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Filmmaker Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) said, “I love to take actors to a place where they open a vein. That’s the job. The key is that I make it safe for them to open the vein.”

Setting aside the gory imagery, this wisdom cannot be ignored (and can be applied to your business):

Creating an environment conducive for people to explore and stretch towards their potential is essential for businesses who want to ensure quality performance, and quality of life, for employees.


Expressway Cinema Rentals is a rental house for video, photo, lighting and production equipment rentals—a one-stop shop for all your production needs. Based out of two rehabilitated warehouses in North Philadelphia, Expressway is taking no shortcuts to invest in their employees ergo their business.

We talked with Expressway Owner James Madison about his approach to employee welfare, as well as, how they are investing in the local film industry, their buildings, and the neighborhood.

Bradford: James, how do you see your business’s success linked to your employee’s success?

James: One of the things that’s always been really important to us as business owners is that our employees benefit from our growth and there are tracks for them that make them feel fulfilled and excited to work at Expressway. I want our employees to grow as the company grows.

What processes do you have in place to get a read on employee satisfaction?

James: We are always talking with our employees. Having regular conversations with employees allows us to learn not only what employees want out of this job but also what they want out of their life. If possible, we try to incorporate both. For example, our camera rental manager has a passion for graphic design and advertising and would often help us with our marketing materials, but this can be time-consuming and difficult to balance. We recognized this and brought in more people to grow his department while also freeing him up to do more of the advertising work he really enjoys.

Bradford: What role do employee reviews play in how you engage employees?

James: We used to have annual reviews but found that doing quarterly meetings helped us validate our employees and show how we value them. A quarterly schedule allows us to commend employees so they don’t feel like their work goes unnoticed. It also helps address difficulties right away instead of letting them build up until the annual review. After we made this switch, we realized that our employees and us were on the same page most of the time, but we weren’t having the right conversations frequent enough.

Bradford: In addition to investing in employees, you are also investing in the local film industry. Can you tell me about that?

James: We made a conscious decision from the beginning to focus on bringing new equipment and technologies to this area. We wanted to invest in infrastructure for the industry and invest in people and opportunities for local talent. The reason we started the company in the first place was motivated by the fact that we felt we weren’t being granted proper access to the industry, resources, and work opportunities in the region.

There was this feeling that Philadelphia could not have the same resources as New York and L.A., so we went the extra mile here to build a space for the local industry that allows us to be creative the way it’s supposed to be done.

Bradford: How does your perspective on employee engagement translate into employee engagement?

James: We do a lot of work to make sure that the industry is inclusive and welcoming. We do a lot of community outreach and are involved in various boards in the industry and creative community groups.

We reach out to the local colleges to help young filmmakers know that they have access to resources in the region. We let them know that when they graduate they are not out there alone—we try to let them understand that we are accessible–we want them to feel comfortable calling us and asking questions.

Bradford: Can you tell me more about the warehouses you rehabbed?

James: Rehabbing old warehouses is an opportunity to demonstrate how we try to be as environmentally conscious as possible. We are proud to have retrofitted all of the lighting to be LED. But rehabbing old buildings also has an effect on the community. The community notices when a large warehouse gets a freshly painted façade.

At one of our warehouses, we are looking into permeable pavers, green roof, and rain garden. We have 15,000 square feet of land and a 4,000 square foot warehouse, so we can have a big impact on stormwater runoff.

You can learn more about Expressway Cinema Rentals or subscribe to their industry blog  here.

You can even visit their most recently completed warehouse, Bud’s Studio, during their Summer Gear Expo on June 20.  For more details, visit the Event Page on Facebook.