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Passion, Growth, and New Frontiers: How OKAY Studio Ended 2021 On a High


Co-founder Nikolaj Belzer and EP Madeline Chapman talk LBB through the highs and highs of a groundbreaking year for the London-based post powerhouse…

Passion, Growth, and New Frontiers: How OKAY Studio Ended 2021 On a High

As we once again approach a natural pause at the end of the year, 2021 has offered plenty to look back upon. Scarcely is that more true, however, than in the offices of a post production company in Dalston, London.

The past 12 months have been staggering for OKAY STUDIO, with both star-powered and purpose-driven projects peppering the calendar as the company went from strength to strength. OKAY expanded into new territory in 2021 - both metaphorically with new clients, and quite literally with the addition of three new suites to match up with the studio’s growth. Amongst other campaigns, OKAY can reflect on eye-catching work for Nike, Bodyform, Allianz, and Pandora featuring the likes of Charli XCX and Addison Rae.

To reflect back on how this year came together, and look forward to what 2022 might have in store, LBB sat down with co-founder Nikolaj Belzer and executive producer Madeline Chapman.

Evolution or Revolution? 

“I can see how it might look like a breakthrough year from the outside”, reflects Nikolaj, “but with most of our ‘bigger’ clients we’ve worked with them for a long time, so from our standpoint here it feels more like a natural progression. It’s rewarding to see how our own work has grown alongside the brand”. 

For OKAY, explains Nikolaj, sustainable and gradual growth has always been part of the plan. “None of us, on the production or creative side, has suddenly changed the way we work or the intensity with which we approach each project”, he explains. “It’s an amazing group of incredibly talented people, each of whom have worked hard since the first day they walked through the door at OKAY”.

Even if the success of 2021 has been a long time coming, there’s still a sense of momentum which those inside the company have felt building up for a while. “Starting the year off with such successes as Bodyform and Tommee Tippee I think really put us on the map amongst our peers”, notes Madeline, “and I definitely credit those projects with leading us to even bigger campaigns”. 

As with so many working in the industry, however, there were certain moments at which the scale - and the sheer coolness - of what OKAY was achieving sunk in for various members of the team. “I think the TikTok campaign that launched as part of the EUROs this summer was definitely a milestone”, says Nikolaj. “It is incredible to deliver a world-wide campaign that is playing numerous times a day as part of the most watched sports event of the year. The fact that we delivered on time and on budget with a team that is probably a quarter of the size of many competitors speaks for the strength of our capabilities”. 

Above: ‘Where Fans Play’ made up part of a substantial brand campaign for TikTok during the summer’s European Championships 

Renewed Purpose

From a certain standpoint, a theme uniting much of OKAY’s output this year has been a higher sense of purpose, or advocacy for social causes. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s something we intentionally seek out”, says Madeline, “but it’s always nice to see the amount of work being done to elevate marginalized voices and perspectives, branded or not. Though I do have one bug bear on these types of projects and it’s that when they are attached to a brand, they seem to have distinctively lower budgets than straight up commercial work. I would love to start seeing brands putting their money where their mouths are for this type of work”.

Despite the challenges, however, socially-conscious campaigns in 2021 often ended up especially rewarding for the team. “I would hope people can see that social advocacy is a natural part of the company’s culture”, says Nikolaj. “Being small it is much easier to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to certain projects, simply as we don’t need to feed a big overhead monster. That way, there is room to include everyone’s voice as part of the creative process”. 

For an example of that kind of work, Nikolaj points to a piece for Allianz Athletes Mental Health, directed by BWGTBLD’s Alex Goeke. “This was a passion project, and all in the team - led by Ruth [Wardell] as the colourist - really loved the piece and were keen to work with Alex and the team at BWGTBLD”, he recounts.”Looking at the energy in the room when the guys were working on it and the outcome being for an incredibly good cause, it was definitely worth it”. 

Above: This year, Allianz shone a light on the mental health of athletes ahead of the Olympic games. 

It’s All About The People 

Ultimately, a quality which has shone through OKAY’s success over the past year - and many years before it - has been the people-friendly culture the company has cultivated. 

“As part of that culture, we really wanted to create a space for clients to come and collaborate with our creatives”, says Madeline as she reflects back on the opening of three new suites. “We recently worked on a fast turnaround Nike project with Wieden & Kennedy and, as brilliant and revolutionary as working remotely has been the past year, having clients in the suite for that job really reaffirmed to me that there is no substitute for in-person collaboration”. 

“The people are the heart of what we do, being on production, creative, assistant or runner side”, agrees Nikolaj. “I like to compare us to a basketball team where everyone can come off the bench - even if only for a few minutes - and help the team succeed as a whole. In that sense we’ve been incredibly lucky with everyone that has joined. That goes for producers as much as for creatives like Jo Lewandowska or Ruth Wardell (who joined from Cut & Run and ETC respectively last fall) or Bevis Jones our Head of Post/VFX (who spent a decade at Smoke & Mirrors and MPC before joining full time with us last year)”. 

Along with the new additions to the company’s roster, however, has been an even clearer vision of OKAY’s overriding purpose. “You can’t totally detach your professional life from your personal life. With that in mind I’d make a big argument that they all have progressed not only in the amount of incredible projects they’ve worked on but equally in having a healthier work-life balance, something which is incredibly important to us at OKAY”.

A campaign which highlights the collaboration at the heart of OKAY’s culture is, says Nikolaj, Zalando x Estée Lauder campaign from director Fiona Burgess. “Both Jo as the editor and Ruth as the colourist worked closely together with Fiona and each other from start to finish”, he explains. “The fact that Bevis as our VFX lead could pick on shots early in the offline and then align with Ruth’s creative saved a lot of time and headaches - and ultimately guaranteed that the project could turn out this amazing, especially with that many stakeholders involved”.

Above: Zalando and Estée Lauder’s spot from Fiona Burgess playfully explores the concept of ‘wellness’. 

And so when all is said and done, it’s people who have defined OKAY’s success in 2021 - and who will continue to guide it in the upcoming years. 

“I have found this year hugely rewarding, we’ve made some really strong relationships with agencies, brands and production companies that we admire, and I hope that the entire team feel as proud of what we have achieved as I do”, notes Madeline. “It’s a clichéed answer but next year I just hope for more of the same”. 

“The next 5-10 people we will bring onboard will be crucial”, predicts Nikolaj. “I hope we can convince some of the best, brightest (and nicest!) to come with us on that journey. Ideally, we don’t only want to put out the best work there is - but also be one of the best places to work in our industry. 

“For me, those two go hand in hand. Always”. 

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OkayStudio, Wed, 22 Dec 2021 15:10:00 GMT