‘End-to-end’ has become a buzzword in Adland today. With ever tightening budgets and timelines, it’s no surprise that full-service capabilities have been embraced as the golden solution to industry challenges. In post production particularly, every company seems to be offering end-to-end now - that is on the surface at least. But what does it mean practically?
One company that has been working this way, even before the term’s meteoric rise, is post production house OKAY STUDIO. Nestled in their central Dalston HQ the studio was born in 2014 out of the desire to offer brands world-class post from start to finish, with a creative and highly personalised touch. Catering to globally renowned brands including Nike, Adidas, Hermes, Emirates & Equinox, OKAY STUDIO’s expertise spreads across edit, colour, motion retouch, animation and sound.
The company’s future-forward model came about when co-founders Nikolaj Belzer and Henry Lloyd-Baker noticed a recurring industry problem - clients weren’t receiving the level of attention they needed from big post production houses. The high-churn of projects meant that clients, sold on the relationships and award-winning talent of these big outfits, often weren’t able to access premium talent.
Nikolaj comments: “Through candid conversations with brands, agencies, and production companies, we recognised a growing pattern; people were ending up with poor quality post-work because they didn’t know their options. Big, traditional post production houses came with a steep price tag, but there was no guarantee that you’d get to work with their top talent. The alternative at the time was far more informal, with many creatives setting up shop from their bedrooms - hardly boutique. We realised there was a need for a simpler and nimbler alternative that put creativity front and centre.”
This eagle-eyed knack for unearthing solutions forged the foundations that would shape OKAY STUDIO’s rich end-to-end post production offering today. Now, five years on, it’s a model that has only grown more relevant to industry demands today – not least with tightening budgets and timelines, sky-high expectations for brilliant-looking work, and the explosion of demand for end-to-end.
Nikolaj comments: “End-to-end are a buzz-words that remain conspicuously cloudy. For us at OKAY STUDIO, it means that clients hand us the drive after the shoot and walk out with finished files ready to be put onto a massive billboard, YouTube, TV, or their Instagram account. During the process, they’re involved giving creative direction and guidance - we handle everything else. We’re seeing more and more offline houses now adding colour services or vice versa. Having worked in this way for five years now, we’ve built very robust systems and workflows, which means we can deliver work much faster without compromising on quality.”
Having witnessed creativity dampened by rigid and outdated company structures, Nikolaj has been careful to avoid the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach at OKAY. Often brought on board on projects from pre-production stage, OKAY STUDIO customises workflows from day one depending on the needs of each project – meaning most of the time and money spent ends up on screen as world-class visual content.
Nikolaj attributes this agility and formidable drive to the studio’s beginnings, gaining the hard-won trust of the fashion world to establish themselves as a credible creative partner. He explains: “The majority of our first clients were fashion giants such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermès. Back when we started in 2014, fashion clients were often braver than classic advertising clients and more open to embracing new platforms and workflows. We were forced to look at each individually - in fashion the creative challenges were always closely intertwined with production and technical demands that necessitated a 360 production approach - all whilst budgets and turn-around times became ever tighter. It was a steep learning curve, but ultimately pushed us to be more versatile and master a long list of formats early on.”
This seamless integration has proved crucial on a number of projects - one recent example being OKAY STUDIO’s work for Nike NSW Sports Pack, featuring an all-star cast of US tennis champion Sloane Stephens, NFL star Odell Beckham Jr and singer Mabel McVey. Working direct to Nike and director Thomas Traum, OKAY STUDIO edited and graded the global advert as well as handling all final deliverables.
“Anywhere else, this would have been bogged down by too many people involved in the chain,” explains Nikolaj. “Here, it was me and the director sitting in the same room bouncing ideas off each other - with colour just in the next room. Without this, it would have been impossible to meet the tight deadline to the high standard required. With these VFX heavy projects, we’re often editing (and sometimes even grading) before being able to visualise the CG, so this close communication is all the more important.”
Another, more time-crunched, instance of OKAY STUDIO generating a bespoke workflow for a major brand was their work for cream cheese brand, Philadelphia - whereby they completed the edit, grade, animation and online for 18 assets within an extremely short window of time. The lighthearted campaign went onto huge success, accumulating 9.8million views over three YouTube films.
With the surge in companies racing to incorporate full-service capabilities, it can be easy to forget that delivering this successfully takes years of crucial experience and careful hard-wiring of the company structure from the ground up. For Nikolaj, simply having a talented team isn’t enough to cut it - they need to be creatively-minded for the work to truly shine.
“End-to-end can sometimes imply a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ scenario,” comments Nikolaj. “But, for us, it’s the difference between simply spanning a number of capabilities and actually doing all of these varied things exceptionally well. Each bit of the creative process - edit, colour, motion retouch – needs to have a dedicated artist with their own expertise because they are such distinct roles, with very different talents needed. Our biggest strength is that whilst we’re small, we can still offer each creative stage individually, all with the oversight of a producer who fully understands and excels in managing the end-to-end process.”
For Instagram’s festive offering last year, the team was tasked with turning around five distinctly different films in time for Christmas. Taking on the creative development, edit, animation, colour, motion retouch and versioning - OKAY STUDIO worked directly with director Em Cole, based in London, in the suite, whilst incorporating daily feedback from the Facebook HQs in New York and California.
VFX-heavy projects, such as Stone Island’s latest worldwide campaign, show that the creative opportunities of an integrated workflow go even deeper when it comes to post.
“Just being able to be consulted during the edit is a massive advantage,” OKAY STUDIO’s senior colourist Ludovic Roussaux comments. “On projects like Stone Island, where the VFX was done in house, we can essentially help to supervise the entire post workflow alongside the producer. It allows us to anticipate the project’s problems and possibilities, and maybe test versions with compositors and 3D artists.”
Much has changed since OKAY STUDIO’s humble beginnings in 2014 - perhaps most visibly, they’ve gained a few neighbours, as more companies migrate out of the centre to East London. “Initially, we chose Dalston because we were looking for a space that was big enough, friendly, allowed us to grow and had good transportation links for clients. With more and more production outfits and post houses now moving into the neighbourhood we quickly realised we were onto a winner. We’ve seen a number of London’s best cultural venues and new food places constantly springing up nearby. It also doesn’t hurt that a large number of directors, DOPs and producers seemed to live within a square mile of OKAY STUDIO.”
Internally too, the team is expanding - in the last year alone the studio grew by 30%. But true to their origins, the studio still handles no more than five projects at a time so as not to compromise the personalised service and high-quality.
So, what can we expect from the studio looking ahead?
“We’re still relatively new kids on the block. We’re a young team and we’re growing consciously. Demands have definitely changed for post-houses: clients now require more outputs, more formats, and more creative input - all in less time than ever before. OKAY STUDIO was very much set up to fix a complex workflow and we couldn’t have done it without going through many of the challenges people are still facing today first. We were lucky to build a system early enough that made a lot of sense and now suddenly it’s the right time – all around us we see smaller ad agencies doing great work and challenging the traditional model. We’re excited to see how this continues to develop.”
For more of OKAY's work, please click here.