Part 3 in our series on “How to Build an Audience.” If you missed our first articles, you can catch up by clicking the links below:
ROB: I appreciate that. There’s an intentionality and an empathy there.
If I zoom out a little bit from your path, it seems that you have quite often taken an intentional path. I could certainly imagine a world where you just continued following the train of politics to some logical conclusion where you’re the congressman from Orange County or something, I don’t know.
Or within film, you could certainly seize on very large marketing budgets and coast and have that disconnection from the outcome. Even where you choose to be business-wise, I would imagine that the default choice in entertainment is not Nashville, Tennessee. There’s strength there, but it’s not the same. It’s not the #1 place you go.
Tell me a little bit about some of those choices that weren’t necessarily the obvious choice, and what drives you in that.
ERIK: I love that question, Rob. I don’t get asked that a lot because I think most of the time it looks like I’m jumping from thing to thing. But it has been intentional, as much as I can control.
I wrote a book called Different Drummer, which was a company I started that was successful in the alternative marketing space. In that book, I talk about when I was a press secretary, how I would never go to the official press secretary meetings where they hand out the talking points and the agenda for the week. I think I went to one. I didn’t want to conform to the party line, literally. I didn’t want to conform to what others were doing.
In the same way, look at Nashville—a city that, in the next 5 to 10 years, will be a dominant story center. It is Storyville here, from music to healthcare and technology and eventually film. You have storytellers here. Publishing as well.
In entertainment and politics, I’ve always seen things as, what does it mean to be a different drummer? I don’t want to play the game out to have a lifestyle company that I feel makes a good salary. I’m willing to take the risk to see what else is possible.
That blue ocean idea, blue ocean and blue collar, really defines the company for us. There’s so much red ocean. There’s so many competitors lowering the costs of their services or trying to squeeze more value for their clients. I’m much more interested in asking—I see all these little various fragments of opportunity; how do you assemble something that changes distribution or changes the way audiences engage with content?
I’ll just tell you a quick story, if I can. What troubles me about what’s happening with the industry as it relates to artist and maker—this is part of my bent, has been how do you shepherd and care for the artist and the maker? I really do believe they’re essential to what the future society looks like. They’re often disregarded or not seen as a utility that’s helpful and useful to society, but they are. There’s such a power there.
There’s a story of the Gold Rush period, which was the greatest migration of Americans across the current history of America. It’s people leaving family farms and businesses from the East Coast/Midwest and traveling West because at Sutter’s Mill, someone had discovered gold in the river.
There were those that traveled across the plains, went over the Rockies and Sierras into the foothills of the Sierras. There’s others who traveled by boat, went down and across Panama—which was pre-canal, so they hiked 30 miles on mosquito-infested mud trails with their belongings to board a boat that went up the coast to San Francisco.
I was telling this story today, that much of San Francisco, the reason it’s unsettling ground, literally, it’s because the boats that were abandoned by the sailors is how they built the city. They moved dirt over those boats and built the city on top of it, part of it. The sailors were rushing up to the foothills as well, because tens of thousands of people are coming into the rivers there.
It’s total chaos, and yet you have all these dreamers. You have all these people who are just a pan or a shovel away from making it rich. That was the first time in history you could literally put your shovel in the water, in the soil, and you could be rich. That never happened in human history, certainly American history.
So what happened? Over years, gold started drying up, people get disillusioned. There’s violence, there’s people who are desperate. They leave. The question is, who profited the most out of the Gold Rush? It was those selling whiskey and shovels.
The whole of California is still built upon, and much of America is built upon, the idea of—“I’m only one project away.” In Silicon Valley, “I’m only one app away from being rich and famous.” “I’m only one movie away from this or that.” That’s still in the soil of California.
But it concerns me that much of the industry is built upon feeding off of false hopes and aspirations of dreamers. I really want to see the alignment between the creative and the support side.
Much of what you do I think is fascinating because you’re providing measurables to clients and customers to see what’s real. There’s no more of this false numbers and exaggeration that swirls around projects. It’s like, “This is working, this is not.” That’s the beautiful thing about that alignment between creative and the service side.
Stay tuned for Part 4 in our “How to Build an Audience” series. Have more questions about marketing your film? Give us a shout at HELLO@ASPIRATION.IS.