Filmmaker Highlight: Eric Won

I’m not that into social media, but once in a while Twitter really comes through.  It has been recommending filmmakers with web series for me to follow, and so I often go and watch a pilot episode.  I watched the pilot of The Division and was completely floored — this thing looks like prime time tv.  So I sought out the filmmaker in LA — Eric Won.

Eric Won on set

I expected Eric to be a veteran who had worked in Hollywood on some well-known shows.  Instead, he told me this humble origin story.

Eric attended the LA film school and majored in directing.  He directed his first short while in school and sent it to the film festival circuit for a year.  He hoped to get an agent or a feature deal, but nothing happened.  “It was terrible,” he says.  “I was at a loss for a couple of years.  What can I do?  I gotta do something….  I really wanted to do a feature film, that’s what people say gives you notoriety, but I didn’t have the money.”

He looked through his old notes on script ideas, hoping for something along the lines of 24 or lost — a sci-fi or action with cliffhangers and character development.  He found a seed there for what would become The Division.

Now is the time when I have to ask if you, dear reader, have watched The Division.  Have you?  No?  If you haven’t, you should go watch it right now.  No really, I’ll wait.

At this point in our interview, Eric hadn’t yet mentioned all the big projects he’d worked on, so I asked him point blank.  How did you get the experience and connections to make a web series this good?

“The division is my third or fourth short film, though I also produced a couple of shorts [for others].  And I’m just working with people I know.  For example, I met a DP at a party and checked out his website.  Then I hired him for a short film, and thought, I gotta work with this guy again.  He ended up becoming my best friend, and he’s my DP for The Division.”  For the rest of the crew, he says he gets a lot of referrals.

My next question was about budgets.  A series like this has to cost money — the production values are too high to do it on favors alone.  And Eric was very up-front with the numbers.  The episodes cost on average about $7,000 each — less for the earlier episodes and more for the later ones.  About 70% of the funding is from Eric, and 30% from Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and some ad revenue.  They have a Monster Vault product placement in one episode — you can see the details on their website

I asked Eric for a set story — because every film shoot has crazy things happen.

“We got kicked out of one of our locations — it was the parking lot of my apartment. After ½ way through the shoot, someone from the management company came out and asked if this was a student short film.  At that point we had only shot about half of the scene, we had an entire action sequence left.  They wanted us to leave, so I had to change the script on the spot.  I had to get rid of everything…I was walking to the management office and I started thinking o f how I could change the script so we could finish our shoot in less than 60 seconds.  And I thought of a way to finish it.

“’Start wrapping up,’ I called out to the crew, ‘we have to shoot right now.’  My DP wanted to change lenses, but I said ‘No no no! We have to shoot NOW!’  And we got the take.

“You can see it at the end of episode one — notice the jumpy cuts?  I had to go that route because I didn’t have enough footage.  There was a whole fight sequence we never got to shoot.  The Secretary of Defense was supposed to be in the van, the actor was there but we couldn’t shoot him.”  Visit this link to see the scene Eric is describing:

Ah, filming.  Everyone has a story like that — to be a director you have to be able to think on the fly, change your story, and make it work.

I asked Eric about releasing the series.

“I wrote the first three three scripts for The Division and shot one episode without knowing if I’d shoot more or not.  But I released the first episode as if I had all ten.  It’s all about presentation, how you present it visually, tell it differently.  You wrap it like a really nice gift for the viewer.”

For more of Eric’s work, see his website:


Filmmaker Highlight: Alexandra Liss

This is the amazing story of how one filmmaker financed, shot, and got distribution for her feature-length documentary.

Alexandra Liss loved hosting guests in her house via the site She believes in the “sharing economy,” where instead of hotels and car rentals, people travel the world and live their lives by sharing what they have with others, often complete strangers. In 2007, she decided that a movie about this “needed to exist.”

Alexandra Liss Couchsurfing

A friend told her about crowd funding, and she raised $8,000 on Kickstarter to create her film, One Couch at a Time. “The most beautiful thing about crowd funding,” Alexandra says, “was that couchsurfers really wanted this film to exist.”

At the time, had less than one million members, and some had tried to create a film or web series, but it’s hard to bring a crew with you when you couch surf. “Then DSLRs happened, and we had cheap cameras that made beautiful footage and weren’t very intrusive.”

Alexandra decided to go to wherever the crowd had responded to her request — wherever couchsurfers had volunteered to be part of her film. She traveled to Bankok, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brazil, Africa….

About three months into the trip she was in Zimbabwe. She had spent the $8,000 from Kickstarter, and she had spent the $6,000 in her own bank account. She was prepared to finish the film by going into credit card debt. But just then she got an email from a stranger…Dan “Danger” Derbinsky, a member of from Sacramento who said that couch surfing had changed his life, and that he wanted to help fund her film. He gave her another $8,000 so that she could continue on her travels and finish the film.

“At the end of the day,” Alexandra says, I probably had $90,000 in donations to the making of this film — $22,000 in capital and the rest in other donations — sound mixing, animations, creating the website, etc.”

Alexandra knows how to move a crowd — and this paid off after the film was finished. They submitted the film to SXSW, but were not accepted. She and her crew went there anyway and organized a guerilla screening. They passed out fliers and organized the local couchsurfers in Austin, TX. The couchsurfers brought their couches to a park where they showed the film, and it turned out that someone from Devolver Digital Films attended the screening. After seeing the film and the turnout, Devolver signed on to distribute One Couch at a Time.

“Creating One Couch at a Time was the smartest thing I could have done — it’s my business card. The investment was totally worth it, hard work, but it’s paying off.”

Filmmaker Highlight: First Punch Film Production

While staying with my dad for Thanksgiving, I met with some filmmakers local to St. Louis. These are both people who came from southern California but found St Louis to be a better place (for them) to pursue their career as independent filmmakers.

Carson Minow is owner and Managing Director of First Punch Films. She is from southern California, and had a strong interest in ethnomusicology. “I had a big vision but I didn’t know if I had the ability to do it, so I got a camera and went to Ethiopia.” She and a friend who did audio recorded video of the music and life there. With that footage, she made an experimental documentary on four different cultures, titled Ethiopia: Tesfay Alem.

“That experience let me see that I am capable of doing it, creating my vision.” She came to St Louis to edit the film and ended up staying and attending film school at Webster. “A running joke is that I’m the only person from southern California who moved to St Louis to pursue film. Strange as it seems, it’s a nice place to make a career in film.”

In addition to client work and helping on other film productions, First Punch Film Production has a number of TV shows they are pitching. Carson told me she is sworn to secrecy about them, but that selling one of their concepts is part of their plan. “The company does all sorts of things for work now, next is TV, and then features.”

Carson talked about their “faith-based approach” to life and work. “We’re confident in our abilities and talent, and we work hard to help others see it too.”

While I was visiting First Punch I also talked to Matt Amato from The Masses. He is currently editing his first feature, a love story called The Makings of You.

“I grew up in St Louis and returned to make this movie and fell into the vibrant filmmaking scene here.” Matt has an office in LA with his partner, Jack Richardson, the producing half of The Masses. “But when I came back in June for locations and crew, it was a constant rediscovery of where I grew up. As a storyteller, my emotional associations are deeper here — my family, my history. I’m very romantic about America, and here in St Louis I can feel the source of the stories I need to tell. With this movie in particular, all these characters have feelings about ‘the river’, its a great symbol for so many things — like love, it’s a continuum.”

Matt wrote the script for his film many years ago, based on the characters. “I did what they told me, and I’m still in service of who they are.” The film is about the nature of love, real love vs romantic love. “It’s not the kind of film that usually gets financing, there’s no sex, no violence. It’s so easy to do that, you get tempted by certain jobs and certain budgets.” But he held fast to his vision and to his principles. They shot in an astounding 50 locations in only 28 days.

There was an investor who had shown some interest in The Masses for about five years. After many discussions, this investor offered to finance the movie, and is now a large shareholder in the company. “For our next movies, we want to keep mining stories about people, about America. We might do an adaptation of an American classic.”

“Now that I’m here in this office with these beautiful filmmaker friends, I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t skip a beat moving from LA to St Louis.”

Filmmaker Highlight: Jay Kelley, DreamWelder Productions

I visited Jay Kelley in his DreamWelder Productions studio in Brentwood, MO, and immediately got an earful of great advice for filmmakers. This guy clearly has been around the block and knows his stuff.

Matt and Jay in their amazing studio

Matt and Jay in their amazing studio

“The film that got me was Star Wars. I walked out of that movie and I was a filmmaker.” Jay got his start in public access television, which cable companies funded in cities all over the country in return for their cables being placed in different municipalities. Jay and his best buddy, fellow filmmaker Wyatt Weed, were trained in how to use a camera and audio equipment, how to be a floor director, how to direct actors on set…. “Our supervisor at the old American Cable, Rich Bizan, was a task master, but you learned. That’s where Wyatt and I lived, and later on I ended up running a satellite station before I was 21 years old.”

Then Jay went to Webster University in St. Louis, MO. While it was an excellent school, His freshman skills were already so advanced he was asked to be a TA after only two weeks. He realized that schools in the Midwest were not going to build him into the filmmaker he wanted to be. Jay made a short comedy film called “The Control Room” in order to apply to California Institute for the Arts — and he was accepted. “I’d give anything to go back at my age now and redo that experience. I should have taken better advantage of that opportunity. The resources and talent there were frightening — our acting teachers were people like Patrick Stewart and Ed Harris.”

He was out in LA for eight years, working and making a living in the film industry. “But there came a point where I began to realize that while I could find my way in, I wouldn’t be able to tell the stories I wanted to tell.” So he moved back to St. Louis and worked in his parents’ advertising company, making movies in his free time. He made more local contacts, made more films, and eventually moved back into doing film production full time — that was in 2000.

Since then his company, DreamWelder Productions, has done client work for hair salons, dental offices, hospitals, even the St Louis Symphony, and pursued their own storytelling work on the side. Jay also teaches filmmaking, and has a lot to share on that subject.

“I always say that beginning filmmakers have facial surgery when starting out: their ears are sewn shut and their mouths are locked permanently open. They get lock jaw in regards to their vision and find it almost impossible to change at the advice of their crew and/or mentors. Sadly I was no different. Experience teaches you to make better use of your team and to not hold on so desperately to your story. Good directors make sure they’re the dumbest guy on the set. You have to let your people make it better than you would ever have imagined.”

“Directors have two jobs: their actors and bringing their vision to the script.” But, he goes on, a lot of directors don’t understand that they are in a collaborative art. “Here’s the funny part: in the middle of all this art is the war — the war of making a movie. A movie is a war: you’ve got supply issues, weather issues, personnel issues…. There’s a beautiful time alone in your room with nothing but a computer, unencumbered, coming up with your dream. After that it’s all compromise: how much will you give up to get what you want?”

“Spielberg said, ‘there’s the movie you write, there’s the movie you shoot, and there’s the movie you get. And they are never the same thing.’ Good filmmakers make peace with what they have, not what they want. Take Jaws — Spielberg spent every day thinking he was going to be fired. The [mechanical] shark broke, it never worked. But he had to get the footage. So he handed a camera to a diver and said, just swim around it. That POV footage combined with John Williams’ music made him The director. ‘If I had gotten Jaws the way I wanted, I would not be here today.’”

Jay also has strong opinions about how to choose your story. “Hollywood only wants to make films that they already know audiences will pay to go see. That’s why you see things being remade — they already know it’s liked. A producer might want to do focus groups, understand what’s popular — that’s a business perspective.”

“But a director? They should not be concerned with what the audience wants. They should tell the story that they are most passionate about, that they want to see the most. Good, well executed movies will always find an audience sooner or later.”

Green Screen Studio

Learn From Netflix: Why “Orange is the New Black” Totally Works

A colleague of mine has been buzzing about her latest gig for the past few months now.

Her email announcement that she landed a role on a new series created by the one-and-only-one, Jenji Kohan was super exciting both for her career and for me (yay! I’m officially one slice of Kevin Bacon away from Jenji Kohan herself).

The second part of that announcement was that the series was being produced and self-distributed by Netflix to exclusively be available on – Netflix; this part of the news was interesting, somewhat perplexing and I wondered if my friend would have a job after she wrapped shooting.

Now, however, we see that Orange is television and narrative storytelling history in the making.

A Fast Lesson in Distributing Original Programming

We’ve seen some Netflix original programming done before and quite well I might add.  House of Cards, was the content provider’s first original series and the revival of Arrested Development, which originally aired on FOX for three seasons, was a move to capitalize on an established fandom.  Orange is the New Black, although greatly different from these two programs, is the combined result of what made both House and Development work.

The reported budget on House of Cards was around 100 Million, according to this article. The network used analytics of subscriber activity to know that their customers would indeed check out a Kevin Spacey starring political drama produced by David Fincher. This number crunching and market research is nothing new for Hollywood; Q-Star ratings have been a mysterious method of evaluating blockbusters for sometime now. Netflix, however, had one thing working in their favor – they could deliver the content right to the viewer verses blockbuster which still functions under the “if you build it they will come” theater distribution model.

So, Netflix spent the dollars, set out to produce something that was for sure going to be streamed and delivered something stellar. I mean how could something touched by David Fincher that birthed performances between Spacey and Robin Wright not be wonderful? Seriously.

With House, Netflix established themselves as a distribution platform that could work for original programming and not just a platform where audiences are watching outdated content that may or may not be new to them. There was just one thing that Netflix had to ask themselves: how long would it take for Netflix to gain more subscribers from their original programming?

Which led to them asking the smarter question: how could they obtain an untapped audience without breaking the bank on marketing dollars?

Easy answer here folks. Find a series that has a large fandom that is currently not being fulfilled. Enter: Arrested Development, Season 4.

Arrested is a show that drives transmedia fandom. The cult following that ensued from the three seasons on FOX made Arrested a true “social” series with fans discussing its’ past and future on blogs, making up stories for characters and in some instances posing as the characters themselves.

There was no question that the fans of Arrested would chatter and cheer over the announcement of a 4th season on Netflix. (That’s kind of the whole point beyond “fandom” they live in the same world that the Bluth family does). The distribution channel reportedly grew its subscriber base by 600,000 when they announced the revival.  A good number but arguably not enough; but that was OK because Netflix executed the alley-oop just right, what was coming next in the world of original programming for them was the slam dunk. .

And then, Jenji Kohan parted the red sea and released all episodes of a first and original season at once…. 

This is a move that Netflix has made before – all episodes, all at once. There is been a lot of debate over whether or not this model works or hurts. I think that the correct answer leaves us in too much of a gray area but there are certain instances in which releasing all the episodes at once “works.”

Orange is the New Black is one of those instances and here’s why:

1. Jenji Kohan is most known for her ground-breaking, critically acclaimed series WEEDS. I definitely signed up for Showtime just to watch it and I definitely cancelled my subscription after the series finale. But if I need my fix I can still watch the series on Netflix..

Yes, Netflix has been able to analyze the analytics over who was watching WEEDS; a show with a female anti-hereo protagonist, that was watched by not only women but men as well.

2. It is funny yet has its truthful moments, this is provided because Orange’s cast of characters live within a very, very specific world. That world is the prison system. It is one that you and I don’t live in but one that when we enter into “fandom-land” translate into transmedia-like properties, for example: “Red’s Cookbook”, an online Orange themed store called the “commissary,” beauty tips from Laverne, stretch of the day with Yoga Jones, Catch the Chicken Facebook game, etc. you get my point. (BTW if you are a representative of the Netflix marketing team you can reach me at amydepaola [at] mac [doc] com, should you want to develop my ideas.)

3. A show in a female prison and therefore a 90% female cast is something to talk about.

How many of us have peered inside a women’s prison before? Not many. The majority of content out there that focuses on the prison system is focused on men. Mean men. Dramatic men. There is SO much to talk about here. We are seeing content we’ve never seen before. Releasing all the episodes at the same time has had the complete opposite effect. Ever since the series aired its’ hashtags and reactions from viewers have been crowding my newsfeed, on Facebook and on Twitter. I argued just the other day with a friend of mine that that was absolutely genius. Having the content there all at once allows fans to reach the point of obsessive, they, we are ultra-consumed by the show’s content.

It is a different kind of social chatter that is occurring when the series is available all at once to viewers. Unlike the social chatter that I see crowd my newsfeed on a Tuesday night before the new Sons of Anarchy. This chatter is not only an announcement that “I can’t wait for it to come on” or “yay, it airs tonight” or “can’t wait to have a glass of vino and watch it tonight,” the conversation is about the content within the program:

“Did she really see the chicken” appeared in my newsfeed.

“Did Bennett sleep with her mother?!?!” Also appeared in my newsfeed.

Why? Because we are ultra-consumed with something when we are given the opportunity to experience it all at once. That is how you tap into audiences imaginations, by inviting them 100% into the world. (See: Walt Disney and the Magic Kingdom).

What Happens Next?

Rumor had it, way back when, that Orange was going to be produced by Netflix but was possibly going to be sold off to a more established original programming network for distribution.

Lucky for Netflix that did not happen. In fact the series has been greenlit for a second season and another excited email popped up in my e-mail earlier this week announcing the start of production on season 2.

Orange is the New Black not only set the standard for Netflix but is going to change the landscape of original programming – and possibly episodic narrative programming as we know it.


Stay tuned from more insights on Netflix from ZoomTilt’s Community Manager, Amy DePaola and follow her on Twitter.

Web Series Creator Spotlight: Katie Shannon and Audrey Claire Johnson

Let’s face it, Hollywood and their blockbusters have been dominated by men for decades now. Television has given a slight rise to powerful female centric programming with shows like Weeds, Sex and the City, GIRLS, and The Big C, all of which is on premium, pay-for television.

Independent filmmakers have turned to the web to generate programming and stories that they believe is missing from the likes of Hollywood. Programming that can be made accessible to a much broader and larger audience. But with the likes of Machinima and Rooster Teeth it is safe to say that the “Hollyweb” is also favors a slight edge towards content that is generally considered male-centric.

Alas, we over here at ZoomTilt have stumbled upon the dynamic duo of Katie Shannon, writer/director and Audrey Claire Johnson actress/producer; both funny-gal extraordinaires. that are embarking on their first collaboration together: K&A, which stands for Karley and Alex.

Written and Directed by Katie Shannon of Thompson Films. Starring Audrey Claire Johnson and Ashley Elmi. Produced by Katie Shannon, Audrey Claire Johnson and Michael Madden.

Written and Directed by Katie Shannon of Thompson Films. Starring Audrey Claire Johnson and Ashley Elmi. Produced by Katie Shannon, Audrey Claire Johnson and Michael Madden.

Katie and Audrey worked together previously on 617, The Series, which also included producer/actress, Amy DePaola (sound familiar?) You can view the second season of 617 on ZoomTilt’s YouTube page.

@ZoomTilt: Ok, first off, this question is for Katie. Tell us about the concept of K&A? How did you come up with it? 

@KDuffShannon: K&A is a comedy about the friendship between Karly (played by Johnson) and Alex (played by Ashley Elmi) as they navigate their complicated lives in the city of Boston. One of my favorite shows is “Sex and the City” because it is honest and truthful about women today and their relationships with one another. It reminds me of my relationship with my best friend [from college], who currently lives around the corner from me. However, their is one huge difference between us and the ladies of SATC; I’m gay and she is straight. A lot of the ideas for the series come from our relationship (not all but some!). For storytelling, it’s a character dynamic that hasn’t been explored all that much. When I hear or see something I think would be great for the show, I write it in my phone. If someone ever read the list, they would probably think I’m crazy!

@ZoomTilt: What makes Karly and Alex’s story different from some of the more popular female duos that are currently out there? (ex: “2 Broke Girls”) 

@10ThousandHangs (Audrey’s Twitter): The combination of one straight and one lesbian lead protagonists is blatantly underexplored in sitcom format. Television comedies with a broad audience have found success with straight/gay leads, normally shown as leading/supporting man/man or man/woman. Because of the female straight/gay premise, I’m already interested in their history, their friendship, and their chemistry with other characters on the show.

@KDuffShannon: Both these characters don’t hold back. Their lack of caring what people think has allowed me to explore so many story lines. I’m partial to comedy shows like Family Guy and It’s Always Sunny Philadelphia for never apologizing for what they put out there and talking about topics that many of us think about, but are too afraid to bring up.

@ZoomTilt: What are the benefits of distributing the series online? What are also the challenges?

@KDuffShannon: Online distribution gives us the benefit of being able to reach anyone in the world and have a much broader audience for that. The challenging part, however, is to get people to discover it in the first place. Anyone who has a camera can make a web ddfseries these days. You need to think to yourself: what makes your [concept] different? Why should someone take time out of their day to watch? It’s also even more challenging with bigger and bigger names getting into the web series scene, so you really need to take the time and steps to make your concept stand out.

@10ThousandHangs: If you’re a creative artist in any medium, you will have challenges deciding on the best way for your work to be seen. Not just any way, the best way – and one that is financially doable. With K&A we’ve studied other projects that have been crowd funded, how they interacted with their audiences and where their content was eventually hosted. Its been a huge help.

@ZoomTilt: Interacting with audiences is important online, how are you both hoping that audiences will interact with K&A? 

@KDuffShannon: I hope people find the show as funny as I think it is (obviously I’m partial). I hope people can see that females can be just as funny as men. And trust me…these two ladies are.

@10ThousandHangs: Goals would be to have a hefty number of subscribers on our YouTube channel and dialogue on social media about each episode as they are released. We’d also like our fans to share their stories about their exterminators with us, and, of course, get 1,000,000 signatures on to petition HBO to pick it up……..obviously.

@ZoomTilt: So, what are some points of the series you are looking forward to shooting? Can you give us some secrets about what to expect? 

@KDuffShannon: I’m looking forward in shooting the episode “Doing Nice Shit For People” because in that episode Audrey’s character gets tasered. We read that episode during our auditions for the character of Alex, and her [Audrey] performing the act of being tasered made me laugh every single time.

Karley takes a much needed rest on Alex's lap. (From L to R: Johson and Elmi)

Karley takes a much needed rest on Alex’s lap. (From L to R: Johson and Elmi)

@10ThousandHangs: There’s an episode about a rat in the apartment. I am paralyzed by rats, phobic to a traumatic degree. K&A stand and huddle on the couch while some weird stuff goes down off camera. It’s classic suspense, not seeing the “violence” on screen while we react in horror. I can’t wait to play that scene.

@ZoomTilt: What are some female-centric web-series out there that you enjoy?

@KDuffShannon: I was an intern on set once for the filming of The Guild, so I really enjoy that one. There was also a lesbian web series called 3Way, which was one of the funniest web series I have ever seen. It’s sad but the lack of female leads in web series is a reflection of what you see on television. Obviously as a female filmmaker you want to try to change that as much as you can. I’ve never made a project where female characters weren’t the focus and I plan to stick to that.

@10ThousandHangs: I worshiped Broad City, would die to have been on Delusional Downtown Divas by Lena Dunham. Other web sketch groups that do incredible work are Good Neighbor, Olde Payphone and Paulilu.

The admitted lack of female genres within the web series community is a reflection of the industry as a whole. I spend my energy focusing on women crushing the scene online, on television and back to feature length blockbusters. They are my inspiration when choosing projects, writing scripts, and aspiring to be a great comedic actress.
Touche. Thanks for your time ladies! We are happy to support you. Please let us know when we can expect the first episode!
Support K&A by taking a visit over to their Kickstarter page and learn about their team on Facebook and stay up to date with them on Twitter.
If this photo is any indication of the realistic bond between these two ladies, we are extra hyped to watch!  (From L to R: Elmi and Johnson)

If this photo is any indication of the realistic bond between these two ladies, we are extra hyped to watch!
(From L to R: Elmi and Johnson)

Introducing ZoomTilt Analytics

Today, we’re pleased to announce the beta release of ZoomTilt Analytics – a self-service software tool for A/B testing videos to help users identify and optimize their top-performing video content. The goal of ZoomTilt Analytics is to help businesses and video creators:

  1. Make better, more audience-targeted videos by compiling feedback and data from real, relevant viewers;
  2. Make smarter decisions about what videos to create, how to edit them and how to release them; and
  3. Increase video marketing return on investment.

The trial version of ZoomTilt Analytics, which allows experimenters to easily set up and run video A/B tests from YouTube, is now available as a free service on In addition, our ZoomTilt Analytics Premium service now gives brands, agencies and media companies the ability to create and customize video A/B tests around specific target audience profiles and marketing metrics.

We’re very excited to share ZoomTilt Analytics with you, we have plans to introduce lots of new features and capabilities, and we welcome any feedback or questions you’d like to share with us. Interested in learning more about the benefits of ZoomTilt Analytics Premium for your business? Contact us today to get started.

Check out the video below for a demo of ZoomTilt Analytics in action: