interview with olaf van gerwen in marketingtribune: founder and creative chuck studios

This week in our success series an interview with Olaf van Gerwen, founder of Chuck Studios, specialised in Food Photography, Food Film and… yes, also for ‘foodporn’. Simply put, Chuck Studios is your go to production house: food presented at its best. ‘In this specific industry there is no one else that can deliver as fast as we do.’

Where does your interest in food marketing come from? How did you get involved? And what is the history of Chuck Studios?

‘Chuck Studios was founded seven years ago whilst taking a bath. My wife Ellen Gaedtgens had switched from art buying at TBWA\Neboko to photography production. I was a director at that time, and working increasingly as Director of Photography. I had just rented a small studio at Tussen de Bogen in Amsterdam hoping to play with my lamps and lenses there. Whilst taking a bath we had a ‘eureka’ moment: why don’t we start our own business? We hired photographer Erik de Koning and put together a portfolio within a few months. I then locked myself in the studio for three days with a borrowed high-speed camera and the eminence grise of food styling, Ton van Groeningen. Suddenly I had a food reel and we could also offer food film. Then fast forward to now, where I shoot food films all over the world, and the whole world shoots food films with Chuck Studios.

What is the position of Chuck Studios in the market? Is the market for food films not yet saturated?

“We are constantly growing. We have two studios and employ 13 people. We have three photographers/directors on board, all with their own specialism. We have our own SFX wizard, a ‘Gyro Gearloose’ character, who manipulates the food with computer-controlled rigs and robots. And Ellen runs the entire show with a fantastic team of producers.

The demand for content is still rising explosively. We notice that budgets are distributed across different media. But food advertisers understand that we are the right place for them because of our food knowledge. We know how to make the product look great. There is no question of market saturation if you have that promise. 

Can you say something about the promotion of Chuck Studios? Do you actively invest in marketing or is it mainly word of mouth?

“Ellen and I have both been working in advertising for over 20 years, so our network is substantial. When we just started we had to prove ourselves, but luckily we have passed that stage. The agencies know us and know what they can expect of us. A year ago we hired someone for sales. She builds relationships with advertisers so that the advertiser knows that we exist. Usually the advertiser and Chuck Studios understand each other very well: the love for the product unites us.

Because we now have a different message than 7 years ago, we recently launched a new logo, corporate identity and website, with a real tagline: ‘where food goes to get famous’. A promise to food clients. But let’s face it, nothing can beat word of mouth. Your reputation is everything in this profession. “

That’s why it’s nice to be in this section. What makes you unique?

“In this niche nobody can deliver as fast as we do. We not only have the people, but also the high-speed cameras, specialist lenses, decor, props and post-production. We constantly test new techniques, viewing angles, and materials on a daily basis. That feeds the creativity of the team.

And last but not least: we often get the question from clients whether we also offer creative services. We have decided to take up the challenge and from now on we offer food-specialised strategy and creative. We have talked to dozens of freelance creatives and strategists and they are all keen to participate. A lot of talent is available, so the maintenance of quality is guaranteed. And if you wish, you can leave the thematic campaigns at your regular agency – we traditionally work well with them. We are unique in the combination of creative and execution in the field of food. ”

What do you see as important trends in the Dutch food film industry?

“Foodporn tends to be generic: a hamburger quickly looks like a generic hamburger, whether it comes from McDonald’s or Burger King. The same thing with coffee. I see many films that advertise for a category rather than for a specific brand. A somewhat clumsy trend, to say the least.

Our mission is to put the concept back into food communication. As a creative unit we are simply not satisfied when it looks great, but only when the image is inextricably linked to the brand. And so I hope we can turn that into a trend.”

What is your favourite dish and why?

“The best beef I ever ate came from, believe it or not, Russia. In Russia I work for a client that produces the best Black Angus beef I know. I always smuggle something in my luggage when I fly back from Moscow. Too bad it does so much harm to the environment. But my absolute guilty pleasure is a ‘Febo Speciaaltje’ at four o’clock in the morning.”

How can you register as a client at Chuck Studios? Do you organise ‘get to know each other’ lunches?

“Call, mail, carrier pigeon or morse code. Anything goes. We regularly do non-binding workshops with clients about food marketing and food film production. I sometimes speak at congresses or seminars on this subject. This is how we inspire our clients. As a client you only have to give us a call and we are on our way. We look forward to hearing your challenge and to coming back to you with a suitable plan.“

Finally: how do you proceed? What are the ambitions?

“I work as a director all over the world and I see new forms of collaboration emerging everywhere. That feeds my idea that our model will work all over the world. Conversations are under way in a number of countries to set up a Chuck Studios location. Our ambition is having Chuck Studios operating on five continents within five years. But first we want to build long-term and in-depth relationships with food advertisers in our own country. “