A Sneak Peek at our First-Ever Oktane Documentary: a Q&A with the Director
We are over 300 days into the global coronavirus pandemic. The world has changed, and my colleagues at Okta and I suspected that a typical mainstage tech keynote wouldn’t adequately capture the heart and soul of this year and the big announcements we have to make.
We decided to try something new at Oktane21: film the year as we lived it. Share the ups and downs, the hard stuff, and the hope. You’ll hear from people all over the company about what they’ve built inside and outside of Okta this year.
The Oktane documentary is the story of our customers too. Leaders from Lululemon, Farmers’ Insurance, and the Trevor Project share what it was like to live through fundamental technology shifts and how they managed to connect and grow this year.
This was a big undertaking for the team, with shoots in 14 different locations, with dozens of Okta employees over six months. Above all else, we prioritized health and safety. I’m proud of the rigor and care that went into ensuring that every person was safe.
We brought on Godfrey Dadich, a team of experienced documentary producers and directors to help bring the film together, and we tapped Julia Reagan to direct it.
Julia has extensive experience as a documentary film director. She has worked on films spanning from a documentary that followed a daughter adjusting to caring for her mother that won awards at multiple film festivals to projects for Netflix and National Geographic.
Check out this Q+A, where Julia talks about the hardest part about making a documentary in a pandemic, the kinds of stories she finds moving, and what part of the filming reminded her of an alien abduction.
Can you tell us about your career as a documentarian? What kinds of stories are you drawn to?
In my career as a documentarian, I've done a lot of different types of stories.
I think the connective tissue and the interesting thing for me always is people and human stories. What I'm really interested in is this point at which people are at a turning point, for whatever reason. I feel like we become very open and vulnerable when we're going through something, whatever that thing may be.
Finding people and stories that are at this moment of transition tend to make films about those people more interesting because we've caught them at this moment of stress, of loss, of vulnerability, of triumph. Finding those stories are hard, but if that magic ends up working, then it's really wonderful.
I think that comes into the Oktane film too because, obviously, all of us went through something very big last year. In so many different ways and iterations, we all went through things. We have this commonality of the pandemic, but there are so many other things that happened for each person that will stay with them forever.
It kind of is the first time in my life and in my career where you can talk to anyone in the world about last year, and they have a story that might bring them to tears, or maybe it's a happy story, but you had to face a bunch of adversity to get that happiness, or whatever it is. So there's a lot of stories out there.
Can you walk us through your process for the documentary from the initial pitch to starting to meet people and hear their stories to editing? How did the story evolve along the way?
The original idea was to really feature the people of Okta. And there are all of these exciting stories about the business as well.
What really excited me about the potential of this project, from the very beginning, was the opportunity to talk about the diversity of stories. There is just such a wide range.
Okta is such a well-known and well respected and successful company, but I was just so curious as to, who are the people? They are making all of these companies so successful, but they've gone through so much.
The idea was to talk to as many people as possible. We asked anyone and everyone to send us a story about their year last year. We got so many submissions, honestly, I feel like we could have made a TV series based on everything that people went through.
The film evolved in a lot of different ways. But I just really have been so impressed by the people and really love everyone that we got to meet through it.
What was the most challenging part of filming this documentary during a pandemic?
I think the most challenging part was just trying to keep everyone safe.
Honestly, that was not really even my responsibility—it was the production team who did an incredible job.
It was the people on the production team, making sure everyone was tested every day, making sure we had the right distance between us on set, making sure that if we needed to do a Zoom interview that we could do that so we weren't traveling in person—whatever was needed.
The logistics of shooting during this time can be a lot. And I'm so impressed by how they just made everything happen. There was never a time where it was like, we can't do that. It was just like, okay, we'll figure it out. In regular production time, that's impressive, but especially now, I'm just really impressed by the team. I think they did an amazing job.
It sounds like COVID really enabled this creativity around how you approached making a movie.
Yes, totally. And I think the ways in which we're used to being creative have to be adapted. Because so much of picking a shot or deciding where in the room we're gonna sit the person because of lighting—doing that with someone bringing you on an iPad around is just a totally different dynamic in a way that is—just to be totally transparent—awkward.
But I think it's cool, and it's a testament to the people that were on the ground in real life because I never felt like I didn't really know what was going on. I always was carried around on the little iPad, so everyone felt like we were still able to do our job, which is great.
What was your favorite part overall of the filming?
It's hard to pick a favorite person or story.
Just for me, personally, I am someone who does films that follow people and in their lives. And I'm very much a humanistic storyteller. So I was really moved by the personal stories that we included. I think all of them are so different. And it took a lot of courage for all of those people to share with me what they went through. Some of those stories were very traumatic for the person. And I was very moved by the idea that they hoped that someone would see their story and feel the same way.
Or for people who feel like they're introverts, just even being on camera was hard, even if their story wasn't hard to tell. It's still just difficult for them to be on camera because they're shy. And I think that the fact that they felt comfortable or so they said to me, was a huge win.
I think it just takes a lot of courage on every level to be able to do that. So I was super impressed, I think by those stories.
Was there anything that surprised you about the filming?
That first shoot, we were in the empty Okta offices. And I was surprised by how dramatic it felt to be there. I've obviously never even been into the offices before that. We were there with a few people and to see them be back for the first time, and they're like, “Oh my gosh, everything is packed up.” And it's kind of an eerie feeling.
Even from what I could see, there were signs that said “Potluck, March 2020! Bring food!” They were still up from before everyone was at home, and it felt like everyone went to an alien ship and planet all of a sudden and just left everything as it was.
It was surprising. It was eerie. And it was really interesting to be there and see these empty offices. You really get a sense of how many people are a part of Okta and how many people came in and packed up, and we saw the little tiny personal things that were left behind. It feels really big to see.
I think that a lot of us haven't really even processed whatever we were doing in March 2020 yet. We haven't thought about going back to whatever we were doing at that time. And so I think seeing it—it brings everything back in a way that maybe is unexpected.
What do you hope people walk away from the film feeling or thinking?
I see the film as a love letter to the people of Okta.
There are so many stories that hopefully resonate with people. Maybe something that they've been going through happened in a similar way to what they're seeing on screen.
I just hope people take away this sense of community and a feeling of camaraderie because I really feel like the humans that we got to meet and that told us our stories are the stars of this film.
My job would be done if people feel a sense of community and, hopefully, if you have felt a way that you haven't really expressed and you see someone feeling that way, maybe you feel a little bit less alone.
Watch the trailer
Want to get a sneak peek of the documentary? Watch the trailer.
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The Q+A was edited for length and clarity.