As Jane Bolton, executive producer at Jamie Oliver's new commercial production firm Fat Lemon, walks me around the offices at "Jamie Oliver Towers," you can sense her excitement at having landed in a famous foodie's HQ. She points out a larder full of goodies, stacks of beautiful olive-wood chopping boards, and the gleaming kitchen where Oliver filmed his EE spot with Kevin Bacon cooking a bacon sandwich (one of Fat Lemon's first projects). Finally, there's a smaller kitchen, where, if you're lucky and come in towards the end of the day,you might find some finished product samples. "I have to be really careful," she smiled, remembering a cupcake day.
It may seem a strange move for a TV chef to launch a production company, but then Jamie Oliver has a finger in an awful lot of pies. His empire includes restaurants, books, his work with governments and supermarkets, a foundation that trains underprivileged kids as chefs and a production company, Fresh One, for his TV shows and more. Fat Lemon is an extension of the latter, although it will cast its net wider than the world of food.
The new commercials shop is the brainchild of long-time producer Bolton (pictured, left, with Oliver and producer Cabell Hopkins). Bolton had been running Soho-based Picasso Pictures for nearly 20 years but was looking for a change, and in particular to become part of something bigger. Her friend, Zoe Collins worked at Oliver's Fresh One. "We would meet up and compare our different jobs. I'd been looking at their website, and one day I just did a Google search on whether Jamie Oliver had a commercials company."
Oliver is no stranger to commercials -- he was the face of supermarket Sainsbury's for over 10 years-- but that relationship had recently come to an end, and he was open to the idea. "Jamie has a huge wealth of experience in TV commercials, and he's also a very savvy business person," said Bolton.
Oliver himself told Creativity: "Over the last 15 years I have absolutely loved working in front and behind the camera for big brands making commercials. The dream of setting up Fat Lemon was to build the best boutique production company of producers and directors; to be really responsive and simply make brilliant ads, digital content and most importantly to build relationships with brands and agencies to deliver the goods."
Bolton started working at Oliver's Shoreditch HQ last June and has since then brought on board an impressive list of directors. Its roster of talent includes the actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher, who will be helming his first ever commercials. Fat Lemon producer Cabell Hopkins (who is ex-M&C Saatchi) thought of Fletcher after seeing his 2011 film Wild Bill; Fletcher also happens to be an old friend of Oliver.
Other directors have come via the Fresh One route. They include Chris Faith, a veteran of Jamie Oliver's TV shows such as Friday Night Feast and Food Fight Club, who directed the Oliver/Kevin Bacon film for EE. "He has a great deal of expertise directing talent and is really comfortable with celebrities," says Bolton.
Mike Matthews is another director with a background in food-related work such as Oliver's 30 Minute Meals, and food photographer David Loftus has worked on Oliver's recipe books.
Clearly, Fat Lemon will be a natural port of call for food brands wishing to produce mouth watering dishes in their commercials. As part of Oliver's empire, it will also have access to all Fresh One's resources, such as in-house food stylists and state-of-the-art kitchen equipment.
However Bolton is very clear that it won't only be about food. She belives that Fat Lemon can also offer expertise in working with celebrities, online content and more. Another of its first projects is a series of films for Samsung's Launching People campaign, which stars actor Idris Elba, photographer Rankin, chef Gizzi Erskine and singer Paloma Faith, who will act as mentors to young talent.
Other work included a campaign for Canadian grocery chain Sobeys starring Oliver himself, and a Christmas spot for Australia's Woolworths, by Droga5 Sydney, in which it set up an Australian street market in London (around the corner from Fat Lemon's office) and got 40 London-based Aussies (recruited on the street) sitting down to Christmas dinner.
Despite its food expertise, ironically one potentially delicate area for Fat Lemon could be Oliver's campaigning stance on food. His work on getting healthier food into schools in both the U.S. and U.K. has included giving graphic demonstrations of where fast food and processed food comes from. So will the company have ethical issues with working with certain brands?
Bolton said it will be "mindful of the issues" but stressed, "Jamie's approach is all about working with people to do the right thing. For example, with Woolworths, we are working with their food people to look at the standards of meat and produce. Jamie, and we, recognize that the only way to change things is by engaging with people."