Charlie Aspinwall and Daley Pearson. (Photo: Mia Forrest)
Co-founders Charlie Aspinwall and Daley Pearson have taken Ludo Studio from humble beginnings to a multi-Emmy Award winning powerhouse, with credits that include Bluey, Doodles, #7DaysLater, The Strange Chores, Robbie Hood and Content. The Brisbane-based duo explain to IF how they met and how their working relationship developed.
I’d recently moved to Brisbane from the UK, and was post-supervisor on The Strange Calls which Daley was writing and directing. Que Minh Luu was the editor and the three of us spent a lot of time hanging out in a small dark room (or Sizzler) talking rubbish about movies. It was the most fun I’d had at work in years.
When production finished Que went back to Sydney and Daley and I were left wondering what to do next. This was around 2012 and at that time there wasn’t much scripted long-form happening in Brisbane. Neither of us wanted to move interstate, so we decided to team up to try and make our own stuff in Queensland.
Daley and I had both been mentored at Screen Queensland by Jock Blair; I remember Jock’s face the first time we went in together to ask for development funding. We were a bit of an odd couple, and he was curious as to what our different roles would be in this new company, ‘Ludo’. We said, “Daley gets them in the door and Charlie keeps them in the room”. There’s still a grain of truth in that.
If you broke it down, I’d say we both love the process of writing and developing projects first and foremost. If it’s our own creative, Daley might direct, and I might produce. We’re both quite opinionated, so we debate everything, but we try to keep a sense of humour and a bit of perspective about what we do, so any disagreements blow over pretty quickly and we always end up seeing the funny side. Not everything goes to plan, but we’re both optimists and we don’t dwell on bad luck or rejection. We just talk through the best next steps. In the end, we’re both very focused on what’s good for Ludo and the team so we always find common ground.
We were always interested in scripted features and TV series, but we’re not that fussy about what kind of projects we make, whether animation, live-action, comedy or drama. They can be in any genre and for any age group. We just want to tell original and untold Australian stories that have a fresh perspective. We want the writing to have heart and wit even when the material is at its darkest. Crucially any new project needs someone passionate to drive it, someone who will make that show happen no matter what. Someone who has a story to tell and knows how to tell it.
At first, we were just dabbling in animation and our plan was to produce animation series to sustain the business while we developed live-action projects. But it’s turned into so much more than that. Not only is the whole production and animation crew at Ludo a phenomenally talented and fun group to work with, but after Bluey and The Strange Chores we’ve also totally fallen in love with animation and it’s now just as important for Ludo alongside our live-action slate.
At the moment we have a good mix of animation and live-action TV drama in development. We’re also developing a couple of features. Feature films were what Daley and I first bonded over, so we find them hard to resist, even though they may not always be best for the business plan. But with the streaming platforms increasingly the format doesn’t seem so important. Sometimes it’s more about deciding how long the story is you want to tell and finding the right corner for it.
Daley’s tank is always full, he’s indefatigable and open and brilliant on his feet and he makes me laugh. But he also genuinely cares about other people. That’s an important quality when you’re scrabbling around for traction in an industry that traditionally doesn’t have the greatest reputation for integrity. Over the past few years we’ve had our share of success but more importantly we’ve built up a deep reservoir of trust between us and that continues to grow.
I met Charlie while I was making The Strange Calls for ABC TV. I was pretty green and it was my first time writing and directing a proper show and I felt a bit out of my depth. I had incredible people surrounding me but Charlie became a real lifeboat and counsellor. He was also somebody who wasn’t afraid to throw cold water in my face too.
We knew we wanted to launch a company together because I think we had both gotten to a point where we knew that we needed to be in charge of our own destiny if we were going to make a living creating film and TV in Brisbane. The other reason I wanted to launch a company together was because Charlie took me seriously when I said that one day I’d love to work with Tom Cruise. Usually people laugh at me, roll their eyes or rush through to their next customer in line. Charlie didn’t laugh and it was great to partner up with someone who believed in big stupid ideas but who was also very practical and pragmatic.
At different times I think we both have our head in the clouds but our hands in the dirt. We can be in the edit suite shortening shots by a few frames while also talking about how much we’d have loved to have worked with Steve McQueen (and whether it might be possible to bring him back through motion capture).
The smartest reason why we started a company together was that we both have the same goal but bring different skills to the table. It’s great to have someone on your side who has a resilience like Charlie. He might give the impression of being ‘quiet’ but he has an incredible resolve to be good to our people and bring our projects and Ludo to success.
For the first few years of Ludo we found that we had to take one step forward and two steps back. People trusted us as individuals, and we both had experience, but we found that we suddenly had this third stranger in the equation – being Ludo. In those first few years we really had to re-earn people’s trust in ourselves as business operators and not just creatives. Little by little over the years we slowly grew a trust in our production company. To do this we ended up pouring all our time and talent into small weird projects other people might have avoided – just to get them made. We loved these projects and luckily a few of them ended up having a bit of success and picking up a few Emmys.
Brick by brick we were slowly able to build up to bigger and better projects together and 2019 was probably our busiest time. That year we were able to make Bluey, The Strange Chores, Robbie Hood and Content under one roof in Brisbane. We were incredibly lucky to have grown the business with a great team and great partners. We love the people we work with and we know a business isn’t found in its ergonomic furniture – it’s the people who sit in those chairs. We work hard to privately and publicly to acknowledge each member of the studio because we know the company and each of its projects wouldn’t be as good as they are without any one of them.
I think ‘client facing’ people tend to see me as the ‘creative’ and Charlie as the ‘sensible producer’. The truth, however, is that Charlie is a brilliant creative and a great risk taker. He calls them ‘calculated risks’. And I think at times I can be quite strategic, conservative and patient. A good skill we’ve picked up over time is knowing when to get out of each other’s way. We’ve learned that you can’t really have two hands on the wheel of a ship, but we’ve also realised that running Ludo requires a lot of different wheels.
Charlie is a good person and I trust him. I know that if I pass the ball to the side he’ll be there to catch it. I also make sure I’m ready for the ball when he throws it my way too.
We work hard to remind ourselves that the problems we face are rarely people. It’s always ‘the thing’ or ‘the situation’ and we always work to solve that together and put the person before the problem. No matter how bad things get we both have a good safety net too – which is a sense of humour. Even when the world has turned upside down we both find the funny side somewhere. Like the time we were both desperate for a job and the head of a channel fell asleep during our pitch. We just kept pitching hoping to incept the story.
We butt heads regularly but not for very long. Charlie tries to resolve our disputes by insisting we settle them with a trial by combat. I Googled this and while it sounds fun, I’ve been too nervous to try.
The only times we truly have trouble is if we have all our hands on the wheel at the same time. I think we’re getting much better at taking turns to drive different parts of the business together. I think another important thing is that while we love Ludo I think we like each other a very tiny fraction more than the business.
I’m proud that we have a genuine partnership that is starting to create a bit of an industry in Brisbane. I’m proud that we’re able to employ a great team of brilliant writers, creatives and producers under one roof. I’m proud that these people are our friends. I’m proud that brilliant creatives like Joe Brumm, Dylan River, Tanith Glynn-Maloney, Anna Barnes, RackaRacka, Dave Mcormack, John McGeachin, Luke Tierney, Megan Washington, Joff Bush and great producers like Lauren Brown, Sam Moor, Chloe Hume, Daniel Schultz and Jess Magro and all the animators at the studio who I love choose to work with us at Ludo. I’m proud that Screen Queensland and Screen Australia’s support in us is slowly paying off. I’m thankful to all the commissioning editors and broadcasters who have partnered with us at Ludo. I’m also proud that I really don’t think we’ve started yet either.
An original version of this story appeared in IF Magazine #195 June-July. Subscribe here.