Q+A: Fiz Olajide & Anne Hollowday, Lonelyleap
Lonelyleap is a London-born, DUMBO-dwelling team of documentarians, designers, filmmakers, producers and strategists telling stories with the purpose of revealing human truths. We sat down with Fiz Olajide & Anne Hollowday to hear more about the narratives that keep them passionately making work and why DUMBO became their stateside home.
So Fiz & Anne, let's start with you two. Where are you from and how did you each end up working here in DUMBO?
Fiz: Well we are both from the UK and I am from London. Lonelyleap has two offices, one in London and one here in DUMBO. I started off working as a producer in the London office and I came over to New York to head up the team and lead the office in 2013. I am now the Managing Director for the New York office. My background before that was advertising and lots of TV. I have always loved film and ended up in documentaries. I never planned on moving to New York- ever! It just kind of happened when my boss in the UK asked me to come here for one week on a really cool project and five years later I am still here. I have actually worked for Lonelyleap in the New York office longer than I had in the London office. I always thought I was a Londoner but I know now that I am so New York too. It was a pretty easy transition from London to New York- they both have a similar energy.
Anne: I am on the creative side so I oversee all of the pitches, the quality of the work that goes out. I am also a director so I lead on some of the projects myself. I started in the London office six months before Fiz, when Lonelyleap had four employees and was super small. I got involved because I wanted to work on stories about real people and real ‘stuff’. The company ended up winning three big projects and we had to expand pretty quickly which is when Fiz came to New York. I was only supposed to be at this office for a few meetings when I met a guy at Vinegar Hill House who chased me down the street. I fell in love with him and now he is my husband and I live here too- A real DUMBO story! So really I came here because I fell in love but Fiz and I worked together a lot in London so it worked out that now we are here in this office which is now twenty people.
Fiz: I am really appreciative that it happened at the same time for both of us.
Those are both pretty whirlwind ways to end up here but very New York! So Lonelyleap is a documentary filmmaking company but since you’re both veterans of this place, I want to hear each of your views on what goes on here and how things get done.
Fiz: Well I would say that our sweet spot is combining brand stories with beautiful cinematography. I have to say we have a really cool team- they truly are amazing filmmakers. As Anne said, it is a team of twenty people and everybody has really good expertise and insights because they love the craft, they love film and it really shows in what we make. We have researchers, editors, producers and creatives. The kind of stuff that we work on will be tech, science, start-ups, documentary films, films about brand stories for a conference, websites or social but the thing we get the most excited about though is when we get to make our own independent documentaries. That is really our heritage and how the company was founded. We are always trying to stay true to that. This year we are in the process of putting out our own indie docs.
Anne: I would agree and I would add that although we have a lot of different teams in the company and we all have our expertise, we work really well collaboratively. That is part of why we have been here so long. Even though you have a job, everybody pitches in and the success of a project depends on that. When people come in and want to do just do one thing, they don't end up staying long.
Someone’s story is what we try to dig out. Even if it is a product launch or some sort of sales piece, we are always trying to really drill it back and understand what the motivation of the company is and find the problem they are trying to solve.
Anne Hollowday, Executive Creative Director
Fiz: Oh yeah. Everyone wears different hats. For instance our Financial Controller is the most handy man ever and he actually designed and built a lot of this space we just moved into in September. We obviously didn’t hire him because of that but we were happy that he happened to bring that skill out with us.
Anne: The documentaries and stories we make are a curiosity about people and things and the world and how all of that works together. Somebody’s story is what we try to dig out. Even if it is a product launch or some sort of sales piece, we are always trying to really drill it back and understand what the motivation of the company is and find the problem they are trying to solve. We apply that documentary approach to every thing we do. Everybody we work with always says they feel like we aren’t dumbing down anything and we somehow are able to understand the core of it in a really human way.
Some of your clients are amusement-park-big (like Google) but your work never feels that way. How do you bring the personality and humility out of a brand and into your projects?
Anne: Our approach of looking for the core and putting that filter on everything is what we try to do throughout our whole process. It's the same with our filmmaking process. If you went to a more standard production company, you would have crews of maybe a hundred people. We like to work with a much smaller team based on what we are trying to achieve. Event if we are making something shiny, we try to strip it back so it's as much about the process itself that elicits the right response. We put a lot of store on the way we conduct ourselves and that shows in the end. It is an incredible privilege to travel around the world and hear all of these stories form people. Everything from copper-mining to cloud computing… I never thought I would learn about those things. Suddenly you find yourself in their world and you feel a responsibility and a great respect for the people immersing themselves in whatever it may be. If you can capture the experience you had with them on that day then you have done your job.
Fiz: Everybody has a story, no matter what industry. What we try to do is give people who didn't have a voice or know how to put it out there a voice to tell that story.
Anne: We never want to script it for them. Our job is to elicit it out of them and that is the most magical thing about it. When someone hears themselves answer something they have never been asked or thought about directly and they have an emotional response to that in the moment. There are so many times that we have gone on shoots and the interviews have ended in tears. It is a joyous moment amidst a lot of emotion.
Everybody has a story, no matter what industry. What we try to do is give people who didn't have a voice or know how to put it out there a voice to tell that story.
Fiz Olajide, Managing Director
That is a beautiful approach and perspective. Is there a standout project for each of you that you put extra heart into?
Fiz: There are quite a few actually. There have been many times when we work with ‘amusement park brands’ like you mentioned and they will come to us for help. Although they may be a big technology brand, behind all of that they partner up with nonprofits or causes. That is when we work with them to reveal a side of them that the general public or other businesses may not know about. When we marry those two things together we get to tell a beautiful story. We did a really special project with a client that was working with the Department of Veterans Affairs for Veterans Day. They brought up that many veterans are injured, healing in the hospital or otherwise never get to go to Veteran’s Day parades or celebrations with the vets who are able bodied or can get off work to attend.
The client took VR (Virtual Reality) devices to these hospitals for the vets to try and experience the events that they couldn’t get to in 360º VR. Being able to take that to these people and say “Hey even though your aren’t physically there, you can still experience it in this way.” We were able to capture their experiences in real time and the expression even without words felt really amazing. That was a a tech client partnering up with an organization they wanted to reach out to by telling real stories of real people. It felt huge. For me that was so emotional I am never really into soppy things because I never want it to seem as though we are taking advantage of any person’s experience. When we showed that film, we screened it in the hospital. They (the vets) loved it and they were proud of it. For me that felt right.
Anne: There is a level of human emotion and empathy that you can see and feel with the power of film if you find the right image and testimony and music. It takes alchemy to make it special. I worked on one project in which I had a transcendental experience. We worked with a nonprofit in Kenya called Save The Elephants that is working to prevent the poaching of elephants for their ivory, which is a really serious problem. The problem was that they have too many national parks and limitless areas where elephants can roam free and not enough anti-poaching patrols to keep track of the elephants and keep them safe. They began teaming up with Google Earth to use tracking collars on the elephants and the data was overlaid on Google Earth so they could concentrate their safety patrols where they knew the elephants were. They also learned loads of information about the elephants that they didn’t know before which really helped their conservation efforts. That was an amazing effort led by people who have been in the field in Kenya for decades. To be there first hand and see their commitment and the lengths they will go to protect these elephants was amazing.
DUMBO feels like a place people are taking care of.
Those stories are both so emotional. I can see how this job can be so moving! How do you feel like Lonelyleap fits into DUMBO? How did this become home?
Fiz: We have been here for seven years and this is our second location. DUMBO just has an energy about it that makes it feel like it is for everybody whether you are a company that is just one person or you have 200 people and several floors. It still feels personal to you. I walk to work and when I get to DUMBO, I feel like I have come home. I can’t imagine leaving DUMBO and working in the city. It just wouldn’t feel personal. DUMBO feels like a place people are taking care of.
Anne: There is a balance here. There are places you can go that you can get an expanse and feel that openness. We found this space here and it just felt right. We have this amazing view and it feels like such a privilege. Maybe that is because we are from an island and surrounded by water or maybe it is because we all travel so much and we get connected to place. I feel quite grounded here.
Finally, what are your some of your favorite spots in DUMBO?
Anne: The cold brew from Usagi and the shade from Manhattan Bridge in the summer from 1pm onward on corner Plymouth and the dog park. As a fair skinned Brit, I am always looking for the best shade. I also love riding my bike down to the end of the pier and watching the boats.
Fiz: The food trucks are so good! But I also love Burrow. The smell of the fresh pastries really warms me up.