Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn recognizes Zombie Orpheus Entertainment for their innovation, audience engagement, commitment to local film communityOct 31, 2013
“Creativity and entrepreneurship are two traits that have made Seattle a world leader in innovation,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. “Businesses like ZOE embody this spirit. Through their innovative business model and fan engagement, they are creating new ways for people to enjoy high-quality productions.”
And we are hugely honored, but we also want to make sure that credit goes where it is due: we couldn’t have made it this far without you. As a Fan Supported company, everything we do is made possible by your belief in us, your support, your encouragement, and yes, even your friendship. Releasing our work for free and then trusting you to support us sounded like insanity when we launched in 2010, but you have backed up our faith every step of the way.
So thank you for everything that your support has made possible to date and here’s to many more years of shaking up the world of independent film!
A huge thanks as well to the many members of our cast, crew, and support teams. You also took a huge risk on us in 2010 with JourneyQuest and your passion and professionalism has taken us on every production from the page to the screen with elegance and creativity.
From fans to producers, from cast members to IT specialists, filmmaking is larger than any one individual. All we’ve done is to make it a collaborative effort from the very beginning all the way through to distribution and funding the next project, based on the crazy idea that people, when empowered to support their passions, will do so. And that idea is bigger than we will ever be… which is how we think these things should work.
Read the Q&A
· How does your business stand apart from other businesses in your achievements?
We developed and implemented a new way of creating and distributing independent film—the Creator Distributed, Fan Supported model—which has since been adopted successfully by a number of other indie producers. Our motto is “No Studio, No Network, No Cancellation,” which is our pledge to our fans and supporters that we’ll continue telling stories that they love for as long as they keep us funded. The Creative Commons license under which we release our works allows the fans to remix, share, and reuse our movies without fear of legal action. As we are no longer in the business of selling units, focusing instead on building a sustaining fan base, we are able to move beyond piracy and let the web do what it does best: make perfect, infinite copies of our work at no cost to us.
· How does your business impact our community or neighborhood in a meaningful way beyond business success?
We actively and freely share our resources, research, and fan outreach with many other local producers, doing everything we can to help Seattle’s growing film scene flourish. By focusing on cooperation rather than competition, we’re able to work with other filmmakers and artists to achieve more collectively than we could do individually.
We are located at Jigsaw Renaissance, a local non-profit makerspace in Seattle’s Inscape Arts Building. We keep open hours for the public, offer tours to guests and potential new makerspace members, offer classes and learning opportunities to benefit the nonprofit, and collaborate with other members in an open atmosphere of discovery and learning. We’ve accepted interns from the Seattle Film Institute, UW, the Art Institute, and other recognized programs, creating an environment where learning and building professional connections are vital. Every internship is structured individually to create space for the student to learn skills directly related to their areas of interest. We strongly believe that internships must be treated as educational opportunities for the students, rather than as a source for cheap or free labor. A decade ago, our CEO created and designed the filmmaking program at the Tacoma School of the Arts—where high school students spent a year writing, shooting, and editing their own feature film—and Zombie Orpheus Entertainment strives to bring that same philosophy of hands-on learning to every internship and workshop we offer.
· How does your business demonstrate incredible creativity and innovation?
Our business model was deemed radical (and often insane) when we debuted it in 2010. It has since become a norm, in no small part thanks to the subsequent rise of Kickstarter as a crowdfunding platform. But beyond business, we’ve been able to work with phenomenal local artists to turn sets in the Puget Sound into ancient castles and underground masoleums, hotels into stand-ins for one of the nation’s largest gaming conventions, local cast into a variety of fantastic creatures like orcs, nymphs, and zombies, and to publish the world’s first Orcish/English dictionary. Our stories resonate with fans worldwide because they base the fantastical in universal human emotions and dreams, combining laugh-out-loud humor with passionate humanism.
· What’s your current record of profitability, stability and/or growth?
We’ve approximately tripled our growth over the course of our first three crowdfunded campaigns, from $30k, to $120k, to $405k on Kickstarter, supplemented by additional tens of thousands in direct fan contributions. We are moving to a sustainable monthly revenue model that we expect to be as new and disruptive within the world of independent film as our first three years.
· How does your business invest in your employees in a meaningful way?
We’ve made and kept a commitment to our cast and crew to increase their pay on every project, with the long-term goal of achieving parity with standard union rates as our fan support grows. We strongly promote cast and crew to other productions—an important service for an industry where people are moving constantly from gig to gig—bring them to local and distant conventions, and host yearly events that give fans an opportunity to interact with our team.
· How does your business serve as a role model for other businesses?
We’re a scrappy start up that has actively turned down VC funding in favor of the pursuit of long term sustainability, rather than angling for creating an overhyped bubble and eventual “exit strategy”. Rather than offering advertising on our shows, which would turn our audience in a product that we’re selling, we stay ad-free and keep the focus on the people who sustain us. That helps protect their privacy and does a great deal to promote fan loyalty, because every action we take shows that our goal is to treat the fans with respect: for their hopes for the stories we’re telling, for the integrity of their personal data, and for the integrity of the products we offer. By modeling sometimes counter-normative ways of running a business—cooperation rather than competition, allowing remixing and “piracy” of our works, refusing to sell eyeballs to advertisers, and freely sharing business resources that would typically be considered trade secrets—we show others that ethical, forward-thinking, and sustainable business practices are possible, especially ones that don’t rely on strip-mining dollars or data from one’s customers.
· How is your business unconventional, transformative, a game changer in your industry?
When we launched in 2010, we turned conventional wisdom upside down, pitching to our private investors that we wanted funding to create shows that would be offered online, for free, under a Creative Commons license, and with no limits on the shows’ availability. By sharing our model with others, we strengthen a culture of audience support for Creator Distributed media. By avoiding IP entanglements with distributors and studios—and their records of canceling popular shows, refusing to pay monies owed to show creators, and their reliance on DRM and their ongoing attempts to recreate now-outdated 20th century scarcity models—we show that creators can survive and thrive without the traditional gatekeepers.
· How many employees did you have three years ago? How many employees do you have now?
Three years ago we had just founded the company. Last year we hired over 60 cast and crew for two feature-length film productions, with shoots in March, June, August, and November.