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Industry Insights: Ngozi Okali

Why do you think you are in Technical Operations?

I have always loved watching films but I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined I could or would work in this industry. In my young mind, working in film was all about being artistic and imaginative. I’m not particularly creative but rather I veer towards logic and order. Ops is all about processes and workflows, so the role suits me perfectly. We are the link between post production and the cinemas so we have to be on hand to not only deliver content and keys but also provide technical support at the cinema level when needed. I get a real buzz helping others so while solving problems in projection can be challenging it is also very satisfying when you are able to help and get that film on screen. I strive for no dark screens.

What’s your elevator pitch to describe the kind of films and/or filmmakers you like working with the most?

For me, it’s less about the film genre and more about release formats, although having to watch films multiple times means a good story makes that side of the job easier. The more interesting projects involve multiple formats like 2D, Atmos, Imax, Dolby Vision, Screen X or, even better, a new format that has yet to be explored and learned. I rarely work directly with filmmakers but when I do, I like working with filmmakers that understand the cinema space and how their work translates onto the big screen. How your film is delivered to the audience is important.

What is it about such material or teams that you find the most inspiring?

I’m not inspired by the technology. What does inspire me, however, is the people that I work with. Everyone I come across from post production to mastering and delivery, and all the way through to the cinema staff, all have one thing in common – a passion to get it right and deliver or put on a good show. They often go above and beyond what is required and that inspires me to also push myself to get it right.

If forced to give one tip to new people coming through what would it be?

I have 2 tips: Know where you sit in the process. How does what you are being asked to do fit into the wider picture? I believe people are much more avid in their work if they understand what part they play within the industry. If you are trying to work out where you are best placed in the industry don’t be put off by the term technical. What we do is more operational than technical. We coordinate all the moving parts according to a set deadline. You don’t need to know how to make it, just who can make it on time and within budget.

And what pitfall would you say is essential to avoid in your sector when starting out?

(You can be general about film or specific to your area or both)

Don’t try and hide your mistakes and when disaster strikes don’t panic and avoid knee jerk reactions. In Ops the little mistakes can have a snowball effect and the chances are you won’t be able to navigate your way out of the problem, but you can be sure that more experienced colleagues have seen it before and know the best way out.

Tell us about where you come from or where you live now and how it filters into your work?

I have an English mother and a Nigerian father. I was born in Ghana and spent my early childhood in Nigeria before attending a Quaker boarding school in Yorkshire, so it could be said that I’ve had an unusual upbringing. I’ve always thought of myself as a citizen of the world – never quite forcing into myself one world or the other – and I believe this has given me a global perspective and awareness. It allows me to see the bigger picture.

Tell us about the latest film / exhibition / book / public figure / article to have inspired you?

Maya Angelou inspires me every day. Her story is full of strength, determination, dignity and she fearlessly lived her life her way. Despite the obstacles thrown in her path she still managed to get out into the world and be who she wanted to be. She famously said, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” She inspires me so much I even named my daughter after her.

What frustrates you about what you do?

The lack of understanding and knowledge around what we do in Ops frustrates me. Technical Operations is the essential final step in getting the film out to the public, but we are often squeezed in terms of time and resources. There is also a misconception that as we are now in a digital world it all happens at lightning speed or that presentation in cinemas require less attention.

How do you overcome this?

As Head of Technical for eOne I worked towards educating our colleagues about the role of Technical Operations. Wherever possible, I take the time to explain our processes and workflows, why we do certain things, how long it takes and the importance of deadlines. I find that people respond effectively to the word ‘jeopardise’. I also try to highlight our successes to the wider theatrical team – this is something that is already built in to the marketing and publicity teams’ workflows but not so much for Ops so it’s a good way to build a greater understanding and appreciation of our role.

Do you believe in the ‘female gaze’ and what does that mean to you?

Yes, I believe women do tell stories from a different point of view from men. The focus runs more along the lines of emotions and intimacy whereas as the male gaze is often more voyeuristic. However, I’m much more in tune with the individual gaze. As with my own story, we all have different backgrounds that shape how we see the world as individuals. In my ideal world this would not always run along the male/female lines but along personal experiences.

Parting shot – Why are programmes like FUTURE LEADERS IN DISTRIBUTION important to you and what does gender equality in film and society mean to you?

I have recently found myself at a crossroads in my career and the FDL course has given me much needed guidance and support. It’s also made me realise that my experiences are not unique and there is a comfort in knowing others are also sharing the same experiences.

Gender equality is everything to me. I have both a son and a daughter and its extremely important to me that I make them aware of the nuances that were never pointed out to me. I’m working hard to ensure they both realise that all doors are open to them and that their gender shouldn’t ever be a defining factor in following their dreams.

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