In Profile: Tom Ward, Founder, Sandstorm Films

By Anita Jaynes on 27 October, 2021

Tom Ward is Founder of the internationally renowned production facility, Sandstorm Films. Based in the leafy village of Badbury between Swindon and Marlborough, the studios are state-of-the-art and have been used to shoot adverts for global brands, music videos, films and more. 

It was always Tom’s dream to work in the film industry and he spent his days as a kid at the kitchen table, drawing animations and thinking up scripts. The Sandstorm name and logo come from his childhood days and are based on a flipbook animation and a sketch he drew of a window looking out onto a desert. 

Tom is proof that if you believe in your dreams and work hard enough, you can make them come true. At under 40, Tom is one of our area’s most ambitious entrepreneurs with big plans for Sandstorm’s growth. 

We met Tom on set to hear the Sandstorm Films story so far…

How did Sandstorm begin?

I left school at 16 and joined an ad agency’s post-production department. I realised very quickly there was a gap in the market to form a visual effects orientated production company, so I did a deal with a kit hire company in London to train their customers on their products in order to get hold of the equipment I needed. That was the beginning of Sandstorm. We opened our first London office in 2001. 

The media industry, particularly film, is known as notoriously cut-throat. What do you think has been key to your success?

I don’t think the media industry is cut-throat, I think it’s just built for a very specific type of person. You need a mix of creativity, enthusiasm, endurance and focus to get anywhere in the industry. There are not many people out there with those skills, and fewer still who are prepared to make the sacrifices needed to stay in the media industry. Also, just so we’re clear, I don’t think I’m successful, I’m just single-minded.

Can you name drop some of the brands, actors, films shot at Sandstorm Films?

No… we’ve been going for twenty years so there aren’t many we haven’t worked with.

What piece of work are you most proud of?

Everyone asks me this, I honestly can’t say, I’ve worked on so many amazing projects and some months we work on over 30 productions. We’ve worked on over 6,000 projects since we started. So, I’m most proud of that; the quantity of quality work. We have kit, facilities and a portfolio that no-one else in the world has. 20 years on and I’m still being paid to basically do the hobby I had as a child which is such an honour.

Tell us more about the facilities at Sandstorm Film’s studios

Our biggest space, at the moment, is stage 3 which was completed in 2019. It’s a 5,600 sq ft acoustically treated sound stage, with seven-metre-high double-decker access. 

We also have two smaller studios (1,360 sq ft and 860 sq ft) which are versatile and can be reconfigured for small studio production. You name it, we shoot it here, from vehicle exteriors and interiors, to one, two and three walled room sets with live action sync sound. 

We also have some of the most unique film kit in the world like the TechnoDolly, which to me is the single best bit of kit in our industry. We also have over 200 lights, the best cameras in the world and a team who are unlike any other. 

The idea of the setup is pretty simple: we’re a completely flexible production facility. So, you could just hire a studio, a studio with crew and kit or an end-to-end production solution including post production and delivery.

We repeatedly hear two things from our clients, the first is that they thought it was too good to be true and the other, once they’ve worked with us, is that coming to Sandstorm is like being on holiday, while at work.

Tell us about your new Director Club

Our set building team got to work during lockdown and created a unique space for creatives to collaborate, meet and relax post shoot. There are three floors of indulgence, something to make the Sandstorm experience extra special. 

On the ground floor is the Director’s Cut Café. Open to the public 7am-7pm weekdays, it’s the perfect spot for an informal meeting or brainstorming session, with seating both inside and out. The garden area overlooks the surrounding farmland and provides a relaxing space to unwind and inspire creative thinking. The café menu includes barista coffee, loose leaf teas, breakfasts, lunches and afternoon tea, as well as a wide range of craft ales, wines and spirits. 

Upstairs the barn has been transformed into the style of a central London Victorian Dining Club. This luxurious members’ only lounge and dining area offers an extended food and drinks menu including 20 wines by the glass. The wood panelling is English oak and the paintings include a special commission from one of Saatchi’s favourite artists who paints traditional portraits and then obscures the faces with thick oil paint. Which makes for a great ‘guess who’ over dinner.

Move on down the corridor and you will find the West View Meeting Room with floor to ceiling views of the rural landscape. It’s best enjoyed early evening for its spectacular sunset. 

We also have a therapy zone for people to relax and enjoy massage therapies, as well as an exclusive members’ only sauna.

If you work in the creative industries and want to organise a tour and to find out more about membership, please get in touch. We’d love to show the space off. 

What are your plans for the future?

Realistically the future is continuing to refine the production experience. The film industry is seeing unprecedented demand, which, with the rise of Disney+, Netflix and Amazon looks set to continue for a long time. The downside of this is people in our industry are working excessive hours. To me, we can do something about that at Sandstorm. So, we’re looking at luxury on-site accommodation and maybe more studios to give crews, actors and clients a new type of film production experience which uniquely blends long hours, creativity and quality of life.

Watch this video tour of Sandstorm.

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