I grew up near Buffalo, in a neighborhood called Gratwick. Movies were my first love. I still have binders full of movie tickets from years and years of going to the movies 2 or 3 times a week. But it never occurred to me that Hollywood was a real place, let alone that obtainable careers existed there. I was lost in the escapism of a story, the endless amounts of other lives you could live for even just a few hours. When I saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in the theater 14 times, it wasn’t because I was infatuated with the filmmaker or the film per se, even today I still do not know who directed it. But what I did was gather all the kids in my neighborhood and convinced them to build bridges high in the trees of a vacant lot. For years we lived Robin Hood.
My first exposure to the entertainment industry as a real place was when I got a temp job in the payment processing department of Warner Brothers. This was shortly after I moved to Los Angeles in 2007 at 28. My job was scanning in all the receipts and bills from endless expenses. I saw ALL the waste. I saw five thousand dollar lunches at Katsuya, countless millions wasted on marketing Speed Racer which was always destined to be a turd, all of it. At the same time, despite doing the job of two employees, they used budget restrictions as an excuse to deny a one-dollar raise. But on my lunch breaks, I could walk freely around the back lot. That’s when the light went off and I realize for the first time what I should have done with my life. I went back to my desk and immediately started writing stories while I scanned the bills.
The Birth Of Gratwick Films
The first writer’s strike happened in 2008, along with the economy collapsing. By that time, I was determined to make something, and the day job was getting in the way. Fate intervened. The company laid us off and shipped out the entire department to Norway. Unemployment gave birth to ‘Gratwick Films’, the word ‘Gratwick’ is a small burrow in my hometown where my group of friends all live. Gratwick is synonymous to me with home and family. There was never another name even considered. I used the time to make a crappy little weekend warrior film called ‘First Timers’. It was based on trying to figure out how to survive the first few days of becoming homeless. Write what you know they said.
That experience made me realize that if we planned it out and did this the right way, we could legitimately tell some great stories. I had found my purpose in life. So we set out to make something a little bigger, a small horror movie set in a basement. But we couldn’t find a basement in LA, so we went back to Buffalo. Thanks to the help of so many friends and family, we shot ‘The Perfect House‘ in 14 days, in my grandfather’s house, while he watched Jerry Springer upstairs.
The Deep End Of The Industry
I foolishly believed that if we made a visually appealing film, industry professionals would help us figure out how to make money from it. Instead, we found shady producers and post houses who lied to us as they attempted to use our work to advance their interests. At one point, Grindstone reached out to us and tried to berate me into giving them the film for free to “pay my dues”. They wanted me to sell out all my friends and family for the promise of a future career. I told them in no uncertain terms to go fuck themselves. I discovered years later that they had a film called ‘The Perfect Host’ and wanted to bury our film because its title was too similar.
We did not know how to distribute a movie in 2010. But we knew we needed something to separate ourselves from everyone else. And we knew we wanted to build a direct connection with our audience so we could make it easier and easier to release content directly to them. This part was something at the time that industry people despised and a precedence that immensely threatened them. So we made a deal with a company called ‘Flicklaunch’ to release our film as the first movie ever to premiere on Facebook. They were the first VOD app built for Facebook. When the movie was released for $5/view, we would get our cut immediately at the point of sale and the film would automatically share on the viewers’ page. We could roll sales back into ads and get people accustomed to our releases right on Facebook. It was a match made in heaven, or so we thought. With no agent, manager, agent or publicist, we got covered on the front page of Variety magazine. I truly thought someone smart would come calling. They never did.
The TPHtour Is Born
We sacrificed everything to promote that Facebook release. Three of us gave up our home, sold the last of our belongings and scraped together $1000 to buy a 1972 RV that we had painted up like our movie poster. We started a podcast, borrowed a projector from a fan and headed out with nothing but blind faith in humanity. The plan was to do free pop-up screenings across the country and collect gas money donations afterwards to help us get to the next city. That beast got 5.5 miles per gallon. We intend to livestream as much of the journey as possible, but we had 5g ideas in a 3g world. Ultimately, we made it 12,000 miles around the country on the journey of a lifetime that took us all the way back to Buffalo for an October 1st, 2011 release. A Facebook update that rendered the pay button inoperable for weeks unfortunately sabotaged it. Thousands tried to watch the film but could not do so. The entire thing was dead in the water. We could have sued if we could have afforded the ability to do so. Flicklaunch lasted less than a year, no surprise. Soon after the tour, my partner in life, the tour and in producing, had a miss carriage with twins from the stress of the trip and outcome. It was truly rock bottom.
I released the film through independent distributors, but they didn’t fulfill their agreements or provide transparent accounting. In the end, the quantity over quality distributors were the only ones who made anything.
Along the way, I was demonized and villainized by people I loved who could not possibly understand how hard I fought and how much I sacrificed to defend their interests. Therefore, transparency is something I believe in with my soul. If you have nothing to hide, you can offer a form of entertainment, no one else can take the risk of offering. Go where they can’t go. This is the Gratwick marketing edge over bloated empires that have been around for more than a century.
The Culmination Of Experience
The entire journey showed me that the ideas worked, but we were way ahead of the curve and making it up as we went along through trial and error. If we took the time to build a plan from beginning to end around transparency as part of the entertainment experience, it would work and people will love it. I promised myself that I would not seek investment for any project until I could guarantee a forward-thinking business model and a transparent process for returning investments that I could have accountability over.
Since then, technology and social temperament have evolved in our favor. Blockchain, smart contracts, and decentralization are solutions to inefficiencies and unethical gatekeepers who control access points. These tools can provide peak efficiently and total autonomy. Transparency and automation replace third-party platforms, gatekeepers, distributors, and censorship.
There have been interested investors who we have said no to simply because their intentions were to compromise the vision. They aimed to create an ideal solution for ‘Gratwick’ and then give a predatory version of it to the creators and community members.
There have been elite talent agencies who have recruited me at a cost I will never pay. In front of witnesses, it was made clear to me in no uncertain terms, the price of admission was a blind eye under any circumstance.
The vision for the Gratwick app is the culmination of all these experiences and the solution to all our needs. Whether you’re the audience, the ally, the artist, or even the advertiser, we intend to deliver you the perfect entertainment hub.
A Call To Arms
Even thought it never occurred to me Hollywood was a real place, it’s stories had a profound influence on my life. I see the world in scenes, plotlines and story arches because it’s how I make sense of reality. I drank all the kool-aid and showered in the Hollywood propaganda. Good guys always do the right thing. A small group of rebels can always overcome the evil empire. Good always win in the end. Rags to riches. Perfect families. All of it. Hollywood raised me to believe the regular person can slay giants and take down empires. But, in the real world bad guys win all the time and happy endings are few and far between. Yet, even after all this time and heartache, I still believe it can happen. I still believe there is a better way to do the business of entertainment that doesn’t bend the knee to controlled access points. Where everyone is empowered with a state-of-the-art digital infrastructure to manager their own empire.