One of the more recent to join this trend is Studio Elevn, a multimedia collaborative production space founded by filmmaker and photographer Michael Ori, along with a crack team of professionals including Heidi Gress, Abbey Tate and KD Rhodes, to provide a unique environment for creative individuals to utilize multiple areas including graphic design, Web design, audio/video, photo and more. Today, I chat with Ori about his career in the business, forming Elevn, the work they're doing and thoughts on where they're headed as an organization.
Gavin: Hey, Michael. First thing, tell us a little about yourself.
Michael: My full name is Michael Anthony David Ori, Italian/Catholic, if you couldn't guess. I grew up on a farm in Price, Utah, settled by my grandparents in the early 1900s. My beautiful, sweet and amazing mother, Jo-Ann, ruled with an iron fist as my Pops, Michael, worked graveyards in the coal mine. My brother Jake and I, along with a large group of cousins, would go on daily voyages on the farm, harassing the cows and peacocks. I can honestly say I had an amazing childhood on the farm. I attended Carbon High School, graduated in 1999 and then went on to graduate from the College of Eastern Utah in Engineering. I moved to Salt Lake in 2001 to further my education at the U and I've have been living in Salt Lake ever since. I am also the president of the Italian-American Civic League, a nonprofit that has been around since 1934. It promotes Italian culture and heritage throughout Utah.
Gavin: When did you first take an interest in media, and what were some early influences on you?
Michael: I'm not sure when I caught the media bug, but the earliest memories that I have are from when Pops would rent these massive VHS camcorders from Ritz camera and film family parties and outings. I just remember a cigarette dangling from his mouth as he managed the GIANT shoulder camera with the suitcase slung over his shoulder holding the VCR which you recorded to. As a boy, I feel that there is an inherent desire to emulate your father, and I really think that something as simple as watching him film and how much joy it brought everyone sparked something inside of me.
Gavin: You graduated from the University of Utah in 2004 with a degree in film. What influenced you to pursue film, and what was your time like in its program?
Michael: I initially attended the U for Engineering. One day, I was walking around campus between classes and saw a few kids shooting a video of flowers and I asked what they were doing. In perfect art-student fashion, without looking up and with total disdain for my question, one of them replied, "We are film students." I changed my major that day. I had a renewed passion for my career choice and flew through the department as fast as I could. Oddly enough, I spent far more time studying film than I ever did engineering. It was far more competitive than I envisioned, as they only allow certain people to move on to higher course numbers. I had dreams of moving to L.A .and becoming the next big thing; life changes and decisions are made and I stayed in Salt Lake.
Gavin: During your time at college you also were working in R&D for an auto company. How did you get into that aspect of the industry, and what kind of work did you do there?
Michael: When I first moved to Salt Lake, I applied at every retail store that you could imagine. Growing up in the mining industry and being the son of a coal miner, I didn't have much retail experience, as in zero. I couldn't buy a job. I went to my advisor and he gave me a list of jobs, and Wade Automotive was hiring a CAD designer. I cut my hair, and went in for an interview. I got the job and a raise on my first day. I worked with their head designer for several months until he quit six months after I started. The owner of the company asked if I thought I could handle the position and I agreed. I ran their research-and-development team for nearly 11 years. I designed hundreds of molds, learned CNC machining, 7-axis robotics, thermoforming and ran a team of five designers and a production team.
Gavin: During those years, how active were you in the film scene, and how was it for you to kind of hone your craft on the side while working a full-time job in a very different field?
Michael: It was very difficult to work on films while holding a full-time job, and in some hope of finding freedom, I decided to open a few businesses. Yeah, bad idea. What I thought was going to free up time and create a huge influx of cash sucked every bit of time I had and the cash didn't roll in like I thought it would. I stuck with it and did my best but, as you could imagine, the dream started to fade and I wasn't happy. During this time, I would take film jobs when they would come around; from PA to grip, whatever it was, I would do it. I entered the 48 Hour Film Festival a few times with decent success. My friend Dominic Fratto whom I met in acting class at the U became a film producer and we would work on various films. Dave Boyles' White on Rice was one of the first films that I was on as Second AD and later First AD. I really didn't do as much as I had wanted in film from 2005-2009, and I was a long ways from where I saw myself on graduation day 2004.
Gavin: What was it like for you to form Ori Media and become a production outlet?
Michael: I worked with a partner to form a production company in 2009. It was the first time that I had a steady income from film and it allowed me to move on from engineering. Over the next two years, I developed my own style and aesthetic and wanted to explore that further independently. I formed Ori Media in November of 2011, and it has been an amazing journey. I feel that my experience in different fields and owning various businesses has really helped me in production. I honestly feel that the only way you can truly fail at something is if you don't try. Don't get me wrong, I wish I had the time and money that I put into those other businesses now -- it would equate to some really nice gear -- but I gained so much knowledge, I don't have a single regret.
Gavin: Over the past year, you've really grown OM into a top-notch company while still remaining a compact company. What kind of challenge has it been for you to grow the company and be able to keep it secure?
Michael: Sailing a ship with one person is a pain in the ass. Good thing it's a small boat! In all seriousness, I believe that I have created a niche company. I offer high-end quality without a huge price tag. I rely hugely on producers, makeup artists, stylists and assistants. Without them, I could never succeed in what I do. Project by project, we become more and more refined.
Gavin: When did you and Heidi Gress first meet and eventually become friends?
Michael: HEIDI GRESS!!! Feels like I have known her for decades; truth is, it's only about a year and a half. She initially contacted me in February 2011 to discuss a video project that she had coming up. I threw together a rate sheet, some samples and headed to her then-gallery, (a)perture. She was a hard nut to crack, but over the next few months we worked on a few different projects and she then asked me if I would like to be involved in Art Meets Fashion. I agreed, and the rest is history!
Gavin: How did the idea come up between the two of you to start up Studio Elevn?
Michael: It has always been a dream of mine to start a collaborative art space. I love the idea of people working on a space, feeding off one another's energy and excitement about their craft. Regardless of what field they are in, I feel that the creative energy helps everyone. Over the last six years or so, I had written several business plans, models, diagrams, stick figures and bar-napkin nonsense. I looked for locations, other artists and everything, but nothing ever seemed to pan out. One night over sushi, I brought up my idea to Heidi. Apparently, it was really strong sake or I am a way better salesman than I thought, but all she said was, "If you want to do it, do it -- don't just talk about doing it." The next day, I started back at it.
Gavin: What made you decide to bring in Abbey Tate and KD Rhodes into the project ,and how has it been working with them?
Michael: Abbey and KD had worked with Heidi in the past on Art Meets Fashion and I am very fortunate to have them on board at Studio Elevn. They are amazingly talented and very driven to learn every aspect of production. They have a style, grace and elegance that exemplifies what Studio Elevn stands for.
Gavin: How did you come across the location on 400 South, and what made you decide to set up shop there?
Michael: Shortly after the infamous sushi meeting with Heidi, I ran into Dave Wright and he mentioned that he had a couple of spaces available on the third floor of his building. I stopped by and fell in love with a space full of trash, murals and remnants of a photography studio of yesteryear. I brought Heidi down and asked her how much of the space I should take. She drew a line on the ground and said, "This much." It was WAY more than I anticipated, but after careful consideration and a lot of measuring, I erased the line and took a little more. The location couldn't get any better -- minutes from Salt Lake International and every major business downtown.
Gavin: What was it like for you setting up shop and having the grand opening in June of this year?
Michael: Heidi could see that construction wasn't going to hit the June 1 deadline so, in her infinite wisdom, she designed a flyer and sent invitations out for June 9 and told me AFTER they had already gone out; it lit a fire, to say the least. In less than two months, we had completely remodeled nearly 3,000 sq. feet, built an infinity wall, wired, painted, sealed and sanded. My brother and I hung the last light at 4 a.m. as Heidi and my brother's girlfriend Mindy hung the remaining crystals on the chandelier. I was exhausted but it was the happiest night of my life. I can't thank everyone enough who helped in the build-out. The donations from Kickstarter, my brother Jake for building 14 metal tables -- the list goes on and on.
Gavin: I've toured the space with you and seen some of the additions; the first is the area set aside for photography. What made you include the studio as part of the office space rather than separate it out?
Michael: The decision to incorporate the cyc-wall wasn't an easy one, but when we started discussing the function of the space, we wanted to be able to generate revenue in every way possible while bringing something to Salt Lake that you would only see in LA or NY. The loft-style layout with separate offices affords us the opportunity to house large photography and video shoots while giving people privacy to work while these events are taking place. We've created a multifunctioning office where we can have a large production during the day and a private film screening in the evening.
Gavin: You also have a studio sitting in an adjoining office. How was it for you to incorporate that ,and what are you most looking forward to doing in the studio?
Michael: The adjoining studio is actually a fully functioning recording studio, with all of the wiring intact. I realized that a soundproof room would be perfect for a longtime friend and fellow filmmaker, Jeremy Miller, as he edits his action sports films VERY LOUDLY. I contacted Jeremy in early May, and he moved in on June 9. I plan on leaving the recording studio and its private office intact, as they are marketable assets for Studio Elevn.
Gavin: Since opening, who are some of the clients you've been working with, and where can people check out the work you've produced so far?
Michael: I have been working on a wide variety of projects including industrial videos for Intermountain Electronics; action sports videographer for Miller Motorsports Park; fashion narratives for Farasha Boutique and designer Jordan Halversen; promotional videos for health-and-fitness guru Angela Martindale; real estate videos for Sothebeys, Keller Williams and Spring Bengtzen Realty; nonprofit work for Ballet West and Rocky Anderson; documentaries for all fashion designers at Art Meets Fashion and even music videos for local performers. If someone wants to check out some of my commercial work, they can go to OriMedia.com or they can visit my Vimeo page for a larger selection of past projects.
Gavin: Considering you run Ori Media and Studio Elevn, have you given thought to merging the two, or do you prefer to keep them as their own entities?
Michael: I feel that Ori Media and Studio Elevn will remain separate entities. I want everyone to feel like the studio belongs to him or her while they are here, and I feel that having the separate companies lends to that. Ori Media is my personal works and Studio Elevn is the collaboration of everyone’s creative works combined. I am just a small part of a big family that makes up Studio Elevn, and I like that.
Gavin: You've also made it a collaborative space for people to come in and work on their own material. For those interested, how can they best utilize your space?
Michael: Studio Elevn is a collaborative space where outside artists can come and work on their own projects for a very affordable cost. We offer monthly rates for shares, which include office time, conference room and, of course, the production time. We designed the shares in a way that anyone can afford to utilize the space. If someone is interested in using the studio for their production needs, the best thing would be to contact one of us to set up a meeting and we can assist in tailoring to their needs, no matter how big or how small. I know what it's like to be a start-up company, working out of your house, car and coffee shops. We are here to provide a place where local artist and entrepreneurs can work, entertain clients and hold meetings -- hopefully, pushing them to the next level.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand beyond what you have now or are you looking to stay steady for a while?
Michael: We will be expanding in the sense of creating new strategic partnerships within the community. I envision Studio Elevn as a partner to all agencies and artists. We will be able to draw from any talent pool to collaborate on projects. The core goal is finding the right person for the job, even if it isn’t me; I want to create the best product that I can for my customers.
Gavin: What can we expect to see from yourself and Studio Elevn over the rest of the year?
Michael: I have a stack of short films that I have written over the last few years, and with the studio up and running, I think it's time to bring them to fruition. We still have some spaces available for creative, and I would like to have the studio filled by the end of November.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Michael: The main thing that I would hope for anyone reading this is that if you are doing something that you aren’t passionate about; find a way to change it. I’m not saying that you should pull an Office Space and burn down your office building, but find a way to create, even if it's just a hobby. You never know where it will take you.
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