Growing up, Sean O’Reilly never imagined he would turn his passion for creativity into a global business, or that he would direct the actor who played Luke Skywalker of Star Wars’ fame. Yet by following his imagination, vision and discipline, O’Reilly has made these and other dreams a reality.
Actor Mark Hamill is just the latest high-profile actor to be employed by O’Reilly’s Arcana Studios. Hamill plays the voice of a character, Dr. Henry Armitage, in the second instalment of Arcana’s animated film Howard Lovecraft, which will be released in 2017. The first Howard Lovecraft film was released worldwide in 2016, and included the voice of Canadian icon Christopher Plummer, who also returns in the second and third movies.
O’Reilly, the founder and CEO of the British Columbia-based Arcana Studios, discovered that the key to achieving global success in the creative industry is simple – think big, dream large, and be disciplined enough to act on it.
He developed that business mantra in 2003 with the creation of his first comic book entitled Kade. Fourteen years later, the company he founded has evolved into Canada’s largest comics publisher with more than 300 titles, in addition to an animation division that has produced three feature films including the Howard Lovecraft series, whose rights have been acquired by Super Channel, Shout Factory, Lion’s Gate Entertainment and Rialto.
While Arcana exports 90 per cent its content around the globe, the United States is its largest market accounting for 40 per cent of the firm’s international sales. Australia and China are also major export destinations for Arcana content.
“Exporting has been a part of the business since day one,” says O’Reilly, who operates the company out of three offices in Maple Ridge, Burnaby, and his home office in Coquitlam, B.C. “The U.S. is 10 times the size of Canada and that’s where we originally targeted to sell our comic books.”
Selling creative Canadian content to foreign markets is different than selling commodities or widgets, namely because of the different cultural aspects, including media consumption.
However, regardless of the global destination, Canada is gaining an international reputation for excellence in the industry.
According to the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), the export value of foreign attributable to the media production industry reached $3.2 billion in 2015-2016.
“Canadian production companies have forged an international reputation for delivering a level of unparalleled production expertise and service,” cites the CMPA’s 2016-2017 International Strategy. “Canada is also known for its particular strengths in computer animation and visual effects. As requirements for those technical services have grown in almost all production genres, Canadian companies are well-placed to deliver on these needs.”
O’Reilly says Arcana’s path to success has been marked by taking successive, consistent steps forward.
“Director James Gunn said the biggest thing you have to do to be successful in this business is finish what you start,” he explains. “You have to start the dream and finish it, and then you look to your next one. It’s a creative industry, but you have to find the discipline to output. It’s a learning process and it takes time.”
Breaking into markets outside North America, including China, has required particular learning.
“The Chinese market is different,” says O’Reilly. “The procedures were unusual, everything from notarizing documents to culture and even storytelling.”
A lack of intellectual property protection worldwide is another major challenge.
“Copyright infringement is unbelievable,” he adds. “I’ve seen copies of my first movie Pixies on YouTube. We send out notices of infringement every day.”
Fortunately, going global has brought Arcana far more benefits than wounds. What O’Reilly describes as a few bumps and bruises have, in fact, turned out to be valuable lessons.
“In the past, I’ve had a lot of big talkers with big promises approach me and made me spin my wheels,” he says. “In the end, they wasted my time. Our model sees us paid in advance of delivery, so there aren’t any problems with payment.”
To maximize success, O’Reilly follows his own three-point approach to business, which he dubbed: “VIP” – Vision, Integrity and Passion. “Vision is looking forward. Integrity is delivering the best quality product I can. The most important is passion. I have tremendous passion for what I do. When all three align, it’s a great day.”
Looking ahead, O’Reilly says that continuing to expand the company’s global footprint will require investments to ensure Arcana stays in tune with the media industry’s latest technological advances.
“When I started, it was a pretty simple landscape: Netfix didn’t exist, nor did binge-watching television,” he says. “Now it’s such a competitive landscape, but we’re ambitious. I want to do more in Asia and as far as content opportunities go, virtual reality is the next big thing. Stay tuned.”