- SANTA MONICA, Calif.
Director Brian Oakes has joined RadicalMedia for worldwide representation spanning commercials and branded content. Oakes brings a documentary pedigree to Radical, perhaps most notably reflected in his auspicious directorial debut, Jim: The James Foley Story, which earned an Oscar nomination and won a Humanitas Prize in 2017. The year prior Jim: The James Foley Story won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award as well as a primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking.
Jim: The James Foley Story centered on the American journalist who was publicly executed by ISIS in 2014. The story was deeply personal for Oakes in that Foley was his childhood friend. Oakes, who had been a motion designer and animator for some 10 years, felt compelled to break into directing in order to bring the documentary to fruition. Oakes was driven to do justice to Foley’s life, reclaiming who he was as a person in the face of such a tragic, horrific act.
This initial directing experience has since informed all of Oakes’ work. He explained that first and foremost for him in deciding whether or not to take on a project is if it’s a story he feels strongly about, subject matter for which he has “a real passion” and that carries “a sense of purpose.” Those considerations are paramount even for stories that are considerably lighter in tone than Jim: The James Foley Story. It has to be a story that “I want to tell,” Oakes affirmed.
That motivation has led to a mix of content for Oakes that includes such recent projects as two episodes of the Netflix music docuseries ReMastered, delving into legendary DJ Jam Master Jay and Blues musician Robert Johnson; three installments of another Netflix series, Abstract: The Art of Design, which respectively focused on Nike sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield, stage designer Es Devlin and typeface designer Jonathan Hoefler. The Hoefler episode earned Oakes a 2020 primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Title Design. Meanwhile in the branded arena, Oakes directed an IBM commercial, an Apple film and Target’s first ever documentary. The latter, titled Target: Design for All, introduces us to people whose lives have been positively impacted by the inclusive accessible design of products. Target: Design for All is currently streaming on Hulu.
The Target doc., the IBM and Apple projects as well as the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design, were all produced by RadicalMedia, giving Oakes firsthand experience with the company and leading to his decision to now formalize a relationship with it in the spotmaking/branded content arena. He first connected with Radical on Abstract, a series for which his documentary compatriot Morgan Neville brought him into the fold. Neville was an EP and director on Abstract. Going back to his motion graphics and animation days, Oakes had occasion to collaborate with Neville. Aware of Oakes’ design expertise, Neville saw him as a good fit for a the design-centric Abstract. Thus Oakes’ relationship with RadicalMedia was born. (Neville, an Oscar-winning documentarian for 20 Feet from Stardom in 2014, is also handled by Radical as a commercial/branded content director.)
Oakes’ latest work includes an episode of Marvel 616, a docuseries for the streaming Disney+ platform. Oakes wrapped shooting of his Marvel 616 installment in January, just prior to the start of the pandemic. The episode, which covers the collaborative process that goes into the creation of a Marvel comic book, is slated to premiere November 20 on Disney+.
Oakes noted that directing ad projects via Radical is a natural evolution for him. His alluded to roots are as a motion graphics designer and animator--and his design acumen led to work on the commercials front as well as motion graphics for notable documentaries starting with the Sundance hit Wordplay and then moving onto such titles as Bobby Fischer Against the World, I.O.U.S.A., These Amazing Shadows, Hot Coffee, Freakonomics, Inequality for All, LENNONYC and Finding Vivian Maier.
Via his own design studio, Oakes served commercialmaking and film clientele. His personal connection and commitment to Jim: The James Foley Story made him ultimately a documentary filmmaker. “Ten years of working on other people’s films and documentaries (as a designer),” he said, proved to be a great training ground for transitioning to documentary directing. Storytelling seeped into his subconscious and he feels that these documentary sensibilities allow him to now impart something more into his spot and branded content pursuits. “Having the empathy you need to do documentary filmmaking is what I’m bringing to into the branded world,” he observed.
Helping to define and solidify that empathetic orientation was Jim: The James Foley Story. Oakes shared, “I was in a strange place. I didn’t want to be making this movie,” noting that it was difficult given the circumstances. But in the long run the documentary became what he described as “a cathartic experience.”
Oakes’ directing exploits have also earned three News & Documentary Emmy Award nominations--two for Living with Lincoln (Outstanding Graphic Design & Art Direction, and Outstanding Historical Programming--Long Form) in 2016, and one earlier this year for ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads (Outstanding Graphic Design & Art Direction).