East WillyB is an original series that chronicles the adventures of a Brooklyn Sports Bar owner and his motley crew of regulars as they deal with the trials and tribulations of living in a changing Brooklyn. Its pilot season premiered in 2011. Its first season, for which the producers raised $51,000 on Kickstarter, is currently airing on YouTube. It has been covered in over 50 media outlets including The New Yorker and New York Times, which called it the “Latino Show for the New Generation.” This essay is part of Televisual‘s “Indie TV Innovation” series.
It all started with a vision: to create a series that spoke to the next Generation Latino. For those of you who hear “Latino” and think Spanish-speaking immigrant, East WillyB is not your grandmother or housekeeper or nanny’s telenovela. We wanted to create a fresh, hip series for the new American — that hybrid culture-maker, part-urban, part-old country, part hip-hop, part-Salsa, part-Spanglish. Did you know that every month 50,000 Latino Youth turn 18? Well, we do, and that’s why we saw a huge market opportunity: to create content for a population whose existence the networks have failed to acknowledge.
Our inspiration came from the veterans — Felicia Day built an empire on gaming geeks, our friends at Anyone But Me spoke to teens claiming their sexuality — look how well they did! If they could build it so the fans kept growing, so could we. And so began the dream, and the belief that miracles do happen, but only if you work your ass off and keep believing.
Step 1: Start Small
You can only make a big miracle happen if you believe in the small ones. When we started East WillyB, it was with a crew of four, some of whom were former students that we were training to operate sound. We wrote scripts and shot based on availability of cast, we practiced guerilla filmmaking at it’s best, each of us playing multiple roles — an actor on break became a traffic director, our director was often holding a boom, our producer got a sunburn shielding actors prevent glare on screen. But we believed in what we were doing and where we were going, and we always ran the production like a business, knowing that someday soon, we’d be running a crew of 100!
Armed with a well shot “pilot season,” created on a shoestring budget, we knocked down the doors of Hollywood because that’s where we thought we belonged! We shared our dream of creating a digital series that lived on multiple screens, and while we made a lot of friends, we were still two “no-names,” who came off “green,” (their words not mine.) But it didn’t phase us, why? Cause we believed in miracles and we had a vision that was only growing in success. We didn’t need the industry to believe, because we were now a part of a different industry (digital) that was born believing.
Step 3: Dream Bigger
When you believe in miracles, you keep setting the bar higher for yourself cause anything is possible. When we told people we planned to raise $50,000 in 50 Days, most people asked what our plan was for when we did not reach the goal. We simply smiled, “Don’t worry, we got this.” And we did. East WillyB is now bigger than our hopes and fears. It’s a business. It’s a brand. It has a fan page (pretty rad). It is a miracle that keeps growing!
Step 5: Celebrate the Victories
So what if you don’t have 100,000 views yet. That takes time (and often money!). Keep building and celebrating your tribe. Keep learning what’s working with your series, and explore what isn’t. Make small goals you can reach and celebrate. And then keep reaching higher.
Step 4: Don’t Stop Believing
Three years later and there are times when we doubt. We get scared. We wonder about the future of East WillyB. We worry about our finances and how we can continue to sustain ourselves and our business. We worry. But we are surrounded by evidence of miracles. The beauty of being on the vanguard of the digital is that it is an industry of miracle believers. We don’t do it for the money. We don’t do it for the fame. We do it because we believe that our stories deserve to be told. We do it because we believe in the transformative power of seeing yourself in media, especially if you’ve never been seen there before. That is the miracle. That is why we keep believing.
–Julia Ahumada Grob and Yamin Segal
Julia Ahumada Grob is the co-creator and lead actor of East WillyB. She is an actor, writer, and creative producer of Chilean and Jewish heritage. Named one of 25 emerging theater artists by Kevin Spacey, she is a 2011 Fellow of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Latino Producers Academy and Latino Artist Mentoring Program. Julia holds a BA from Brown University and has studied acting with the Labyrinth Theater Company, Steppenwolf Theater Company and at Upright Citizen’s Brigade. www.juliagrob.com
Yamin Segal is a co-creator and co-writer of East WillyB. He holds a BA in Film Production from Emerson College and an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. His screenplay Three Latin Girls was honored as a finalist at the 2006 Slamdance Screenplay Competition, while his MFA thesis Que Lindo Es Bailar was a finalist at the Sundance Producers’ Lab, and one of four screenplays selected to participate at the 2008 Nantucket Screenwriters Colony. His directorial debut, the 2009 short film El Ladroncito (The Little Thief) — which was filmed in his native Nicaragua — successfully toured the international festival circuit garnering various awards including Best Short Narrative at the Arizona International Film Festival and Special Committee Prize at the Miami Short Film Festival.