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How I Got Here: Cinema Thom’s founder and director on the importance of developing authentic industry relationships

WORDS BY FASHION JOURNAL

“Our chemistry and candour with clients are everything and I think that’s why Cinema Thom has done so well in the video space nationally.”

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While it might look like smooth sailing, there’s no doubt been a heck of a lot of hard work involved in getting there.

So what lessons have been learnt and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?


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Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to people who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.

This week we’re delving into the career journey of Arielle Thomas, the founder and director of Melbourne-based production company, Cinema Thom. Arielle got her start on the other side of the camera, as an actor. After a stint in New York to study acting, she returned home to Australia and realised she needed to create short films in order to showcase her acting chops.

Something that started out of practicality soon become a passion, and led to her starting a production company. After directing video content for Vogue, her place behind the camera was solidified. Cinema Thom has since worked for an impressive range of clients in the fashion and beauty world, including Dior, Mecca and La Mer. Here’s what she’s learnt along the way.

What do you do and what’s your official job title?

I’m the founder and director of the production company Cinema Thom. We create film and photography in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle space. Think anything from a Mecca TikTok, to a campaign splashed across screens internationally. Most recently, I became the host of my new podcast Process the Podcast, where I chat to people at the tippy top of their creative industry about their unique creative processes.

Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story.

I started as an actor, I was a little grom and took myself to New York at the age of 18 to follow my dreams. I came home to start working in the Australian industry after formal acting training and had to create short films to show people what I could do in front of the camera. I started a production company with a friend (Nicholas Denton), and as we created more and more, I wanted to start paying the bills with branded content. I took home several awards as an actor and director at Tropfest in 2017 for a comedy film I created [and] at the time I was [working] on the shop floor at Scanlan Theodore.

I was chatting to the head office about creating films for them, as I noticed that international brands were pairing their photography campaigns with fashion films, but this was rarely seen in Australian campaigns. While the conversation was still in the air, they mentioned that one of their friends from Vogue was in town. Super casually, they asked if I’d direct something for them, which was for VAMFF [now called PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival]. Once I worked for Vogue, I had leverage, and I haven’t looked back! 

 

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A post shared by Arielle Thomas (@arielle.thomas)

What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?

As a creative, you get pigeonholed by clients thinking you only create work similar to your latest post on Instagram, which is a good thing and also a very bad thing. For example, when we create work for Kmart and put it on Instagram, it attracts fantastic clients like AIA Insurance, but then you have the Australian fashion heavy-weights thinking ‘too commercial’. So I now have to be very clear with my goals and our social touchpoints. I am currently strategising that very thing, and working out the weight of each post.

Because Instagram is essentially our folio of work, do we post it all? I meet with my right hand Tiana every month to make sure our goals are aligned and then I reverse engineer the work we promote based on that. I can’t help but wonder what work would come through the door if I didn’t have to be so specific, but we have so much success booking the clients we want to attract through this reverse engineer tactic, I’ll stick with it for now. 

What’s the best part about your role?

I use my imagination to create every day. We’re telling stories and creating motion around lifestyles people aspire to be a part of or buy into because they want to be associated with them. Its make-believe meets marketing, all day, every day. 

What would surprise people about your role?

Cinema Thom for three years has just been me and Tiana. We’ve recently brought on Charlotte, our new videographer and editor to help with the workload, but it’s just the three of us back there on the tools. I update the website, run the socials, pay the bills, book the clients, build the budgets, produce the work and work closely with Tiana to direct campaigns while she shoots and edits. It’s really lean, and our clients love that they get to know the Thom girls.

Our chemistry and candour with clients are everything and I think that’s why Cinema Thom has done so well in the video space nationally. It’s now the reason that Process the Podcast exists too. It’s a natural progression for me to talk to our industry heavyweights – we’ve built relationships on set with them and when people can see that you work really hard and appreciate the output, they’re more likely to extend a hand when you ask. 

What skills have served you well in your industry?

I worked on the shop floor in luxury since I was 15, and understanding that it’s all about the customer early on served me tremendously. I was exposed to such a high level of presentation and a business that was run immaculately. It gave me the skills to talk to people, empathise with their needs, understand psychologically why they’re buying what they’re buying, and strive to always put them at the center of everything. The acting career, and being able to put myself out there, with a pretty comfortable relationship with rejection didn’t hurt either. 

 

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A post shared by Arielle Thomas (@arielle.thomas)

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day? 

Start creating on your phone today. Offer your time for free to learn how your desired industry works and watch and listen to how the industry is moving very closely. For example, TikTok has just gone to ten-minute videos. The sweet spot for YouTube is eight minutes, so you can see what’s going to happen there. We deliver work specifically for these platforms so it’s important to be at the very forefront of their movements.

It’s also important to understand that when you’re working for a client, it’s not about you, it’s about the picture, and there is a balance between doing something you think is good versus what they’ve asked for. Make sure you’re on their side of the fence with that one. Georges Antoni, the renowned Australian photographer goes into this in episode three of Process the Podcast and articulates it far better than I ever could, so check that out if you want more on that. 

What about a practical tip?

For video, reach out to brands that don’t have video down pat just yet. Chances are, they’re searching for a solution to that, and you could be that answer. Another one – this entire industry is about relationships so bring your best self, don’t be late, and kindness goes a long way. If you want to start a podcast, just start! I use Squadcast, Headliner and Canva to do everything. You’ll figure it out too! 

@arielle.thomas

Read the rest of the How I Got Here series here.

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