Get to know entrepreneur Ian LeWinter and creator Brandon T. Adams
Ian LeWinter and Brandon T. Adams want to shine a light on the directors of tomorrow. LeWinter is the Co-Founder and President of the platform Filmio, which allows young filmmakers to crowdfund their projects online. He has over thirty years experience in the creative industry, and has managed communications for tech giants like Kyocera, Intuit, Tenet Healthcare and Toshiba.
Adams is a similarly accomplished force. He started his entrepreneurial journey selling ice with his father, and used this sales experience to help other artists crowdfund their projects. Adams currently works as a TV host and producer, and his new show, Success in the City, is streaming on Amazon Prime. He also serves as a Filmio advisor.
Film Daily had the honor of talking with Ian LeWinter and Brandon T. Adams about their entrepreneurial success, their current projects, and their future plans for Filmio.
Tell us about your history as an entrepreneur. How did you start your journey?
LeWinter: It feels like I’ve been an entrepreneur for most of my life. I can remember being part of a small group that created a business magazine in Palm Springs in the 80s called Palm Springs Business Magazine. I was the graphic artist building the publication on a Macintosh SE with a Z-Machines 21-inch monochrome monitor and we did 12 issues before closing the business.
My next endeavor was as a salesman for an advertising agency where I found my career niche. I started AL&Z Advertising in 1993 with three co-founders, raised my first outside money and built the largest advertising agency in the Coachella Valley doing 5M in annual revenue in our 5th year. At first, I was the VP of Sales and then a year and a half in I was promoted to CEO and ran the company for the next five years.
You started out selling packaged ice with your father. How did this job shape your entrepreneurial outlook?
Adams: While working with my father in the ice business, I learned the importance of customer services, relationships and work ethic. My father showed me the power of going above and beyond for our customers.
The early days of selling ice with my father taught me how to communicate, sell, and work hard. And yes, I can sell ice to an Eskimo!
Crowdfunding is a notoriously difficult part of the production process. What made you more adept at raising money than your filmmaking peers?
LeWinter: I first used crowdfunding as a way to fund my own invention “Arctic Stick” on Kickstarter. That very first crowdfunding campaign made me realize how hard it was, and how many others needed help with it. That drove me to become an expert in the space so I could help others raise money for their ideas. Never in a million years did I think I’d be drawn to helping filmmakers raise money for their shows or movies.
I got into the TV space when a guy named Greg Rollett came to me with a pilot of a TV show called Ambitious Adventures. He proposed that if I helped him crowdfund it, he would make me his co-host. I said “yes.” Sixty days later we launched a project on kickstarter which led to us raising money to film season 1 of the show.
Since then, I’ve gone on to crowdfund two more of my own TV shows and one movie.
When did you hit upon the idea for Filmio? And how did your experience working with industry giants Toshiba and Kyocera inform your game plan?
LeWinter: I have to give credit where credit’s due and say that Bryan Hertz, our executive chairman, was the one who brought me into his thinking that a broken Hollywood could be reengineered by using technology to “make it better.” He had numerous friends who were actors and producers and they all complained that the system wasn’t working.
And it took many afternoons of conversations, ideation and revisions to even get to the place where we felt confident enough that we had an idea that we could formalize. It took two years of afternoons.
I have a history of working with technology giants and have always been impressed by how advances in technology can have a profound effect on the way industries work and how users’ lives can be enhanced.
What would you say separates Filmio from its business peers?
LeWinter: Filmio aims to change the status quo and shift the power dynamics within the entertainment industry from a top-down approach to bottom-up. We think of it as democratization of entertainment, a sort of grassroots movement for change.
And I don’t know of any other start-ups or companies that are attempting to build a completely new ecosystem for incubating, greenlighting and distributing creative projects. We see ourselves as truly unique in this aspect, as a group of entertainment and technology veterans exchanging exclusiveness for inclusiveness, and making fans a part of the paradigm of project selection.
There are so many cinephiles out there; why just have a passive role in watching a film when you can have an active one in determining which projects get made?
LeWinter: We’re also leveraging decentralization technology, which by its nature is distributed and allows for more transparency and community trust. By using blockchain, we want to create a sense of open community and a space for a free and secure flow of artistic ideas.
Film investors have access to transparent fan-film data which they can use to make informed investment decisions on movies and television projects. Imagine if every time you wanted to invest in a project you had real data on who wants to pay for the end product, not just market predictions.
More simply put, who better to tell you what’s worth watching than the people who will pay to watch it? We truly believe that with this bottom-up approach leveraging the underlying technology, we can disrupt the current paradigm and put the power into the hands of the creators, helping them bring their amazing ideas to life.
Your work crowdfunding led to careers as both a producer and TV host. Did you always intend to make this transition?
Adams: Nope! I never thought I would become a TV producer or host, but when I saw the power of what a video could do, I knew I wanted to master the storytelling process through videos, shows, and films.
Your show Success in Your City details unlikely success stories. How important is it to present these stories to young entrepreneurs?
Adams: These “Success Stories” show people that anything is possible and that there are many forms of success that can be achieved in different ways. Our goal with the show is to change the way people view success and help them achieve their own version of it, whether that is in business, life, or their relationships.
Do you find that the success of crowdfunding is dependent on the quality of the project or the conviction of the filmmaker?
LeWinter: I think it’s a combination of both. While project quality is subjective, fans want to be engaged and enthralled. I think when you say quality on Filmio you are talking about the depth and breadth of the idea. As the minimum requirement on the platform is a logline, a poster and a lookbook, all of these need to be compelling and appealing.
And they need to be hemmed by a committed creator who is in love with their idea. But let’s face it, no one in their right mind would take on the arduous task of trying to bring a movie or TV show to life if they weren’t committed.
You have served as an executive producer on televised concerts for Alicia Keys and Brad Paisley. How do these experiences differ from your work on Filmio?
LeWinter: As an executive producer my roles were primarily to provide funding and promotional support. While the association and the end products were of the highest quality, I played no role in production or management. My work at Filmio has been as a committed founder and I have worked with every fabric of my being to bring value to the creation and management of the company.
As the President, I am responsible for a wide variety of areas and provide support and guidance to my team as necessary. I’m definitely the head cheerleader.
You’ve had lots of experience in front of the camera and behind it. Which role do you prefer?
Adams: They both are different experiences and have their own perks, but if I had to choose, it would be in front of the camera! I love communicating a story and message effectively so it can make the biggest impact.
Would you want to attempt writing or directing at some point?
Adams: I’ve already collaborated with our writers on projects, but that isn’t my strength. I’m actually going to be assistant director on my next TV show later this year. I have so much respect for directors, they have the hardest job in my mind.
What has been your biggest success?
LeWinter: That’s a hard question as we’ve been working on this for sometime and have had numerous successes. Launching the closed-beta on September 2, 2020 was truly an epic moment and I honestly don’t think I’ve been prouder of our work.
How did you come to be an advisor for Filmio?
Adams: I met the Filmio team while I was in the process of filming my own show Success in Your City. They told me their vision and what they were doing to help project creators like myself get their films and shows seen, and I was instantly sold on the concept.
Filmio was solving the problem I had dealt with on my first projects and becoming an advisor was a way for me to help other project creators like myself, while also getting my show a wider visibility and distribution.
How was Filmio’s platform integral to the success of Success in Your City?
Adams: Filmio is going to help me get our show to a wider audience and allow us to build an even bigger fan base moving forward. I’m grateful they have come into my life. I wish I had found them five years ago while filming my first show!
Who are the artists that have most inspired you?
Adams: For documentaries, I’ve been inspired by Nick Nanton, Greg Rollett and Shawn Vela. I am impressed by what they have done in this space. They are the ones who got me into producing shows and telling stories at the highest level on camera.
For TV hosts, I’ve always been inspired by Mario Lopez and what he’s been able to do in his career.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
LeWinter: I am a member of two professional business organizations whose members provide advice and support. I very much value my mentor network. I would recommend that you seek out business organizations with known individuals in your field. Find ways to connect. Ask for what you want. Be prepared to provide reciprocal value.
What’s your five-year plan for Filmio?
LeWinter: To continue to innovate and to learn from utilization and to respond accordingly.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
Adams: We soon will be releasing episode 4 and 5 of our TV series Success in Your City. I’m also working on an exciting project with Kevin Harrington, which has to do with entrepreneurs pitching their ideas for money and technology implementation. You will hear more about that later this year, but that’s all I can say for now.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Adams: Go find a filmmaker already producing at the highest level and find a way to work with them. Offer to work for free and do whatever it takes to add value to them. The experience working with them will help you get your own projects out faster than you could on your own.
What is Filmio’s ultimate goal?
LeWinter: To give entertainment fans a voice in determining which projects get made and to reward them for their efforts. To celebrate the creative journey. To showcase creators and their projects and to provide them with the tools necessary to build an audience and secure production funding. To provide investors meaningful data that can intelligently inform their investment decisions.