I believe in the power of storytelling. A good story can change behaviour, ignite change, instill hope and even change the course of the future. I am therefore passionate about helping storytellers bring their stories to life. Africa has some of the richest stories to tell and it is my life’s purpose to enable the African storyteller to tell his/her stories in the grandest ways possible. I use my training and skills as an art director/ production designer to do so and have had the opportunity to work with some of the finest brains in our industry across the world. I am Tony Prince Tomety, an award - winning production designer designer and art director. Thirteen years ago, I founded Art Direction House, a company that provides complete scenic design solutions and set-build services for clients/ cortege in the film, television and events industry.
We have worked on many great projects - Beast of No Nation, the BBC/ Netflix production - Black Earth Rising, NBC’s Threadstone, Leila Djansi’s Ties that Bind & Northern Affair, etc. Some of the television productions we have worked on include Vodafone Icons, Airtel Touching Lives,Vodafone Healthline, Kids Say the Darndest Things- Nigeria, Afrima 2018, Aiteo CAF Awards 2017 etc. We have also created sets for conferences like African Leadership Network @ 10, Bloomberg Africa Business Media Innovation Conference etc. And shows like Exclusive Men of the Year Awards, 4syte Music Video Awards,Glitz Women Honors, Rhythms on da Runway, Miss Universe Ghana. We recently worked on the set for the Livespot Cardi B Concert in Ghana. You can find out more about our work on https://artdirectionhouse.com/aboutus/ and on Instagram on @artdirectionhouse_group.
In 2018, we launched Ghana’s first and only prop house - Prop Haven. The company was born out of research I conducted in 2006 on the “Absence of a props and costume house and its effects in the Ghanaian film industry", while in film school. In the past, filmmakers and other creatives in Ghana spent a lot of money and time hunting for props which they usually could not re-use. Being a one-stop-shop prop rental company, we essentially reduce art department budgets for various productions. I have seen people rewrite their scripts and make them better because of the props they have found at Prop Haven. The patronage has been huge and it shows no sign of slowing down. We have supplied props for local and international movies like the afore-mentioned NBC Threadstone; Borga directed by York-Rabian Raabe, Joseph by Marcia Weekes, Gold Coast Lounge by Pascal Aka. Countlessmusic videos and campaigns have been shot using our props - Fuse ODG’s Timeless, Kofi Kinaata’s Adam and Eve, Stonebwoy’s Ololo, Wendy Shay’s CTD and Stevie Wonder, King Promise’ Sisa and the Woodin Desiré Macho Man and The Red Rebels campaigns. Visit us :https://prophavengh.com/ Instagram : @prophavengh
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
In my opinion most of the challenges entrepreneurs in our industry face stem from the single reason that in our part of the world we have not been able to prove that ours is a profitable industry. There isn’t enough data on returns on investment. This makes investors very sceptical about financing our projects, making access to funding extremely scarce. This came to play while I was setting up both Art Direction House and Prop Haven. Accessing funding to pay for space, machinery and props proved difficult. Like many others in our industry I had to bootstrap. In general though, the entrepreneurial journey is seldom a smooth one. And those who venture it should not expect an easy ride. One instance I am reminded of is how I lost a large set of props which I had saved from the Beast of No Nations film. This was a painful experience. But I remember telling myself it wasn’t going to stop me from achieving my dream. It is critical that an entrepreneur always finds a way to keep getting back up after each punch. It’s the only way you can walk the road long enough to experience meaningful success.
What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?
One of my favourite books is The Alchemist. I think it’s a beautiful story of perseverance and many entrepreneurs will find it an uplifting read although it is not the typical business book. I would recommend Attitude Is Everything by Keith Harrell; The Rules of Wealth by Richard Templar; The New Secrets of CEOs By Steve Tappin & Andrew Cave.. And as funny as it sounds, one of my favourite books remains my production design text book from film school.
I also do a lot of research online. I use social media as a text book to understand my customers - their tastes, their aspirations. A page I like very much and follow on Instagram is @entrepreneurshipfacts.You should check it out - so much truth and motivation on there. But perhaps the biggest book I read is the book of life. By this I mean the real life stories of the people I admire. I follow them and learn from them. I reach out to them whenever I have the opportunity. I am constantly looking for ways to connect with people who have skills I want to learn. For instance recently during a trip to the US, I reached out to Derrick Maclean, a respected production designer who has worked on big projects like the Oscars and Moulin Rouge. I was thrilled when he agreed to meet me and took me around his design studio and showed me his work.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?
How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
This might sound prideful. But I say it in all humility and honesty. I do not waste opportunities. And I have deliberately ensured that when I put my mind to doing something I get it done. It is often a difficult and lonely road but I will have it no other way. I think because of this, people around me give me their full support when they see me pursuing a goal. They know I don’t give up. And perhaps it is really their faith in me that has kept me going.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
I think it all comes down to working hard and putting in the time it takes. Because success takes time. There are hardly any real overnight success stories. Also, one must be willing to keep learning and upgrading one’s skill. It is the only way to stay ahead. And remember to keep the focus because like they say if you listen to all the noise in the market, you won’t buy your fish.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
I came into this industry as with as a creative, not as a business person. With time, I have had to learn how to build a business and this is a journey I am still on. I wish we had been taught more on how to draw up contracts in film school. They are critical to protecting one’s work in our industry. I wish we had been given more information on taxation, profitability, how to read and interpret financial reports. I am learning these things daily and I am passionate about sharing them with other entrepreneurs.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Believe in your dreams. Don’t settle. Everything is possible. Keep people around you who will interrogate your decisions. They will help you tune up your ideas. Never ever be afraid to start small. For instance, my initial dream for Prop Haven was to have a 3000 square meter space. Currently, we are running a great business from a 400 square meter space. That’s just about a 10th of the original idea. Today we are in the development phase of a 175,000 meter square project. So start now. Start with what you have. Behave and think like a big business. Once your business model is scalable, time is your friend. Listen to your customers. Don’t heap on a ton of debt. Remember that no one understands and believes in your dream better than yourself. Give it all it takes. Like they say, if your dream doesn’t scare you it is simply not big enough! Keep pushing. And as you push further don’t forget the wind blows strongest at the top of the mountain.