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Stay Nimble, Be Responsive


INFLUENCER: Stept Studios co-founder Nick Martini on the company's journey from ski movies to commercials

Stay Nimble, Be Responsive

It is five degrees below zero on the mountainside, and I grit my teeth as I feel my bones slip back into place. I lay shirtless in northern Siberia surrounded by waist-deep snow. Our film crew is ten hours from the closest hospital, and I give a sigh of relief knowing my dislocated shoulder is back in place. 

I spent over a decade travelling the world to chase snow and climb mountains. Throughout those years, I slowly transitioned from being in front of the camera as a professional skier, to behind the lens producing and directing a string of adrenaline-filled films. Our adventures included everything from traversing Russia via the Trans-Siberian railway (with some injuries along the way), breaking world records with ESPN, skiing off rooftops in Detroit, and tracking Chilean peaks from helicopters. 

Those early adventures filming in remote parts of the world required juggling unforeseen challenges, controlling risk, in-depth planning, more planning and genuine teamwork; all the qualities that proved invaluable when my brother, Alex, and I founded Stept Studios. 

We quickly brought Cam Riley on board and the three of us produced twelve ski movies together, growing a cult following for our niche films. We sold our films on iTunes, in retail ski stores, and managed a 30-stop international film tour each fall. As our following grew, so did the support from larger athletic and outdoor brands such as The North Face and Under Armour.

We graduated from CU Boulder, and not long after, our enthusiasm for endless winters on the road began to wane. With my four torn ACLs as well as a host of other ski-induced ailments across the team, we decided it was time to close up shop in Boulder and migrate to LA to explore the next step in our journey as filmmakers. Upon arrival to our much warmer new home base, we were greeted by a whole new set of challenges to tackle. We knew transitioning our business from working on snow-covered peaks, to sound stages in Burbank, would be no easy task. Despite the change in setting, our strategy remained the same - stay nimble, be responsive, and always look towards what’s ahead. 

Slowly and steadily Stept grew. Cam, Alex, and I made my small Venice apartment our new HQ as we started getting more and more incoming requests. Soon after, we moved to El Segundo for more space and rented a 4-bedroom townhouse that we quickly converted into a fully functioning studio. Walk-in closets were converted into edit bays, the master bedroom was filled with workstations, and our second story porch was our 'conference room'. We tried our best to look at current trends in the media landscape to identify where things were headed. We stayed connected with the brands we had always worked with, and saw the moves they were making. While they continued to invest in bigger broadcast plays, there was a increasing demand for content to fill their digital channels. As the frequency of production increased for web commercials and branded films, we re-positioned ourselves accordingly. Within a year, it was time to move again - this time into a real office.

Three years later, Stept’s LA office now has a full time crew of 25 people and dozens of freelancers, who together created around 100 commercials and films in 2018. Stept’s roster of directors is filled with young, hungry creatives who embody the same values as the founding partners. Our team sits alongside an in-house cyc-wall, camera rental company (Vault Rentals), edit suites, and, of course, a half-pipe for skate breaks. Alex, our business manager, has also opened a satellite office in Jackson Hole, WY to run the back end of the business (and the skiing doesn’t suck). 

In 2019, incoming requests continue to shift and our team has worked together to pivot. We recently added a creative division to service our direct-to-brand clients with photography, design, and campaign concepting. Our goal is to offer a new solution for brands and agencies in need of more robust services from their production partners. With faster turnaround times becoming the norm, we have added value by also adding in-house CGI, VFX, sound and colour. From TVCs, photo-driven campaigns, and feature docs, our team continues to look for the next mountain to climb.

Nick Martini is co-founder of Stept Studios

Stept is a creatively integrated production company with offices in Los Angeles and Jackson Hole

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Stept Studios, Fri, 08 Feb 2019 11:28:21 GMT