From an idea to a business. Cinematography as a mission

A lot of ideas remain just ideas and are never realized. The same with business: in order to develop your idea into a project and start implementing it, you often need a push. For the graduates of Lviv Business School of UCU Innovations and Entrepreneurship Program, such a push was their business education. LvBS and MSc in Innovations and Entrepreneurship Program present a series of articles about the ideas that became successful businesses thanks to the education, about the growth and the difficulties their authors have faced.

Photo credit: Oleksandr Fraze-Frazenko

The heroine of our story is Olha Fraze-Frazenko, a film director, poet and artist. In summer 2016 she graduated from LvBS MSc in Innovations and Entrepreneurship program. At the time when everyone in Ukraine kept talking about the decline in movie industry, thanks to her commitment and persistent studying at Lviv Business School of UCU, Olha managed to make her idea come true and opened OFF Laboratory Production Studio, now with several films behind it. Olha shares with us how she managed to do that:

Everything starts with an idea…

Oleksandr (Olha’s husband) and I have always been shooting something: home videos and records of cultural events that we participated in, or were in the audience, or organized. This pursuit has gradually become a part of ourselves. Now we are focused on documentaries; our aim is to tell some important stories that are forgotten or unknown to wider audience, to refresh the information on Ukrainian artists, especially poets, to fill in some lacunae. It was important to us to make documentaries to the next level, that’s why we try to make highly artistic documentaries, to put emphasis on civilization achievements of Ukrainian poets from all over the world, to ruin the stereotype that our culture and literature are secondary, and to get rid of Ukrainian inferiority complex.

…and is finished when the product is ready

Thus our production studio was born; its name consists of the abbreviation of our names OFF and the word Laboratory; on one side, there is a hint of experiment, and on the other side (thanks to the preposition ‘off’) it means going beyond the limits of a laboratory, an office, an editing room whatever. OFF Laboratory is innovative in its approach to product development: high-quality video and quick performance. Besides, we never talk about ethnicity or faux patriotism. As for today, we already have films about Ukrainian poets: Chubai (2014), The House on Seven Winds. The Portrait of Vasyl Makhno (2015), An Aquarium in the Sea. The Story of the New York Group of Poets (2016); a film on social issues I See (2015); a short poetic film The Name of Water and many more. It’s not a secret to the Western world that the growth of society and culture are interrelated processes; that’s why we find culture an important phenomenon and a process, that’s why we work in culture. We, the OFF Laboratory team, strive to preserve and popularize the best examples of Ukrainian culture by means of cinematic language that is now sounding most loudly and widely. We are in a big hurry now to have enough time to preserve things that can easily vanish, and we, Ukrainians, will lose something important once again.

On education as a crucial part of ideas realization

Education is always a way of growth. What stops growing starts gradually dying. That’s why I think that education, growth, and self-improvement are essential processes. And though earlier I was skeptical about business education, I didn’t come across stories of true success, now I am convinced by my own example and that of my colleagues that it really works. I am a creative person, and I really needed certain guideposts and algorithms, instruments and examples.

I believe I am lucky to be a young entrepreneur and to get such a ‘starting package’ of knowledge and skills at Lviv Business School of UCU. I can see the sufferings of some company directors who have built a business, achieved a lot, but at a certain point they start hitting ‘a glass ceiling’. That’s why you need to study all your life.

Before and after studying at LvBS

Before studying at LvBS we had a vision of our production studio, of what exactly we want to do, we had hundreds of hours of footage. When I was enrolled in this program, Oleksandr Fraze-Frazenko, who is the OFF Laboratory main engine, had already shooted a feature-length documentary called Chubai that premiered with acclaim in September 2014. At that moment I had a stationary ‘office job’. But nevertheless, we were shooting a lot together, writing scripts, making script breakdowns, and many many more; however, I had no heart to leave my main job and fully plunge into our own business. This was one of the first lessons of the business school: be ready to take the challenge. After the first module of the program, I quit my job…

For the first time in my life, I felt that I was in the very right place, (that’s what I had been looking for), that the thoughts I had in my mind for a year or even longer should become reality as soon as possible. I think it was an ideal combination of many factors: our desire to work in the sphere of culture and cinematography, our being ready for great changes, having an environment of same thinkers at the business school, and getting proper knowledge and practical skills in the process of studying. The second lesson of the business school was to launch a viable project as soon as possible, and check it, make it more effective in the process of work. And that’s what happened: I had a production studio (a team of two people, a name, a logo, and shooting experience), as well as training modules during which I was getting more and more new instruments and opportunities to build a business, i.e. giving an effective form to our ideas. The third lesson was to learn how to use a business model canvas that is a super instrument I always use for all the projects. This canvas is what let me give some structure to almost all processes that go on around any idea.

In two years, OFF Laboratory Studio grew from two founders to a team of seven professionals. We have a vast field of work ahead, we grow, but now we always know where to search for advice, and we can also give some advice ourselves.

On plans, growth and new summits

In 2014-2016 OFF Laboratory had successful film shootings and presentations in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Cambridge, Wroclaw, Warsaw, Lublin, Lviv, Ternopil, Kyiv, and other American and European cities. In particular, in November 2015 I See film was screened in the UN Headquarters in New York with support from Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN; in April 2016 the European premiere of An Aquarium in the Sea. The Story of the New York Group of Poets film took place in Poland.

Premiere screenings of An Aquarium in the Sea. The Story of the New York Group of Poets film took place in New York, Chicago, and Cambridge, involving the poets who founded the New York Group. The festival called ‘Big Comeback of the New York Group’ took place in Ukraine, and there we had the film’s screening, literature evenings and a series of lectures; it was a large-scale event that was realized thanks to the great effort of Yurii Kucheriavyi, Viktoriia Luchka, and Vasyl Makhno; we worked together on this project. In 2017 we will screen this film in Rome and Paris.

The Ukrainian premiere of I See film will take place on December 23rd in Kyiv; we added an audio description that makes it possible for visually-impaired people to watch the film. I See film is aside of our other projects, but it’s not less important, as it tells about ruining the stereotypes, destroying the borders in our minds and overcoming real and made-up obstacles; it’s a film about a cycling marathon of visually-impaired people around Ukraine. The soundtrack to this film was done by Pikkardiyska Tertsia.

As for our plans, we are working on a series of feature-length documentaries called The Poets; we plan to finish the series in two years. The series will include, among others, the following films: Mister Nobody. The Portrait of Ihor Kalynets, Lysheha Dances, Ocean Barka, Casi Desnudo. The Portrait of Yuriy Tarnawsky, Emma’s Home etc. I believe each film will surprise Ukrainian audience. We think of switching to feature films someday, but we won’t give up on documentaries.

On success as a component of any business 

Success is quite a plastic concept that can be estimated in different ways both in life and in business. As to OFF Laboratory, we consider it to be the business of our life. We didn’t build it to be sold for profit, to accumulate capital or become a market player. The most important thing for us is the mission that we have. I think of a famous quote that is ascribed to Einstein, but it actually belongs to a sociologist William Bruce Cameron, who said: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”. So we hope that the indicator of our success is our contribution into the culture, into the growth of society, into the self-identification of Ukrainians, into creating new values; and maybe this success can be calculated someday by means of regression or another instrument.

Information: Olha Fraze-Frazenko is a film director, poet, and artist. She lives in Lviv. She is the author of Toy Museum (a poetry collection) and The Name of Water (a book of poems), as well as of I See and The Name of Water films. She is a LvBS graduate.