Lisa Reihana represented NZ at the Venice Biennale. Working with the artist requires Lot23 to have state-of-the-art video rendering technology (Photo: Getty.)
Lisa Reihana represented NZ at the Venice Biennale. Working with the artist requires Lot23 to have state-of-the-art video rendering technology (Photo: Getty.)

BusinessSeptember 7, 2019

Turning art into enterprise: How Lot23 helps bring creative visions alive

Lisa Reihana represented NZ at the Venice Biennale. Working with the artist requires Lot23 to have state-of-the-art video rendering technology (Photo: Getty.)
Lisa Reihana represented NZ at the Venice Biennale. Working with the artist requires Lot23 to have state-of-the-art video rendering technology (Photo: Getty.)

Peering inside shoe design icon Christian Louboutin’s brain is all in a day’s work for an Eden Terrace post-production studio that has turned the creative arts into a viable business.

Sam Tozer is a bit like Dr Frankenstein, but instead of fashioning humans out of body parts he’s pushing the boundaries of technology in a darkened, soundproof edit suite.

Tozer works with filmmaker and multimedia artist Lisa Reihana to create experiential, large-scale videos artworks, and the latest took the team to France and Portugal to work with shoe designer Christian Louboutin.

It’s one of many projects Tozer is working on along with Reihana’s producer and sound designer James Pinker. The world-renowned Kiwi artist is now Tozer’s main client, a positive move for his new Eden Terrace studio business Lot23. The compact post-production suite needs first-class technology to produce Reihana’s works, so now Sam and his wife Nat Tozer have a versatile hub they can market to other video and screen artists and producers.

After being impressed with her critically acclaimed Venice Biennale work in Pursuit of Venus [infected], Louboutin commissioned Reihana to tell his story. Sam’s key role was director of photography and technical director for the retrospective exhibition of the French fashion icon. The video installation will screen at the Palais de la Porte Dorée in Paris next February, alongside work by filmmaker David Lynch among others.

Using ultra-high-resolution video and surround sound, the new work collages the former landscape architect-now-shoe god in various locations alongside beloved objects and his signature red-soled shoes.

“This is next level, it’s looking amazing,” Sam Tozer says to Reihana as they preview some of the rendered material. “Lisa wanted to see inside Louboutin’s brain, to understand his creative genius and mash it all up,” he explains.

“Lisa is a visionary artist,” adds Nat Tozer. “To help achieve her vision, she has Sam. He can do mostly everything – cinematography, editing and visual effects,” she says proudly. 

Nat and Sam Tozer in the cafe at Lot23. (Photo: Lyn Barnes.)

Sam Tozer has worked with the artist for over 15 years now and thrives on the challenge.

“Lisa is always pushing new boundaries, and consequently hitting a glass ceiling on the technology front. With each new project, we expand our storage by hundreds of terabytes and devise more and more powerful processing solutions,” he says.

Sam, 42, and Nat, 40, now own “one of the most high-tech post-production indie studios in town” where they can “gang up” multiple computers to render videos. Video rendering is when computers process multiple streams of data and added visual effects to produce playable video files. 

Park Road Post Production in Wellington’s Miramar has helped with rendering and sound design in the past, but now Lot23 has set up its own system using Mac minis which has reduced render times hugely. Previously Sam and Nat might as well have taken a holiday while they waited as it could take more than 40 days to render a project.

The couple bought the business from Sam’s father, Steve Tozer, who initially set it up with their input six years ago. As students in their early 20s living in a central city warehouse, Sam and Nat imagined a large, multipurpose creative space that could work across all the areas they love: art, photography, film, live performances, theatre, fashion and dance. At the time Sam was doing communication studies at AUT majoring in film and television (he left six months before graduating), and Nat was studying art at Elam. 

But it was just after the global financial crisis which decimated the film industry, and they were wary of putting all their eggs in one basket. As much as they yearned to be independent content creators, their business model called for a “versatile space to weather the storms”.

Enter Sam’s dad, an ex-builder and actor. (If you’ve seen the original Pork Pie, Steve was the cop.) He took over the former Alpha Video Studios in Minnie St, where anyone who was anyone in local film and television had worked since the late 70s. The building has had many incarnations, and when Steve gained the lease it was a rabbit warren of editing suites.

Lot23 in Auckland’s Eden Terrace. (Photo: Lyn Barnes.)

So they “did a real number on the building”, explains Sam, opening it up to create two larger areas, plus a café and gallery space. There was everything a film crew could want and somewhere for the public to drop in as well. They kept the soundproof recording studio, which they considered a luxury but also an asset. “It’s 120sqm of anything-is-possible space,” Sam says.

He had been making videos and working on Mo Show, a TV series with Mark Williams and Otis Frizzell. The couple’s second child, Tom, was three months old when Sam and Nat began Lot23 with Steve. To begin with they were spending 80% of their time on commercial work, mostly making videos for corporates or advertisements, while the other 20% went on creative endeavours to support young musicians and artists. 

That percentage is almost totally inverted now. “It’s such a struggle to find space for creative projects in Auckland and the studio is an asset we love to share with the community,” Sam says. “We love to bring our technical expertise and work closely with creatives to customise the spaces and realise their vision.”

Thanks to Nat’s marketing and curating skills the space also has at least two to three creative events booked a month. One week recently the studio served as the venue for Neil McLeod’s EP release, and an African fashion launch. 

Lot23 plays host to the Luxalot music and dining events. (Photo: supplied.)

But the pair has had to take risks and economise to grow the business to this point. They still had flatmates until daughter Penny was three, and at one stage Nat had three part-time jobs. Five years ago Sam convinced Nat to buy a state-of-the-art PA sound system. “He’s a total sound geek,” Nat says. It meant taking out a second mortgage.

The financial investment in the sound equipment has paid off. Neil MacLeod reckons the sound system is world class, “providing a clear, deep sound that many venues could only dream of”.

The couple paid market price for Lot23 but are grateful Steve enabled them to become established in the space. “The stakes are pretty high now and it’s incredibly hard work, but we feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work so hard on something we love,” Sam says.

Little has changed, although Nat has reduced the number of seats in the café to increase the gallery space because she wants to give more exposure to female artists. She is currently studying for her Masters at Elam where almost 80% of the students are women, yet male artists generally get more exposure, she says. 

It’s a busy life but the Tozers love their “nice little triangle”. In the morning the family heads off on their bikes along the cycle lane in Kingsland to drop their children, Penny, 9, and Tom, 6, at Newtown Primary School, then on to Lot23. “Sometimes we have a production meeting before bed or over breakfast,” says Nat, who readily acknowledges she’s super organised.

“She gets shit done,” adds Sam fondly.

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