Content Creation Out of Necessity

Or How I Accidentally Stumbled into a Career in New Media on Purpose

Zeke Rodrigues Thomas
8 min readNov 9, 2015
Are you not entertained?!?!?! Are you not entertained???! #TeamTroll

I’ve always considered myself an entertainer.

The first signs of which manifested itself at age 6 when I would grab the nearest candlestick and lip-sync the opening to Perfect Strangers on top of a coffee table to a disinterested party of my mother. Perhaps it was this lack of audience or lack of talent that led me to pursue acting after graduating college, but I knew that itch to entertain was still there and could not be ignored.

In 2001, I moved back to my home town of Hermosa Beach, CA and enlisted the game-plan you’ve heard all too often:

  1. Move to LA (check.)
  2. Wow “them” with talent (check?)
  3. Profit

The goal was obvious: be discovered as a great artist and then watch the money, power, and women pile up.

This was not my story.

And it probably isn’t going to be yours either.

And that is okay because we are living in magical times! More on that in a minute . . .

For the next 6 years I toiled in complete obscurity as an actor save a handful of commercials, a ton of student films, and some bit parts in B level films. Hell, I barely had theatrical rep for most of my career. As a reasonably handsome, young, multi-ethnic, union actor I soon realized there were 10,000 other dudes that looked just like me. And had better resumes. And definitely spoke better Spanish. I soon realized the power dynamic as an actor was never going to being my favor. Let’s also kindly ignore my sub 5% booking ratio. Apologies to my former agents.

2006: CW adjacent but still not booking

By 2006, I figured out that being cast in commercials and occasionally testing for pilots was not artistically fulfilling. The obvious answer was to create.

It seems ridiculous to many of you reading now, but a decade ago content creating opportunities seemed completely out of reach given that traditional media was so rigidly segmented.

“No film school? How can he direct?”

“He’s an actor. He can’t write . . .”

“Stick to writing, kid. Maybe one day they’ll let you act, too.”

These are all direct quotes from agents, managers, and producers.

But I had this weird skill set where I could kinda act, kinda write, kinda direct, and kinda play music — all just not at an elite level.

So Where is a Jack-of-all-trades Supposed to go When He Doesn’t Want to Pick a Lane?

The answer started to appear for me in 2007 when Youtube started to become a viable platform. I should also point out that it didn’t become a serious platform for me for almost another 4 years, but I saw the potential just like a whole host of people smarter than me.

Upon the suggestion of my theatrical agent at the time, my friends and I shot our own pilot presentation for a sketch comedy competition show back in ’07 called Sketch Wars. It was good, though not great, but it showed gumption and led to meetings that we definitely weren’t getting before we bet on ourselves.

Improvised hair metal at the Comedy Store with Stranger Than Fiction c. 2008

Ultimately, the show didn’t get picked up, but it planted the seed that I should be making my own content if I wanted to get anywhere. Filming our own content wasn’t cheap as cameras were still expensive and the technology was not great. Plus who’s got Final Cut and who’s knows how to use it?

In the coming years I continued to audition, write sketches, write pilots that never went, perform improv every week, play music with the hope that one of these things would lead to something.

I had no idea I was putting in my Gladwellian 10,000 hours towards a thing we would later call content creation.

Turning Points

2007 was a major one for me. My father had suddenly passed away during the taping of Sketch Wars. It was the first time someone close to me had had passed away and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t blow a hole through me.

As a way of dealing with life on life’s terms, I became fascinated with MMA and starting to train as a way coping. I was a total weekend warrior, but getting choked out and tossed around on a regular basis ultimately led me to meeting my first jiu jitsu coach (and now creative partner), Jarrett Sleeper. He was the funniest damn martial arts instructor I had ever known and it wasn’t long before we were creating together doing live shows and low level sizzle reels.

But it wasn’t until October of 2012 that Jarrett approached me with the idea to film a joke that he wanted to explore. Filmed on a Canon T3i with a Rode VideoMic on a Sunday night we uploaded “How to Pick Up a Girl at the Gym” to what is now the Murderbot Productions Youtube channel and by 7am the following morning my phone didn’t stop buzzing. Our little video had graced the front page of Reddit and tallied 1 MM views in its first 24 hrs. The following days confirmed what we suspected as we were mentioned on The Today Show and MTV had reached out with licensing offers. By the end of he week, we had accumulated 9 MM views. Not an insignificant amount by 2012 standards.

And then things went back to normal.

Contrary to popular belief there were no calls from CAA, UTA, or ICM, no development deals, and no mansions.

What did come from it was just enough money to start a production company and some basic equipment to keep us going. Plus, we took Youtube Space LA up on their offer to become take part in their Scream Lab . We now had access to pro-level equipment and studio space. We didn’t know what to do with it yet, but we were a lot closer to executing the visions we had in our heads.

We continued to make videos. Some of them did okay but we weren’t Youtubers in the traditional sense (No vlogs or make up tutorials here) as we treated the channel as a sketch pad. But then an outtake from an unreleased music video also started making the rounds and we had our second viral hit in less than two years, Typical Crossfit Workout.

The timing of this couldn’t have been better as we had just been approached by a consulting firm about creating corporate content for a major electronics manufacturer for CES. Just another another break that we were ready for and had the viral metrics to back up. Not only could we start to pay ourselves, but it helped subsidize what became our agency reel and put on us the map as far as creating content for Fortune 1000 and above companies.

So you Had Some Viral Hits? Does it Matter?

Yes, and here’s why: Metrics matter as much as your portfolio.

Over the course of multiple jobs as a sub-contractor, I was offered a position with Now Labs as Executive Producer and Director of Video Production. The little production company that I started with Jarrett Sleeper, Goon Creative, is now a strategic partner and has also branched into creative. Add in my narrative work as a Producer with Human Proof Entertainment, freelance producing for Defy Media and new media consulting and you see how drastically things have changed since I marketed stopped myself as talent only.

Yes, I’m busy as all hell. And yes, I am available for hire.

The point is this. Five years ago I had no idea where I was really going. Scratch that . . . 2 years ago I still didn’t know where I was going but I knew that I should go where the water is warmest. That meant learning as much as I could about not only production, story, and content development, but business, venture capital, and advertising.

I still act from time to time, but its not my focus right now. My voice over career has allowed me to scratches that performer’s itch that I still have but most of my time is spent creating, developing, or consulting on content creation. Creating feels much more empowering than waiting to be picked out of the crowd.

My next level goal is being a show-runner.

I want to create universes and build them out. Hopefully, more opportunities to do so will come my way through the relationships I’ve built and a healthy dose of luck.

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.” — Samuel Goldwyn

Quick and Dirty Advice:

Actors: Show up to your auditions with a better attitude than I ever did. Trust me, I know it sucks, but also know that we are in very strange time in the media biz where your talent isn’t the only factor. Make stuff, get an audience, buyers want this. Pick up your phones and start making short form content.

Aspiring Creators:

  • Do your thing. A lot. Practice. We talkin bout practice?. Fuck yes, we are talking about practice. Everything I do (surfing, muay thai, Olympic lifting, writing, editing) is a perishable skill so I try to practice outside of practice so I don’t suck (as much).
  • Try your best but don’t get bogged down in details until you have to. Be nice. Help others. Be authentic. Youtube has an incredible bullshit detector.
  • Learn the basics of every department. I wanted to be the best producer I could be so I’ve gone out of my way to learn the basics of everybody’s department so I can make informed decisions about what needs to happen on set and in post.
  • You haven’t had your last good idea. Don’t be precious with them.

Pro Creators: This advice applies to me as much as it applies to you. It’s easy to look at Grace Helbig, Tyler Oakley, and The Gregory Brothers and see what works right now. They are really good at what they do. We need to think outside of what’s happening right now and answer these questions:

  • Who needs content in the next 6–12 months?
  • Who needs our skill set? These are different questions.
  • Are OTT services the next frontier?
  • What’s really happening with VR and 360?
  • How can we harness those trends to tell a compelling narrative?

When you find the answers make sure you loop me in. ;)

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Zeke Rodrigues Thomas

Brazilian-American Director/Producer/Writer at Mindjam Media by day. Surfer, Standup Comic & MMA fanboy by night.