Filmmaking Trio Clubhouse’s Jonathan Paley Talks Good Films on Any Platform
The filmmaking trio Clubhouse, of production company Process Media, have made content for both online and offline platforms since their company was founded in 2009 (back when things like crowdfunding were just beginning to catch on).
Starting with a documentary about baseball in the Dominican Republic, the trio came together and through the years started making feature films that have appeared on networks such as HBO, Showtime, Epix, PBS, Fusion, and Netflix, and featured on the front pages of The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Vice, and ESPN. The filmmakers’ clients have included Goodwill Industries International, Adobe, Success Charter Networks, Roadside Food Projects, and others. In other words, these three — Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathan Paley — have been busy, and they can offer some perspective on creating films for a variety of platforms.
One of Clubhouse’s most recent projects has found its home on the web. Called “No Brown M&M’s,” the short-form series spotlights the demands of musical artists from Lou Reed to Van Halen, the latter having inspired the project with their request for “no brown M&M’s” backstage. We caught up with Paley so he could tell us about this new digital series and how the filmmaking trio approaches different video platforms in general.
How did the three of you get started making documentaries together?
Ross and I met at a study abroad program at Prague’s FAMU film school. We came up with the idea for our first film, “Ballplayer: Pelotero,” about baseball in the Dominican Republic. We were looking for someone to partner with and met Trevor through friends of friends. He spoke Spanish and had made two documentary shorts in Latin America already, so he was a perfect fit. Our first time working together was nine months of living in the Dominican Republic and shooting every single day. We’ve worked together ever since.
Were you initially aiming to take a more traditional route with your content, putting it in festivals and hoping to get it in theaters/on TV, or were you open to any platform from the beginning?
When our first film came out there still weren’t a lot of alternatives to the traditional routes. Branded content was in its nascent stages and things like direct-to-fan distribution and crowdfunding were very new. We learned a ton from that release about what does and does not work with traditional distribution. In the past few years lots of opportunities have opened up for filmmakers to take less traditional approaches to making and distributing their films. It is kind of a project by project decision for us now about where and how we think a film will be best served.
For your content that has shown up across multiple platforms, what qualities do you think it has that makes it work on TV and the web?
A good film is a good film no matter where it plays. Each venue targets a different audience, but there isn’t a whole lot different in how the film plays there.
The “No Brown M&M’s” project seems like it’s perfect for the web. Could you tell us a about the inspiration behind this series and how you’re getting people to watch it?
One day we stumbled on the incredible trove of band rider documents on The Smoking Gun and we knew we wanted to do something visual to bring this to life. It all kind of happened very naturally from there. The series debuted on Yahoo Screen, and it’s gotten a lot of organic attention from there.
We’re just scratching the surface of the insanity here. We want to expand this to a larger series and make a bunch more. I was particularly sad to cut Lil Wayne, who asks for half his payment to be delivered before the show in a suitcase…in cash.
Do you find creating for any specific platform/format most fulfilling? In other words, if you could describe your dream project, what would it look like and where would people be able to watch it?
Honestly, we like to do it all. Directing a feature-length documentary and a short branded content piece are fulfilling in totally different ways. I think our next goal is to make a feature narrative. We’ve been working on a script for a while and can’t wait for the chance to make it happen.