when you become complacent and really struggle.

What does it take to work at The Mill?

That’s a tough question. There is no cookie-cutter formula. No two people here are the same. That’s what’s impressive about it. You can be your own person. You can be whoever you are. If there’s one attribute I can point to, it would be the ability to be very open to criticism.

Are they pretty hard on the work?

I wouldn’t say they’re hard, but everyone expects the best. That’s really what they’re looking for: the ability to push yourself and the ability to know what the best is — even if you’re not sure how to achieve it yet. It’s a culture of wanting to produce the best possible work. No one here wants to safeguard their knowledge. There are no secrets. It’s very much a culture of, “Whatever I know, you should know too because it makes us all better.”

One of the blessings of learning coloring at The Mill is that I had five phenomenal senior colorists I could go to and ask them anything. I would bring them work, and they would sit down and critique and make me self-assess and show me where I could have done something better. There is no right or wrong with grading. It’s all opinion based. It’s all subjective, which is partly why it’s so fun and creative. But still, there are ways of doing things that might be technically more correct or clean. They were always very good at getting the best out of me and then showing me where I could have done things even better. It built a lot of confidence in me.

“I really appreciate having a team of people that I’m still learning from, and having people I can pass my knowledge on to. Weirdly, that’s where I feel I’ve grown the most — training our assistants.”

I guess that’s one huge incentive to starting your career within a company, rather than on your own.

Totally. I can’t imagine how hard that must be. There are some amazing freelance colorists out there who are self-taught. But I really appreciate having a team of people that I’m still learning from, and having people I can pass my knowledge on to. Weirdly, that’s where I feel I’ve learned the most — training our assistants. Because they’ll hit me with questions I never even thought about. “Why did you do it like that? How come you put this there?” They make me question myself, and I learn so much from that.

You mentioned earlier about your brother instilling the value of finding a job you love. Do you think you’ve found it?

I really do. Like I said, whenever anyone asks me what I do for a living, I say, “I get to play with pictures all day and hang out with awesome, creative people.” I basically get to hang out with some of the most talented people in the industry. It’s crazy. I’ve definitely found what I love; I just found it in a really weird way. I guess that’s why I feel so lucky.

I wish I could tell you I went to art school — went from A to B like that. But that’s not how it went. It was really more of a strange, our eyes met across the room type thing.

It’s like there are some people who can go directly at the thing they want, and then there are some people who sort of bounce around and sift their way down into that perfect spot. But the important thing seems to be just staying in motion. Even if it’s in the wrong direction.

Completely. You learn from your mistakes. Doing nothing won’t get you anywhere. But doing the wrong thing will, because you’ll realize it pretty quickly. I need to thank my dad and my brother for those two lessons: (a) to find something you love, and (b) to just do something. I love Final Fantasy as much as the next guy. But if I’d spent those nine months playing video games, I wouldn’t be at The Mill.

What’s your favorite Final Fantasy?

Ah, see? That’s the trickiest question of them all.

If you’re not sure where you belong or where you hope to end up, try Mikey’s approach: just start knocking on some doors. Hang out with new people. Shadow someone on the job. Keep moving. You’ll find where you belong either by inspiration or by process of elimination. But either way, you’ll get there.

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