Filmzu: Find, Connect and Create New Content | Co-Founders Interview Nick Ghirardelli and Rupert Ralston

Sep 24, 2013 • Entertainment, Startups
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matchmakingEver since sound was first introduced into movies, the entertainment business has never really faced a huge change.  However, the online presence has shifted the entertainment landscape drastically and is threatening to change the business for better or for worse.  There are new filmmakers who are trying to get into the entertainment business, but the market has been over saturated with content.  Nick Ghirardelli and Rupert Ralston aim to help new filmmakers find a crew and collaborate on projects.  To do this, they have created Filmzu, an online matchmaker to find and connect with others to create new content.  Nick and Rupert got in touch with TechZulu to talk about Filmzu, the entertainment business, and startups.

TechZulu:  Where did the idea of Filmzu start?

Nick Ghirardelli:  Filmzu started because we were sick of bad movies getting made and bad content in general.  We are huge movie, YouTube, and online video fans.  We started to think about what’s the difference between a good movie and bad one.  What we figured out was the problem came down to the film crew.  Maybe they needed a different actor, maybe they needed a different writer, or maybe they needed a new cameraman.  Finding the right person for the job is difficult; especially since there is no real good way for film makers to connect and find each other outside of the studios.

Rupert Ralston:  My sister was getting a film degree at the time and seeing how other film students were struggling to find a way into the industry was discouraging.  How the recent grads were going about finding people for their films was difficult.  They would search through Craigslist and other jobs sites for a film crew and the process of finding people manually was quite cumbersome.

Another problem that arose was displaying the portfolios they have worked so hard on.   They worked to build up their portfolios in film school, but they had no way of showing their work professionally.  These were the problems Filmzu is trying to solve.  To have a dedicated place to help people showcase their talents.

What does Filmzu do?

NG:  Filmzu is a matchmaking platform for people to connect with each other and to also engage fans and other talents to be discovered and collaborate on various projects.

Is it kind of like social media platform?

RR:  It’s partly like LinkedIn for film makers; for people to showcase their work.  We got a very design-centric online portfolio for people to showcase their work like scripts, images, resume, and other things like that.  It is also a place for fans to be a fan of directors and/or actors and the projects they were a part of.  Matchmaking is a vital part of Filmzu for those who are searching for the right film crew to work with and find the right social validation from fans to follow them and join up with their projects.

How do you make sure the matchmaking system finds the right person for the right job?

NG:  We focused largely on search, which we saw was the fundamental for everything we do at Filmzu.  That was one of the biggest challenge Rupert had to do technically.  We narrowed it down to key-metrics.  So if you are looking for a cast for example, competitors would use dozens of parameters that wouldn’t really help anybody find the right cast.  We focused on the main things people are looking for.  Say if you are searching for an actress.  What kind of look does this person have?  What kind of talent does she portrayed?  You can search by experience, or by the looks, or how tall or short you want them to be, location, etc.  But all of this won’t matter if she is located half-way across the world.

We focus on people’s experience levels as well, because not everyone is working at the top of the chain.  Everyone had to have started somewhere.  You have to break into the entertainment industry somehow.  Someone who is just starting out will probably find other people who are on the same level.  Together they can create a project and build up your portfolio and get some experience together versus if you are a veteran in the industry, searching for people who have 10+ years of experience.  Some candidates will be greatly qualified for the position, but can you afford them for their services?  The experience levels will help you see who you can afford for your project and create a budget necessary for your project.  We are really focused on those big search parameters and get people the tools they need and they get to decide if it is a good fit from there.

Is Filmzu a national matchmaking platform or is it global as well?

NG:  Our infrastructure is in place to go global.  For now, we are targeting major metropolitan areas in the U.S.  Los Angeles is going to be our home base.  But we have the ability to scale across every single country around the world, like India, because the entertainment business is big over there.  Right now, we need to do well in LA and then we can move onto the next place.

RR:  As far as the architecture is, it is built to be a fully-scalable product built from the ground up.  We done a lot of testing and development to make sure that if we want to stay in the U.S., but expand outside the country, the architecture can handle the rapid expansion.

Silicon Valley is known for tech startups.  Choosing LA as a home base makes sense for the huge entertainment side of business.  But why else did you choose LA as your home base?

NG:  Well, we had a big debate about this and it came down to a couple of situations.  One, the serendipitous meetings with film makers and others throughout the industry is going to happen in LA.  The people we want to meet are all going to be in LA, unlike Silicon Valley.  We are from the San Francisco area and we know that Silicon Valley is huge for making a lot of noise around startups.  But, every single human being is trying to do a startup there.  Unlike Silicon Valley, I think you can shine more and gain more attention in LA.

RR:  There are definitely a lot of people up in Silicon Valley, but we can have a louder voice in LA.  Also, mainly the entertainment focus side of Los Angeles is something you can’t dismiss.  Plus, you can’t beat the weather!

Since your Filmzu platform is all done online.  Do you expect people to meet face-to-face?  Or do you see people collaborate some parts of the project online?

RR:  We built it, so you can do online collaboration together.  You can talk to people, once you selected your crew for the project.  There are definitely roles that would be sorted online, like post-processing and whatnot.

NG:  Yeah, you can find an editor in New York and put your project in DropBox with 4 TB of stuff and work from there.

What were your biggest challenges?

RR:  I would say the hardest thing we realized is that between the co-founders; we couldn’t do every single part of the management or work by ourselves.  We do have limitations and sometimes it is just better to defer some parts of the project to more experience outside sources.  Being a startup, you want to say I can do everything myself.  But we both learned that it is sometimes just better to rely on someone else’s experience.  It ends up becoming better for you by not wasting your time on everything and mainly focusing on the more important tasks at hand.

NG:  Time and money.  If we had done what Rupert said right off the bat, we would have saved a ton of money and time.  I…or I should say we are never going to forget that lesson!

Another big challenge was you have all of these different positions to showcase.  A screen writer, nine times out of ten, isn’t going to have a demo reel.  How are they going to show their work?  There were so many angles to cover for all of this.  For example, a cast member is really going to care about how they are going to be viewed.  They need a demo reel, they need to describe all of their physical characteristics, and they want to have a lot of pictures of themselves.  The screenwriter is more utilitarian.

An agent needs a place to find up and coming talent.  Cameramen want to showcase the clips they did, such as trick shots and angles.  Or the lighting guy and shows how they deal with tricky lighting situations.  All of these are different unique profiles people can create are based off of their skillsets.  It was tough to focus each of those individual sectors and profiles.

filmzuWhat were your greatest times?

NG:  Product design.  This was our biggest selling point.  How do we make this outperform anything else out there?  And we really hit that on the head.

RR:  Yeah, I am really proud of how the site is looking.  I get a lot of positive feedback.  Our target audience cares a lot about design.  To showcase their work they want it to look beautiful.  They don’t want it to look dry and the design has to suit multiple industries.

What is the next step for you guys?

RR:  Just getting our product launched into an open beta.  At the moment, we have been doing a closed alpha.  We have been meeting with film professionals and going over the site.  Finding areas that would benefit them and making sure the site is how we want it to be.  We don’t want to launch too early with problems and a bad design.  Right now launching to an open beta is our goal.  For the rest of the year, there are a ton of features we want to put out.  I think one of the main things we will be looking at is feedback from our users.

NG:  We have one goal and that is to make independent content creators lives easier.  Getting our product launched and anything that we can do to create better content with the best people you can work with.  That is all we care about right now; just creating a great product.

The entertainment market is over saturated with workers, making it very hard for the new guys to find a position.  What advice would you give to new film makers?

NG:  That is a huge problem and you are a 100% right.  The good thing is that what it takes is a good mentality shift and some education on where the industry is and where the market is going.  When you have quotes of Steven Spielberg predicting the implosion of the studio system, that was big news.  You now have online video content being so much more powerful and so much more robust.

My advice to people is stop trying to break into these high-budget productions, when that isn’t the direction on where the market is going.  People want to stay home and they want to watch entertainment online on their TVs.  They don’t want to go out to the theaters.  They prefer niche driven content.

Create your own content.  You have a tool here with Filmzu that gives you every person you need to make that content at your fingertips.  Instead of waiting around for other people to try and hire you, make your own production.  Do it yourself.

RR:  You got to be a one person salesman.  You got to get out there and sell yourself.  To sell yourself, it’s like the Catch-22 of a lot of things, they want experience and you need experience to get that experience.  One way to do that is get these parts and meet people with similar experience.  Gather some sources to build that experience and get some fans.  Start making content and engage with your fans, maybe even make money from them.  Get noticed.  That is the way to go.

What do you think the future is going to be for entertainment?

NG:  Direct distribution.  Netflix and other online streaming sites caught studios by surprise.  Offering movies and TV shows instantly changed the dynamic of how entertainment is getting in the hands of audiences.  YouTube and Vimeo may be offering shorter content, but still has impacted the future of entertainment.  Attendance is down 20% in the last decade for theaters and it’s continuing.  TVs are getting cheaper and bigger.  Online content is a huge service, now that TVs have access to the internet.  Bringing content directly into homes versus having studios distribute them through theaters or outlets have changed what the audience perceives of viewing entertainment.

RR:  There has been a lot of exposure to online content.  Now, there is so much content out, I am having trouble finding quality content.  If I went on YouTube now to search for a music video, I would just find a hundred covers instead of the actual one.  Having a specific place to finding great quality content will be the future.

Why is it so hard to find quality content nowadays?  Is it because everyone is trying to be the next YouTube star or the next big blockbuster movie and ruining entertainment?  Or is it another unexplained problem?

RR:  Hollywood is losing a lot of quality because they spend a lot of time focusing on revenue.  That’s why we see a lot of sequels these days.  They don’t focus on original and new ideas.  They don’t want to take the risk.  The other part of it is anyone can make a movie.  We spend more time at home and we don’t want to engage people.  People are definitely making more of their own movies.

NG:  I think it’s not easier, but just more accessible.  The good filmmakers will always shine and standout.  There are a lot of barriers still to face for filmmakers, but everything is cheaper to do.  Hollywood is just basically a big bank.  That’s all they are.  They have to limit their risks.  They don’t want to gamble.

If Hollywood thinks, “Hey if I put Tom Cruise in a flick.  It’s going to be pretty good at making money.”  They are probably right; it’s probably going to do pretty well up to a certain point.  Or if Hollywood had a movie do very well, maybe they can crank two or three more sequels out of it.  But, these ideas are really old models of the entertainment business.  Back in the ‘70s, Star Wars and Indiana Jones made a lot of money because those were great content.  Nowadays it just doesn’t fly.  Grown Ups 2?  What was that about?  They are probably going to make a second Lone Ranger too.  It just doesn’t work like it did before.  They are revitalized all the old stuff as well, like RoboCop.  Also, look at what Marvel is doing.  I think we have enough superheroes on the big screen already.

RR:  Creativity is now coming out of the small film producers and indie sector.  The creative model indie sectors have just ruins the creativity of the big blockbusters.  There is no originality and they rely heavily on remaking old movies and big movie stars.

What advice would you want to tell people thinking of doing a startup?

NG:  I would say lay it out all on the line.  Don’t regret anything you do.  If you make a mistake, laugh at it, move on, and recover as quickly as possible.  I mean what we are doing has been such fun moments.  I have woken up every day and looking forward to coming in to work to get stuff done.  I sincerely mean that.  You know it’s an incredible exciting time in your life when you actually go do something you set out to do.  Regardless of the outcome, just lay it all out there and roll the dice.

RR:  Research the idea thoroughly.  Go and meet people who have experience on startups.  They can be really inspiring and help you see and reach your goals.  It’s great to have people in the industry to help push you along and be an inspiration.  You need to surround yourself with motivated and experienced people.

Thanks for your time Nick and Rupert.

Alex Bae

A University of California, Santa Barbara graduate. Has a love relationship with photography, technology, and writing. Always looking forward to new creative innovations and writing.

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