Where Tim Pierce and Toby Crawford are tells you a lot about who they are. It’s not just that they live in Wanaka, New Zealand — population: >7,000 — it’s that they stayed in Wanaka, New Zealand, when most other production companies would have packed their bags for New York or London by now. But to leave their hometown (both Tim and Toby grew up and went to school in Wanaka) would be to commit the gravest Two Bearded Men sin imaginable: not being themselves.
The copy on their homepage says it all: “We live the most fulfilling life we can. We choose to evoke emotions, and we strive to create stories that inspire and enrich people’s lives.” So whether it’s working with major brands, exploring the mountains just outside of town, or supplying arms for the biggest snowball fight in history, Two Bearded Men are vigilantly creating for themselves a life that they love.
We recently talked with Tim and Toby about their lives, their work, and the art (and myths) of work/life balance.
What’s your setting at the moment?
Tim Pierce: We’re sitting in our new office in downtown Wanaka. We used to work from home before so now we feel legitimate. Our dream was always to renovate a barn close to town, which would really fit the whole Two Bearded Men brand, but that proved to be harder than we thought. After about a year we still hadn’t found what we were wanting and then this space popped up. We both walked in and it felt right.
Toby Crawford: It’s not quite a barn, but we’ve bought a lot of timber furniture. Plus this big painting of a stag on the wall seems manly.
Tim: Just general manly shit. We need more plants.
So how did this whole thing get started? Have you both always been creative?
Tim: Toby and I both grew up here in Wanaka, which is one of the most beautiful parts of the world and lends itself to the whole outdoor lifestyle. I was probably 15 or 16 when I started taking cameras out and photographing mountain biking and snowboarding. It was at the time when digital cameras were just starting to get good. I learned on a Nikon D70 or something like that. I just chased stills. Then when I was 18, I decided I wanted to make it as an action sports photographer so I left school, traveled for a while, did a little magazine work, all of which eventually progressed to shooting video. I was making a couple grand for three months of shooting, which was enough to get me by as an 18-year-old kid but not enough to progress much further. Then the web came along and I started working on web shows. The Internet really gave me a chance to tell stories properly. To make episodic content and really get the work out there, which helped me progress quickly. I got really lucky with timing and just grew from there.
The way Two Bearded Men happened is that Toby came back from Wanaka after being away and he ended up living with me. We just clicked, and I was at the stage where I had these big commercial jobs coming in but no company to run them. So we decided we would give it a whirl. We both had the same vision for the company, we wanted a similar lifestyle, and we both had a passion for storytelling — so we kicked off over a year ago, and it’s been a crazy first year.
The Internet really gave me a chance to tell stories properly.
Toby: My story is quite different. I came into production in a real roundabout way. I left school around the time Tim did, but I went to Australia. I did some farming, then came back and became a dive instructor, then moved to a tropical island for a couple years, then came back and bought a house on the coast and renovated it. Then I went back to university. I did a whole lot of things just trying to find my passion in life. After all that, I ended up back in Wanaka working on a software startup. That’s when I moved in with Tim and things just clicked. Tim asked me to help on a couple jobs, just running around with camera gear and being an assistant. Eventually a biggish New Zealand company asked Tim to produce a TV commercial. We thought it would be pretty straightforward, but a couple weeks into the job I was like, Shit, this is pretty big scale actually. There are helicopters. So we just made that one up as we went along and somehow it turned out really well and the agency was stoked. I think after that we both realized that our dynamic and model were working. I left my software startup, and Two Bearded Men was born.
What came first, the name or the beards?
Toby: The beards came first. I was inspired by our beards. Tim threw the name out there and we both laughed and didn’t take it seriously, but then we kept referring to ourselves as Two Bearded Men while we were trying to think of a proper name and nothing sounded as good, so it stuck.
We just have a relaxed approach. The hair on our face represents that.
Tim: The name really acts as an icebreaker. The whole idea behind it is that we’re a couple of fellows from the country and we live down in the sticks. We’re not the traditional production company and we’re not living the corporate life, but we still do global commercial campaigns. We just have a relaxed approach. The hair on our face represents that.
What’s the relationship between nature and creativity for you guys?
Toby: A lot of our ideas and inspiration and passion come from the mountains and the landscapes around us. And from the people within those landscapes. We often talk about how different we would be — and how different our work would be — if we were living in the big city. I guess we are all the product of our environments.
Tim: For me it’s always been about getting out there, feeling connected to the land, and using the camera as a way to share that with people. I often feel it would almost be a crime if I had this incredible space in front of me and I didn’t capture it and share it.
Toby: Usually I get out in the mountains and get distracted and forget to take photos. Or do anything. That’s why Tim’s here.
What kind of things do Two Bearded Men get nervous about?
Toby: I think we get nervous about slightly different things. I’m constantly worried about running out of time or budget. Tim’s nervous about camera angles and how things are going to look. Overall, though, we don’t stress too much. It’s not really in our nature.
Tim: I definitely get nervous the night before a big commercial shoot. I think that’s a normal feeling when you’re throwing yourself into the deep end. You’re constantly thinking about the story, and that doesn’t shut off easily. We both try to give ourselves as much prep time before each job as possible so that we feel comfortable.
Toby: We’ve got each other’s back.
What are some things you guys have learned recently?
Tim: One thing is that I’ve always been a doer, and Toby has always been a doer. We just want to get out there and punch things out. But from a storytelling, filmmaking perspective, I wish I’d known when I was younger to just chill out, to really take time to develop stories. That’s one thing. The other thing is just to stay humble, work hard, and believe in who you are. Treat people the way you want to be treated regardless of how good you are at whatever it is that you do.
I wish I’d known when I was younger to just chill out, to really take time to develop stories.
Toby: The other thing we’ve learned is how to create with a larger-sized staff. Having the right people in the right place doing the right jobs. That’s key. It makes life so much easier. And it’s important to find people who share a similar mind-set.
What’s the weirdest job you guys have done?
Toby: It wasn’t that weird, but we did a commercial for a theme park once and Tim and I had to spend the day riding all the rides and testing all the rigs. We’ve got all these selfies of just me and Tim alone on all these roller coasters.
That sounds like a dream job.
Toby: We also just did a job that involved two giant trebuchets shooting snowballs at each other. The concept was the world’s largest snowball fight. Basically skiers versus snowboarders battling it out in the Southern Alps. So we had these trebuchets built by this local guy who is an absolute legend. He built these things based on stuff he found on Google, a little bit of trial and error, a lot of chucking pumpkins around, but it all worked out. It was pretty crazy. Now we have two giant trebuchets.
Tim: Another cool one we did was making a mountain into a giant Christmas tree and surprising a small New Zealand community of kids. That task was very challenging. We had to scout New Zealand for a very specific cone-shaped mountain of that right scale that was close to a small community that we could surprise for real. Basically one of the kids gets to turn this giant crank and the mountain turns into a Christmas tree. It was hard but very rewarding.
Toby: That’s part of who we are as a company, keen to take a crack at anything.
Has it ever not worked out?
Tim: It’s all worked out so far, touch wood.
I know one of the things you guys both value is work/life balance. How balanced are those things for you? Do you have some sort of structure built in to keep it balanced?
Tim: There’s no structure. If there was structure it would feel like work.
Toby: We shot a commercial last week that kept us pretty busy. It was pretty much all work and not much life. But at the same time we both love what we do, so it’s not that bad. And when we finish a big job like that, we try to cut it back to a normal week in the office the next week. Try to get up in the mountains if we can.
Tim: Before I started this company, I was a freelance director/DP, a kind of do-it-all dude. There was a long time there when I was making my name and I just worked all the time. I didn’t take holidays. But that’s the thing. You have to work bloody hard. There’s no way around that. The hours are long. But it’s not about hours on the clock. It’s about freaking loving what you do. You’ve got to constantly remind yourself how lucky you are to be doing it.
The hours are long. But it’s not about hours on the clock. It’s about freaking loving what you do.
I think that’s interesting because there’s a big push right now, especially with younger employees, for work/life balance. But maybe work/life balance is something you have to earn. And in the beginning you really have to put in some serious nights and weekends.
Toby: Yeah, totally.
Tim: There are a lot of kids that come to us who are a little bit too big for their britches. They kind of expect a handout. But look, you’ve got to put in the work. And your work needs to speak for itself.
Why did you guys choose to stay in New Zealand rather than move your company to a more popular production house city?
Tim: Because we like our life. We love where we live and we love the people. Our families are here. Sometimes when we travel around the world for work, we come back home and remember how lucky we are. I feel incredibly relaxed at home. I go to the coffee shop or the park and I talk to everyone. That’s just who people are here.
Toby: I know plenty of people who go away on holiday to some beautiful destination and at the end they don’t want to go back home. But when we’re on holiday, we look forward to getting back to Wanaka. It’s such a cool place. And it’s such a cool feeling to get to the end of a holiday and feel like, I can’t wait to get back home, and I can’t wait to get back to work.
Work/life balance is important, but putting in the hours is essential. In fact, from what we’ve seen after talking with filmmakers all these years, it’s often the ones who are willing to forgo “life” for a while who end up doing the most notable work. Diego Contreras comes to mind. Philip Bloom. And now…Two Bearded Men. The work pays off — and it speaks for itself.