inside studio elevn
On the west side of downtown, on the third story of a nondescript building, is something you might not expect to find in Salt Lake City: a large, brightly lit, New York style loft. This cosmopolitan space—high, white walls, black modernist couches, steel tables, huge framed photographs—is the site of a venture that, surprisingly, is still in its infancy. Studio Elevn was formed three years ago by Michael Ori as an artist collaborative and production space for Salt Lake creatives. The goal, according to Ori, is to elevate standards for local talent and production, and to make Salt Lake a player in the world of creative media. We caught up with Studio Elevn’s Joey Jonaitis, Casey Chase, Brian Roller, and Michael Ori to talk about the studio and its outreach project We Are Elevn.
UM: Michael, why did you feel there was a need for a collaborative space in Salt Lake City?
ORI: I had a need to create a new agency for myself which was Ori Media, and I was working with another partner in the past when it was J.D. Ori Productions. We did a lot of commercial work, but that kind of fizzled out because I wanted to be bringing people in and teaching them how to do things. We finally had interns, and the girl came in and he’d have her vacuum the floor like three times a week and mop and shit. And she was a great photographer, and he just crushed her ambition. She went back to school for something else. Watching that happen, I was like, "this is not how you treat people at all", so that was kind of the start of the breakaway there. So Studio Elevn is a collaborative art space, where everyone can come in and create under the Elevn umbrella and have access to the gear, the space, our resources and everybody else who’s a part of it, calling on each other for their strengths.
UM: Explain to me the difference between Ori Media, Studio Elevn, and We Are Elevn.
JOEY: So Studio Elevn is the physical studio itself, and with that comes the collaboration. Ori Media is Michael Ori’s production company and we do mostly video and photo production as well as graphic design, website creation, stuff like that. The We Are Elevn side is really Studio Elevn’s reach out into the community. That’s where we want to bring in people who are moving from the amateur level of photography, video or graphic design and give them real work and have them cover real events. For instance we post videos about Secret SLC or what’s happening at Publik or at the Arts Council.
UM: Tell me about working with artists in the community vs. working with companies. Do you try to tie those two ventures together?
JOEY: As frequently as we can we do. The small artist has the talent, and they have the unique vision, and the companies have the product and the thing they’re trying to achieve. I think Studio Elevn is a good way to connect those dots. We know a lot of really talented artists, whether it be painters or photographers or graphic designers. It’s important to be able to make that connection because trying to find freelance people who fit your vision is really hard.
UM: Give me an example of one of We Are Elevn’s ongoing projects.
CASEY: Our biggest ongoing project is probably our education and utilization of interns. A big part of We Are Elevn is bringing in either college students or anyone interested in photography and having them get real hands-on experience with clients. You can learn a lot about photography and videography from school, but it’s a whole different thing to be a professional in the industry. I think that’s an amazing thing that they all love, because they have agency to pick what they want to do, and they also get to come and spend time behind the scenes.
UM: What influenced the design of the studio?
ORI: I wanted it to be very white canvas, so you can come in and essentially take the art off the walls and do whatever you want in here. It’s pretty easy to move over from one thing to another. Someone who rents it for an event or for a production can make it their own. So quick easy changeover. The light aspect of it I wanted all white so it’s just nice and white and beautiful and clean and airy. I hate dark studios, it doesn’t feel creative to me. As far as my inspiration, I’ve always been a fan of Milk Made in New York, and this kind of fits with their design aspect and their aesthetic, so keeping that New York loft feel. The landlord wanted to tear out all these beautiful windows and put in pane windows… the stuff that they were wanting to do I was like no, absolutely not.
UM: How do you find artists—or do they find you?
ORI: They kind of find us. Initially we were looking for people to be a part of it, and I realized very quickly that if we start showing people what we’re doing it’s a lot easier to attract people than if we’re just telling them what we can do. So we just start producing content and making cool shit and people are like, cool, I want to be a part of that. So that’s how we’ve grown, organically, by word of mouth. The proof is in the pudding, or whatever that saying is.
BRIAN: I mean that’s how I found these guys. I had moved back here from New York and was just looking at the different production companies and these guys were the ones that felt the most like what you see in New York, like the people who know what’s up and how to do stuff right.
UM: What are the advantages/disadvantages of working in Salt Lake as opposed to say, LA or New York?
ORI: I’ve worked in LA and New York and, well, you can either be a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond. I think that’s what we’ve carved out here, a really solid name in Studio Elevn as well as Ori Media, being able to navigate within these bigger companies and being a competitor on all fronts. Actually I feel better in some instances, because we have freedom. It’s a small team, we can create a lot of things very quickly and very effectively, instead of massive crews and all that stuff. So I don’t feel like it’s a hindrance being here, I feel like it’s actually a benefit. And especially being able to work with Canon and these international campaigns that we’re involved with now, it gives everybody a little bit more of a push to get out more than we would otherwise.
JOEY: As far as the studio goes, it’s a lot easier to influence change here, as far as trying to change the way something works. Looking at the way people work in New York, you’re not really going to be able to do anything because there are just so many people.
ORI: Well, like take Milk Made. Joey and I went and walked through and the girl gave us a tour, and we actually hired a guy to come in from Milk Made to consult for us here. The way he was selling it was that Milk was nothing before him, but on this walk through she was like ‘yeah, we’ve been around for 23 years,’ and they’re finally to the point where they’re pretty well-known. But if you think about it, 23 years—just to make a dent. I feel like we’ve made a pretty solid dent in three.