Brian Volk-Weiss — CEO at The Nacelle Company on Netflix’s 1st Streamer Deal, Betting Big on Comedians, and Toy Shopping Therapy

November 18, 2021 by  Chris Erwin

Today we publish our 18th podcast episode. Links to listen and full transcript are below.

This interview features Brian Volk-Weiss, CEO at The Nacelle Company.

We discuss why betting big on standup specials got him Netflix’s first streamer deal, how Iowa taught him about empathy in content production, bombing on stage and the genius of comedians, producing The Movies That Made Us, toy shopping as therapy, and why he’ll retire when his first feature film is greenlit.

You can listen, subscribe, and follow our show on:

…and the many 3rd-party podcast apps. Please forward The Come Up to a friend if you think they’ll enjoy our interviews.

 

Interview Transcript

The interview was lightly edited for clarity.

 

Chris Erwin:

This week’s episode features Brian Volk-Weiss, the founder and CEO of The Nacelle Company. Brian grew up in Queens with an early love for the Star Wars in 1989 Batman films. But upon realizing these worlds weren’t based on reality, but instead imagined through the magic of Hollywood, Brian fell in love with filmmaking. So after college in Iowa, he moved to LA to become a production assistant. He then took an early career bet on producing a catalog of stand-up comedy specials, which almost bankrupted him, but the bet paid off big and enabled Brian to found his own production company, which is behind hit titles like The Movies That Made Us on Netflix.

So Brian exudes an incredible love for his work, as well as constant amazement he’s got to where he is today, which makes telling his story really fun. Some highlights of our chat include why comedians are geniuses, empathy and content production, doing Netflix’s first streamer deal, toy shopping as therapy, and why he’ll retire when his first feature film is green-lit. All right, let’s get to it. Brian, thanks for being on The Come Up Podcast.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Thank you for having me. Very honored.

 

Chris Erwin:

Awesome. Let’s rewind a bit. And why don’t you start with telling us where you grew up and what your household was like?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I grew up in Queens, New York. Was born in the late ’70s. It was my mom, my dad and me and that’s it.

 

Chris Erwin:

And early on, when did this love for toys, entertainment, storytelling, when did that really come to be? Was there a glimpse in your pre-teen years or as you were growing up in your house, any inspirations from your parents?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I obviously, I got to get my mom credit because at three years old I could not have bought my own ticket to Star Wars. So I guess I can give her credit for my whole career in that regard. But I’m very lucky. It’s the luckiest thing in the world. I saw Star Wars when I was three and I was so young, and by the way, everything I’m about to tell you, I have no memory of whatsoever, but my mom told the story her entire life. So I have it memorized. But basically at three years old, I did not know the word documentary, but basically the way my mom described my reaction to seeing Star Wars, it was as though I thought it was a documentary.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And you have to understand, my mom was one of the first women to get a PhD from St. John. My dad was a lawyer. It was very concerning to them that their son for months, when he was asked, “Hey, what do you want to do when you grow up?” My answer was, “I want to fly an X-wing fighter. I want to join the Rebellion.” And I mean, this really freaked my parents out. So my mom bought me this book that I still have, that was about the making of Star Wars, but it’s written for five-year-olds. And I opened the book, the Death Star that was supposed to be the size of the moon was only six feet across C-3PO. There was a picture of his helmet off and it’s Anthony Daniels.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

From that moment, and by the way, before that I wanted to be a limousine driver, just to show you how young I was. When people would say, “What do you want to do?” “I want to be a limousine driver.” And then they’d say, “What do you want to do?” I’d say, “Oh, I want to join the Rebellion.” After I saw the book, when they said, “What do you want to do?” I would say, “I want to make movies.” And I mean, I’ve never wanted to do anything else ever. Obviously, now that includes television, but that’s what led to it.

 

Chris Erwin:

Okay. And were you involved, in your pre-teen years or in high school involved in the theater in any capacity where you’re writing stories, any of that?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So I wasn’t involved with the theater. I did one theater thing in college and that was what it was, but I did make little movies all the time. I made five-minute short film. By the way, I do have to say, when it was really hard to do, I mean, forget about shooting on 16 or even 8mm film, the camera I had literally shot on VHS tapes. It must’ve been three or four feet long. And by the way, that was the easy part. Editing in those days, I mean, you had to buy a machine for 250 bucks when my allowance was $5 a week. I mean, it was not easy to make these films, which by the way, were all garbage. I mean, they were terrible films, but yes, I did a lot of that. I did crappy little films in high school, a lot of them.

 

Chris Erwin:

I imagine you’re casting your neighborhood friends and your peers. And were you getting some feedback of like, “Hey Brian, there’s something special here. You’re really good at this. You have some good vision. You’re telling stories that need to be told, or you see things in a different way.” Were you getting any early feedback like that as you’re starting to put together your first contents [inaudible 00:06:03]?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So I don’t want to make you seem like my parents and friends were jerks, because they were not, but I made crappy movies and they were crappy. So nobody could look at them and truthfully say, “Oh, Brian, this is great.” I mean, I’ll tell you this, I was in show business for at least 10 years before my parents realized, “Oh wow, he might have turned this into a career.” They were in denial my entire high school and college time that I would turn this into a career. Like I said, both of them were children of immigrants. They wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer or a dentist. The whole idea of going to show business with no job, I didn’t know anybody when I got here.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So again, their personalities, but I really do think being the offspring of immigrants that had to flee the Holocaust and everything, I chose a very risky career path.

 

Chris Erwin:

Understood. Like you noted, your parents were looking for the traditional route for you, for stability, for something was familiar for your parents who are immigrants coming to a country that was unfamiliar to them, trying to find things that were stable and known. And you’re like, “No, that’s not for me. I’m going to give something else a go.” So you make a decision that this is the career for you, but when you go to University of Iowa, were these ambitions in your sites? Were you planning to go into the entertainment business then? What was your focus on for your study?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Again, I never wavered for a billionth of a second from this being my career choice ever since I realized that Star Wars was fake. So it was always the plan. Like I said, not only were my parents highly educated, all of my grandparents were also, my grandfather was a doctor. My other grandfather was a dentist. And even the women, which traditionally, 100 years ago were not going to schools and becoming doctors and lawyers and stuff, they were also very ambitious, very hard working. So if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have even gone to college. I would have gone straight to LA at 18.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Because of that, it never occurred to me until I was out of college, long out of college that I could have skipped college. But I did know when I chose where I went to school, it was irrelevant to my career. So that gave me a lot of freedom not to go to NYU, not to go to UCLA. I decided it was more important to me to have an experience that I could carry with me throughout my career, which I got to tell you, I think that was in retrospect one of the better decisions I’ve ever made for myself, because whenever I’m trying to look at things, should I green-light this or should I green-light that or whatever? I have a million friends in the Midwest. And a lot of people that I know, the majority of their friends are in LA or New York.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So I get this point, I was in Minneapolis this weekend, this past weekend, was like eight or nine people that I know there. So that’s who I think of when I’m making creative decisions, especially in the editing bay, by the way.

 

Chris Erwin:

In a way, are you saying that you can empathize with a broader audience mix than maybe those that have lived and grown up in LA, or the LA consumer is all they know where you’re like, “No, I’ve traveled from east to west, in the Midwest. I’ve been in parts of the country where others have not. And I understand what they care about, what they don’t care about, how they communicate with one another.”

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Absolutely. I mean, 100%. And just to use a non-show business example, if I only had LA and New York friends, I would have a point of view of Trump that I do not have because of my Midwest friends. I still hate the guy’s guts, no offense to anyone who likes them. And I respect your opinion if you like Trump. And I think I get that because I have friends in the Midwest, because I have friends that I’ve known for 30 years almost that like Trump. And I understand why they like Trump. I don’t agree with it. I think it’s terrible, but I understand why they do.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So when I see Trump, I look at him from a point of view of, again, I truly think the guy might one day be responsible for the literal actual apocalypse. But I do know that I look at him differently from almost everybody I know in LA and New York. And that is because I have friends in the Midwest that voted for him and I understand why they did. And I know they’re not racist. I know they’re not antisemitic. It’s that point of view that when I’m in an editing pay, I can think about what they care about, what they value, and not just LA and New York and Miami.

 

Chris Erwin:

I think that’s very well said. And it’s something that I feel that is an important value to me too. Look, I’m from the tri-state area. I grew up in Jersey, schooled in Boston, and then I worked in finance in New York. And then I did go to grad school in Chicago, but then I was in LA for 10 years and now I’m in San Diego. But I feel that my time in Chicago for a couple of years, as well as the fact that my brother’s wife is from Ohio, and I have friends from Ohio.

 

Chris Erwin:

And sitting down with parents of my friends who have run steel mills in these manufacturing plants for over 40 years, and when I just talk politics with them, the notion of empathy is to understand their story is very different than what I hear from my coastal friends and my coastal peers. And not making this a political conversation of picking one side or the other, but just context and empathy, not only in the world is critical for political decisions for economic, but in telling story and reaching different audiences and understanding what they care about and thinking about what the marketing campaign is going to be is really, really critical. So I like how you’ve touched on that.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

You just said I think is, first of all, it’s pretty much my favorite word. Second of all, I think if our country has lost anything as everybody says we have, it’s context. It’s a sense of context. Many times people I work with, trying to be nice, trying to be funny, whatever, kiss my ass a little, I don’t know. But they’ll write a script or something and they’ll name something after me. And it’s usually like a ship or a character, spaceship, boat, whatever. And it’ll be like the USS Volk-Weiss.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And I’ll always say, “First of all, thank you. That’s very kind. Second of all, that’s not me. I don’t like that kind of shit. Please change the name. And if you change it, please change it to the USS context.” Because that’s how powerful I think that word is because anything is nothing if you don’t take into account its surroundings. And that’s why I liked that word so much. And that’s why, again, going back to your question, because I feel like I’m rambling, but that’s why I went to Iowa. It gives me a sense of context I knew I wouldn’t have if I had gone to school in LA or New York.

 

Chris Erwin:

So going back to your decision for you, Iowa, was there also in addition to context, something else that you received from that school or that experience that maybe was unexpected, but a delight you’ve brought with you for the rest of your life?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I learned a lot from the school. I mean, just the experience of getting somewhere at 18 and leaving at 22. Just that experience is a great thing, but one of the things I learned because I learned a lot, but the thing that had a lot of value to me to this day is if you go to a school in LA or New York for the most part, again like UCLA or USC or in NYU, you’re getting filtered in with lots of other people with the same beliefs. Another way to say it is, if I had gone to NYU, I would have been surrounded by people just like me who had made lots of student films.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

At Iowa, I mean, two of my best friends from Iowa, they were from farms. And by the way, that’s another thing I learned, when you think of farm, you think of like, “Hey, there’s a barn and a house and maybe 30 cows and a couple of pigs.” These people were from… I was this New York guy. My mom had a PhD. My dad was a lawyer. These people from farms, they probably made 10 times what my parents made for a living. But you don’t think that way when you hear farm.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So just needing people who are the children of farmers, the first person in five generations to go to college and they’re sitting next to me in the same class on the same first day of college, I took that, it’s not destined that just because you make stupid films when you’re in high school that everybody else around you doing that is going to end up in the same place. You can come from a farm. You can come from… One of my best friends, his parents owned a roofing company.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

The other thing that was great about Iowa was, Iowa City was very different than Iowa. So the minute you were five miles outside of Iowa City, you might as well have been in Nebraska or Oklahoma. But Iowa City had a lot in common with New York compared to the rest of the state. So just all of that knowledge and experience is just wonderful.

 

Chris Erwin:

Very well said. I think there’re some themes that we can come back to there, but in moving your story forward, after Iowa, you move immediately to LA and you become a PA on Castaway.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Eventually. That wasn’t my first job. My first job, I always like to say this was a independent film called Going Back to Cali. It was a all white producers, but it was literally an African American copy of Swingers as my first job. I booked it six days after I got to LA. Every night, the producers would watch Swingers and the director. And then the next day we would basically redo the same scene with an entirely African American cast. That was my first job. I think six or seven months after I got here, I got here July, and about four months or five months later, I got Castaway.

 

Chris Erwin:

Got it. When you made that first move, and you got this first job, this call it African American copy of Swingers, did LA still feel right to you. Were you’re like, “Yes, this is it. I’m excited?” Or were you like, “Actually, this is a little bit different than I thought and I’m questioning somethings.”

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I’m not going to talk about LA because I hate LA the day I got here and I hate it now. But if you’re asking me about show business, it was exactly what I thought it would be. If anything, it was more exciting, more fun, more awesome than I had even hoped it would be. I look back on those days, I know this might be a weird thing to say, but I only PA’ed for about a year, I was only an assistant for about a year and a half. And I’m sure if I could speak to 22 or 23-year-old Brian, they would tell me I’m smoking crack, but I wish I had PA’ed a little longer. I wish I had been an assistant a little longer because, especially a PA, I really enjoyed it. Like I really, really enjoyed it.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I always joke, and if there’s anything I’ve learned about myself over the years is as I’ve gotten older, a lot of times when I make the same joke over and over again, I’m not joking and I’ll probably do it, but we’ll see if I do it with this one, but I’ve always joked, “Maybe when I retire, I’ll go back to PA-ing.” I really enjoyed.

 

Chris Erwin:

What was it about it that you loved so much?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

There were two things about it. One of which I was aware of at the time, one of which I’m sure is now me looking backwards, but at the time, what I loved was it was such a tiny job. I was usually making 75 bucks a day, but you had such an important role. I’ll never forget my first PA on a real job, it was a big car commercial. I’ll never forget, at the end of the day… The whole day I got people, coffee, I did all those, “Menial jobs,” which I actually enjoyed quite a bit.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

But at the end of the day, I’ll never forget the producer handed me all the cans of film because it was filmed back then and said, “Take these to photo cam to get developed.” And I was just like, “No problem.” And he goes, “Never forget, every penny we spent from paper clips to producer salaries is in these cans.” And I never forgot that. And that was what was so exciting. I’m 22 years old, I don’t know a thing about anything, and yet, I have the most important job bringing these cans somewhere for an hour. Bringing an actress coffee may seem menial, but she needs the coffee. It’s very hard to be an actor.

 

Chris Erwin:

You’re delivering coffee, but you’re seeing an actress preparing for when she’s going to be performing. What’s her headspace, what is your routine before, what is the hair and makeup and everything’s happening in advance of her going on set. So you’re seeing the full experience. That absorption so early on is so valuable.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So valuable. And also, a lot of fun. I mean, a lot of fun. And then in retrospect, looking backwards, the other thing I liked about it is, it was so simple. My job now, I mean, we’re planning stuff for 2024. Almost everything we do now, if not everything we do now is connected to other things. So we’re not just putting out a TV show, we’re putting out a TV show, a book and a podcast. When you’re a PA, they say, “Yo, go to Walmart, buy a hammer.” You go to Walmart, you buy a hammer, you go back, they say, “Thank you.” And then they tell you to do something else. And it’s just very A to B, A to B, A to B. And I miss that.

 

Chris Erwin:

I hear that. It reminds me of a story. There is this very famous IP lawyer that had a very complicated job, dealt with complicated legal cases. And on the weekends to relax and decompress all he wanted, like you said, Brian, was the simplest task and actions. So he got himself a bulldozer in his backyard and he would just move mounds of dirt. A mound of dirt from one corner of the yard to the other, do that for four hours on a Saturday, that’s how he cleared his brain.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I get that. You wouldn’t even believe. I might go buy a bulldozer now. I totally get it. That’s brilliant.

 

Chris Erwin:

And I hear you. Look, as an owner of a smaller business than yours, just the weight of the responsibility, taking care of your team, taking care of your clients, making sure that you have payroll, you’re planning years ahead. I hear you. So what are the simple things that you do to keep your sanity?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Honestly, buy toys, collect. It’s like going to church or temple or whatever. It’s so peaceful to me to walk around a vintage toy store and just see what they have and buy some things, bring them home and put them in my collection. People have every right to say I’m hoarding. I get it. I mean, the volume in which I’m buying toys, I know it’s ridiculous, but it gives me tremendous joy just exploring vintage toy stores, even antique stores. It really gives me a lot of peace. Even if I don’t buy anything, just seeing the way the world was, seeing little bits of history. You’ll see an ashtray from [Bell and Root 00:21:59], knowing that it’ll eventually become Halliburton. Just seeing that in a store, an antique store like that gives me a lot of peace.

 

Chris Erwin:

When you go shopping or looking at vintage toys and vintage items, do you like to do that alone? Do you do that with certain peers that are also aficionados?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

My favorite way to do it is alone. Well, that’s not true. The only exception to that is my wife, because my wife is just like me. If we go to an antique store, she doesn’t want to talk until we’re walking out. So I don’t talk to her. She don’t talk to me. We just shop and explore. But most people they want to talk and everything and I’m very focused. I’m really focused on what I’m looking at. The exception to the rule, even though it’s not helpful to my relaxing is of course with my kids, it’s the opposite of what my wife and I do, but I love my kids like any father does, but they’re just so fucking funny that it’s worth the distraction being with them because of how funny they are.

 

Chris Erwin:

Going back to your career trajectory, so after being a PA and then you’re on Castaway, you break into, I think, BKEG talent management. And there you start managing comedians and then you start producing stand-up comedy specials. And it kind of kicks off this incredible run that you have there and then through New Wave Entertainment, which I think acquired BKEG in 2003. So I’m curious, right now with the creator economy where every major social and incoming platform and all the major streamers, they realize that the talent, the creators, they bring the audience and thereby the audience then brings the money and the revenue. When you started working with talent early on, what were some of your key learnings? How did you gravitate towards them? And then why did you start working with comedians in particular?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I started working with comedians completely randomly. It was all random. I’d only been in a comedy club once in my life before I went to BKEG. I was interning at a tiny company that on the floor that his office was at, there was a communal copy room and all the assistants to all the producers and other people in the floor would get to know each other because you would be in the copy room copying stuff together and you’d have to wait while people were using the machine. All I knew was this guy I knew was leaving his job. He needed to replace himself. He was making 50 bucks cash a day under the table. That’s all I knew about the job.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I knew that I was broke. I had saved up about three grand during college. I had burnt through the three grand. I was about to start waiting tables on the weekend. I was still PA-ing, even though I was an intern five days a week, I had still been PA-ing on the weekends, but I still was burning through my money. So I met with his boss and I just needed the 50 bucks a day cash so I didn’t become a waiter again because I waited tables in college and I got the job, and about a week into the job, I understood what a… I didn’t even know what a manager was when I took the job. It was a tiny management company.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I basically was like, “I can’t think of a worse job than being a manager.” So I basically gave my two weeks notice. The owner of the company, a guy named Barry, Barry basically said, “What do you want to do for a living?” And I was like, “I want to produce movies.” And he was like, “Well, as a manager, you can do that.” And he started walking me through how you do that. So I stuck with it. Then I started managing and that’s exactly what happened. I mean the first movie I ever got on into a movie theater was through a client. The first show I ever sold on television was through a client. And the entire foundation of our company is from that process.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

To answer your other question, I understood talent very quickly. It was very easy to understand. They’re not like the rest of us. And as a manager or somebody who becomes a manager or is thinking of becoming a manager, you have to make peace with that or not do the job. Because if you’re a manager for any other profession, you just say the obvious thing and you tell your client what to do. So if I was managing engineers and I had the client working at Boeing, and my client was like, “I’m mad at my boss. I’m not going to work today.” I’d be like, “Well, you work for Boeing. You got to go to work or you’re going to be fired.” It doesn’t matter what you think of your boss.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

When an actor, you can’t say that nor should you, because I cannot tell you this enough, I had clients I talked to every day. I would go on vacations with them. I would go to movies with them on the weekends. These were people I talked to seven days a week, 18 hours a day, that kind of stuff. And I would still be on set with them and we’re just hanging out like friends, and then the second [inaudible 00:27:11] comes over and is like, “Hey, so and so, you’re up.” And they would go and start doing a scene. And I’m like looking at them like they’re levitating or flying or can split at, it never wore off on me how amazing it is that people can become other people.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I know this sounds insane. I’ve been doing this for 23 years and I’m still amazed that actors can act, but I made peace with that on day one. And for me at the time, because pretty much all my clients were stand-up comedians, they’re complicated people, but you have to be complicated to become a stand-up comedian. You also have to be a genius. There is no stand-up comedian I’ve ever met that can sell 100 tickets or more that wasn’t a genius. So when they say they’re not getting out of bed for any reason, you have to engage with them, find out the reason and then work with the studio or the network or the producers or the director to get them simpatico. And I enjoyed that because I respected how hard it was to do what they did.

 

Chris Erwin:

Hey listeners, this is Chris Erwin, your host of The Come Up. I have a quick ask for you. If you dig what we’re putting down, if you like the show, if you like our guests, it would really mean a lot if you can give us a rating wherever you listen to our show. It helps other people discover our work and it also really supports what we do here. All right, that’s it everybody, let’s get back to the interview.

 

Chris Erwin:

I’m hearing two things from you, Brian, that I think are really interesting. One, which speaks to the longevity of your career and why I believe there’s so much more ahead is because it really feels like, just from talking the last 30 minutes, how much you love what you do. When you were describing Star Wars and your early impressions of Batman and making movies as a teenager and in high school. And then even just describing back then working with talent, watching them instantly transform on set and that wow factor for you. And then you still have that same feeling today, it’s that you’re captivated by entertainment in Hollywood. And that even if you despise LA, you love the entertainment industry, you love show business. And I don’t think that star is ever going to fade. It feels like it’s just going to get brighter for you.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I say this, this could sound like a metaphor. This could sound like I’m trying to be humble, I don’t know. But I’m telling you, I mean this, the way I tell you the sky is blue. When I tell you, I cannot believe any of this is happening to this day, I mean it. I absolutely made it. I’m shocked any of this worked. Absolutely shocked. So much of what we’ve built was theoretical for so long. And the fact that there’s almost no greater feeling not connected to family, there’s almost no greater feeling than watching the moment a theory becomes a fact. And we were making stand-up specials at scale, 20 to 30 a year for years, spending millions and millions of dollars. 99.90 cents of every dollar that came in for five or six years, we spent that money on making stand-up specials. We didn’t know if it would work or not, probably until year seven. We started this plan in ’08 and I didn’t know it would work for sure until 2014.

 

Chris Erwin:

Well, that speaks to an interesting point that we were talking about before this recording. What was the catalyst that caused you to keep reinvesting in these comedy specials? Why were you putting 99.90 cents of every dollar that you brought in back into this growing body of work?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Well, there’s two answers to that question. The first answer is the long-term answer, which is I knew the day I got here, again, I was 22 years old, but I’d been thinking about this since I was five. I wanted to build a studio. That was always my goal. I always wanted to build a studio and I had read about how all the other studios had been built. I knew Disney was built on Donald and Mickey and all of that. I knew Warner brothers was built on this Mack Sennett Library. And that was the key word, library. So I knew I had to build a library. And if I wanted to build a studio, I knew I needed a library. I didn’t know how to build a library.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

A bunch of lucky things happened. The first lucky thing was, like I said, as a manager, you make a stand-up special for your clients once or twice a year. So one day I get a call from an agent, a guy named Mike Berkowitz, and at the time I was a manager. I had all my clients and I was managing full-time. And then 98% of my job was managing, 2% was producing. And I got a call from Mike, and Mike asked me if I would ever produce a stand-up special for a non-client. And I was really offended. And if I’m being honest with you, I was kind of rude to him. It was Michael Ian Black’s agent, and I said to him, I’m like, “Dude, why are you calling me about producing a special? I’m not good enough to manage him. Why can’t I manage him?”

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And I was really annoyed about it. The next day in the shower, I suddenly remembered my job was to make money. And as long as it was legal, it didn’t really matter how I made the money. So I called Mike back and I apologized. And luckily he forgave me, which if you knew Mike, this doesn’t happen very often. No offense, Mike, but it’s true. You would agree with me, if you ever hear it. But that being said, we did Michael Ian black special and word got out to the community that we were making specials for non-clients. So that was the first thing that happened.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

The second thing that happened was in 2006, I read a book called The Long Tail. And the reason that anytime I talk about the long tail, I always mention what year I read it, 2006 was a very important year, not because of what happened, but because of what would happen. The book correctly predicted the rise of YouTube, iPhones, streaming, everything, AVOD, Asphalt, everything. So I took the biggest risk of my entire life and I bet everything that that book would be right.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Because the truth of the matter is one of my clients blew up. I mean, I started working with this guy when he could sell 400 tickets and three years later he was selling 15 to 25,000 tickets a night. He was making a million dollars a show. And I could have taken that money and put it in the bank, invested it, and I’d probably have more money now than I do if I had done that. But the other thing is, in addition to wanting to go to studio since I was a little kid, it was always very important to me to leave something behind. I didn’t want to die and not have contributed something, anything, but something to the world.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And basically, I bet everything that the book would be right. And I’ll be completely honest with you, when I made the decision, I basically said to myself, “This is it.” If the book’s right, I’ll be able to achieve my dream. If the book is wrong, I’ll have to quit or get fired and either become an agent at a big agency or go back to school and become a lawyer or something. I knew I was making a bet it all bet. By good Lord, the grace of God, that book could not have been more accurate and correct in what it predicted.

 

Chris Erwin:

Well, because I think when you read that in ’06, Brian, and then your investment in this stand-up comedy special library from ’08 through the next 6 to 10 plus years, that also led to growing credibility for you to start going into unscripted and scripted work and TV series and film projects. And then eventually you being able to launch your own production company and studio in a cell in 2017.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

That’s exactly right. I mean, it killed a million birds with one stone. One of the most important birds that literally changed the course of my life, the company’s trajectory, everything was, I do not know anybody in my entire life that did a deal with Netflix before me. My first deal with Netflix was in March of 2009. I swear to you, you’re going to think I’m joking. I am not joking. I signed the contract. The contract said, all over the contract, streaming, streaming, streaming, s-bot s-bot, s-bot. I hadn’t a clue what that meant. Not an iota of a fucking clue, but the deal was for so much money I didn’t want to risk losing it. So I just signed it.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And that deal did two things. First of all, it brought in the money that allowed me to keep growing the company because that deal was for the rights to specials I had already made, had already aired elsewhere, like Comedy Central or Showtime, and these rights had reverted. And that’s the deal I had done with Netflix. We didn’t even have Netflix in my house. When I signed that contract, I hadn’t even seen Netflix yet.

 

Chris Erwin:

It was a DVD company. I think necklace was founded around what? ’98, ’99. And then 8 to 10 years in, probably exactly in the timeframe you’re describing of ’09, there was this slow transition to streaming. But I don’t even know if it happened at that date yet. They were probably just going to put that into contracts and planning for the future.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

It had happened. But first of all, nobody really understood it. But second of all, the first person I ever met at Netflix, this woman named Lisa Nishimura. When I met with Lisa, they were in the middle of their biggest crisis. Up until this very second, they were going through, I forgot what it was called, like Flixster or Flicker. They were dividing their DVD business from their streaming business, which nobody understood because nobody knew what streaming was. So it was this whole like, “What?” But the reason I bring this up is that deal I did with Netflix in 2009 got me in the door with them before almost anybody.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And because of that, I met this guy named Devin Griffin, and Devin at a very unique job where Devin, he was the guy that whenever we had the rights to a special ending at Comedy Central or something, or we had a special that we shot without a buyer, and again, I feel like that’s worth mentioning. To this day, other people I’m friends with who own production companies will say, even though they know our plan worked, they will still say to me, “It is insane that you were making stand-up specials with no buyers at scale.” Almost everybody I know would try it once or twice and then quit.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Part of how I got through it and survived the risk was we did it at scale. You can’t make one or two at a time. You have to make 5 to 10 at a time, which means instead of spending 300 grand, you’re spending 5 to 10 million. So when I tell you, we bet it all, I mean, we fucking bet it all. But the reason I bring this up is we were doing this at a time when no one else was. So even though we were tiny, Netflix had no choice but to work with us because we were the only independent company that had a stand-up comedy library.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So I knew this Devin Griffin guy, who’s now a very good friend of mine for a lot of reasons, by the way. He’s the smartest person I know, but you also changed the course of my life. He was transferred after a couple of years from stand-up comedy acquisitions to unscripted. And he was the guy who was like, “What do you got?” I had been trying to sell this show, which eventually was called The Toys That Made Us for seven years. I never could sell it because a lot of people don’t understand this, but producers are tight cast just like actors.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So I couldn’t sell it because I was always the stand-up comedy guy and executives and buyers were always like, “Why is the stand-up comedy guy trying to sell me a show about toys?” But because I knew Devin, because I was friends with Devin. Devin had been to my house. And Devin had seen my toy collection. And he also knew me, he knew he could trust, take my word. So if I told him I could do X and he knew I was a, “Expert,” in toys, he green-lit Toys That Made Us and had changed everything for the company, overnight.

 

Chris Erwin:

And when you say why it changed things for the company overnight, was it because of the money that was coming in from that deal? Was it the prominence of that, how popular became on Netflix? And then what came thereafter, which is The Movies That Made Us, what was that transformation?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

It changed a lot of things for a lot of different reasons. The first thing it did was, I mean, it was our first hit. I mean, we had never made anything that resonated in pop culture ever. So just by having a hit, not only do you get phone calls returned faster, but it’s easier to sell shows once you have a hit. So that’s the first thing it changed. The second thing it changed was it gave the company an identity for the first time other than stand-up comedy. The third thing it did, and I think a lot of people might even say this is the most important thing it did, Toys That Made Us was the first show we ever sold that was about a passion that I had. Every other show before that, and we probably had over a dozen shows on the air before Toys That Made Us, not a single one of those shows got a second season.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

If you go on IMDb or Amazon, they’re all like three stars to five stars. What I learned, and you might be like, “It’s really pathetic, Brian, you had to learn this the hard way.” But before Toys That Made Us, I would do research on what the buyers want and then develop shows based on that research. And then I would make those shows to pay the bills. What Toys That Made Us show me was, I don’t know if I cared about the show and was passionate about the topic, call me crazy, but we’d probably do a better job. So after Toys That Made Us came out, we haven’t done anything that we’re not passionate about. And knock on wood, not a single show that we’ve made since Toys That Made Us has not gotten at least a second season. That’s what we learned.

 

Chris Erwin:

I love that. So then the natural follow up question is, with that new intention, let’s create programming that stems from what we love as individuals, what we love as a team, what we’re passionate about. Beyond just instilling that in your own mental framework, how did you instill that amongst your team? How did you change your development process to do that?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Well, I mean, it was pretty easy because, a, almost everybody that works at the company is some degree of a geek. And by the way, I have to say, I’m very proud of this. The few people that have joined us that are not geeks, well, guess what they are usually six months later? We hired this awesome executive from Discovery, this poor girl. Oh my god, I mean, she didn’t have a toy to her name the day she joined us. I mean, I think she has a shelf of toys now. And I guarantee you, she’ll have probably five shelves of toys by the end of 2022. But anyway, I just love that.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

But anyway, so we just shifted into what we loved. I mean, it was such an obvious move, but I missed it. So basically after Toys That Made Us came out, and we were getting incoming phone calls for the first time ever, I was like, “You know how we all love this geek. Let’s just do that.” And that’s not all we do, but it really became what we became known for. And it’s funny, the exception to this of course, is Down to Earth with Zac Efron, that’s not a pop culture show, but it was the same premise where I love Zac. I love that he was so excited about the environment and food and it was just very easy for us to get passionate about that, because I mean, who’s not passionate about food and the environment.

 

Chris Erwin:

And I think like a powerful thing, this is a theme from a lot of the other entrepreneurs and leaders I talk to, it’s just focus. And if you’re trusting your gut, you’re focusing on a more narrow lane. It also impacts who you recruit. Recruiting team members that are like, “Look, we want to find people who are nerds like at us, that deeply love things.” If I was recruiting to be hired by your company, Brian, I’d be like, “Yeah, that’s the type of team I want to work for.” Where you’re hiring me for my taste and what I love and you’re going to help make that come to life and we could sell shows like that to Netflix and the other streamers, I’m going to be pumped to join you then probably some of the other studios.

 

Chris Erwin:

And it focuses the conversations around the table, and it focuses as a leader for, you can probably really push your team and say, “Do you really care about this topic? Do you really love it? Give me more. I sense that you’re leaving something on the table here and you got to dig deeper.” That’s powerful.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

That’s exactly right. We just do what we’re passionate about, and don’t get me wrong, we’re not idiots. If I don’t think I can sell it or I don’t think the public will want to watch it, we’re not going to do it. This is the other thing I always like to say, Sam Raimi had this great quote in 2000 when he was directing Spider-Man. I never ever forget this. It’s like a real rule for us. He said, he goes, this is before the movie came out. He said, “I’m making Spider-Man. I not making Sam Raimi Spider-Man.” And I am very passionate about what we make, but I never forget that we are making a product to be shared. And I don’t want to make something that people won’t like or be excited about.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And by the way, sometimes we try and sometimes we fail, but we got a lot of criticism on a show we made once. I’ll tell you the whole story. We put out a show last year on Amazon called A Toy Store Near You. And the first season, every episode, it takes place in toy stores all over the world. The first season, every episode was like 25% about the toys, 75% about how the stores were staying in business during COVID. It was a pretty deep dark show. We put it out. We think we’ve made a great show. We’re all happy. We’re all excited. And the feedback, I mean, it was 80% negative. And of the 80% negative, everybody was basically saying some version of this, “My life sucks. I’m depressed. Every news story I see is bad. When I watch TV, I don’t want to be reminded about COVID. I want to forget about COVID.”

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So we were in production on season two, and I think a lot of directors may have been like, “Fuck you. This is our show.” I was horrified that I had misjudged the public so badly. And if you watch season two, season two is the opposite. It’s 75% toys, 25% COVID. Season three is 99.9% toys, 0.1% COVID. And we’re in post right now on season four, we literally just reshot something last week because you can see someone in the background wearing a mask. So we do listen and we do take all that stuff very serious with the public things.

 

Chris Erwin:

Well, look, I think that speaks to one of the earlier themes of our conversation, Brian, which was context and empathy. I think it’s why Ted Lasso performed so well during COVID. People just wanted to escape. They wanted to smile, feel good content. And that was exactly that. And just speaking from personal experience, 9/11 happened. Recently, there was a lot of amazing documentaries on the 20-year anniversary. On Netflix, on the other streamers, I started watching the one on Netflix. Being from the tri-state area, really hits close to home. And I was like, “Look, being in COVID feeling isolated, the whole world going through tough times. I just can’t see content like this right now. This is not what I’m looking for.”

 

Chris Erwin:

Not saying that, that content’s not valuable and that I want to come back and visit it, but that wasn’t the right moment in time. Hearing you say that, Brian, I think it’s like constant balance of staying true to you of telling the stories that are important to you. What you think the world should here, but also, what do people want to hear right now and I want to cater to that as well, which also drives longevity for your business. And it reminds me, we had Alison Eakle on the podcast, I think a couple months ago, she’s the head of development at Shondaland.

 

Chris Erwin:

And she always says, “When I’m creating a show, I think of what’s the movie poster. What’s the marketing going to be?” Just as the ideas are coming together. And that just caused you to think, what is the audience reaction going to be? I went to business school at Kellogg, the way that they teach leadership and business management is through the marketing lens, marketing as a management philosophy. And marketing is all about understanding the customer mindset. So I really like how you captured that there.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Thank you. And by the way, my best friend in college, Jamie Jackson, he went to business school. All I did for four years was make fun of him for that. “Oh, how was business today? What kind of business did you talk about?” By the way, I went to communications and I was cutting 16mm film together and taping it together with scotch tape, something that would’ve 0.0 value the day I graduated. Guess what I should have studied in college in retrospect?

 

Chris Erwin:

Well, at the least, you can hire people on your team that can now do this.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Thank God.

 

Chris Erwin:

This has been such a fun conversation because we’ll bring up different questions and then Brian, you just go off on these amazing stories and vignettes which have been awesome. But we did gloss over the point about your belief that the top comedians are really geniuses.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I didn’t say to top comedians. I very deliberately said anyone who can sell 100 tickets, which is nothing. I mean, that is nothing. Any comedian that gets to the point where you have 100 people in a market paying money to see them, that is a low bar, but anyone who gets to that point is a genius. It’s not just the top comics. It includes them, but you cannot get to a point where 100 people are hiring babysitters and paying for two drinks unless you’re a genius.

 

Chris Erwin:

Thank you for the clarification that further even reemphasizes my point.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

I didn’t mean to jump on you, but it’s important to me to say that because so hard is that job that I just want to make it very clear, long before you’re selling out arenas, you need to be a genius.

 

Chris Erwin:

I have not followed comedians for my entire life, but I can admit that over the past, call it three to five years, I’ve really followed Bill Burr very closely. And I’m actually going to see him in Long Beach tomorrow night. And then also through some advisory work that we’ve done with Team Coco and Conan O’Brien’s digital team, starting to pay more attention to what Conan does and his podcast and his interviews. And I think what is so unique about comedians, yes, whether they’re they’re the top or they’re just starting to build their careers, their ability to observe human behavior and society and have really interesting commentary, I think is unparalleled.

 

Chris Erwin:

And in a writing class that I take with my brother, great writers just observe. And through great observation, they can make very interesting literary points and stories. And I look at the comedians today where I just watched the recent Dave Chappelle’s special in Netflix. And despite the controversy that has driven, his ability to observe and see things that others do not, and then talk about it in ways that others do not, I think that’s very valuable for society and something that’s treasured. And I look at them, Brian, with awe and I’m like, “How do they see that?” So that’s something I wanted to highlight.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Like I said, I talk to comedians every day. I already talked to Tom Papa this morning. I was talking to Steve Burn two days ago. I talk to comedians every day. I was with Jim Gaffigan in Minneapolis on Saturday. I have never gotten over who they are and what they do. They’re geniuses, but I’ll tell you something, everything you said is right. There’s nothing I’m disagreeing with, but I’ll tell you something on top of that, that I think is also true, maybe. Yes, you need to be a genius. Yes, you need to observe. But you also need to understand how the public perceives you. So what works for Bill Burr wouldn’t work for Chappelle. What Chappelle does wouldn’t work for Bill Burr. They had to find not only who they were, but who the audience thought they were.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And I’ll tell you how I learned this lesson. So like I told you earlier, I used to represent this guy that went from selling 400 tickets to 15,000 tickets very quickly. I mean, over the course of three years, that’s how big he jumped. And I was with him four to seven nights a week in the clubs, at the shows, everything. I had his act memorized. And I mean memorized, not just the words, I had the intonations up and down. I had his act. One day, we had a mutual friend who was preparing to be on, I believe Conan, might have been Kimmel, but doesn’t matter. And he was practicing his set at this place called the Gower Gulch, which is a karaoke bar that had a, every Wednesday night, they had a open mic night.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

The crowd was very light and it was late. And they were waiting for people to come in. But Jay, our friend, didn’t want to go up because the crowd wasn’t big enough yet and he didn’t want to do his test in front of six people. So my client says to me, “Hey, you know my act, why don’t you go up and do my act.” And I’m like, “Sure. Oh my god, I can’t even believe you’re letting me do this.” That is such a no-no in the comedy community. Even though I’m not a comedian, you do not do someone’s act. You don’t do it. And I cannot stress this enough, this night I’m talking about, he was one of the biggest comedians of all time.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So this was not a small person asking me to do this. He was a stadium act at that point. So I go up, cocky, whatever. And I’m like, dude, it didn’t work for me. I knew every single word of his act. I knew every pause. I knew when to go up, when to go down on the pronunciation. To say, I bombed, this was a set that could make 15,000 people laugh simultaneously. And by the way, not just every single time, he could do 80 shows in a row with that exact same 20 minutes, and never not get a standing ovation. I did it once, I gave up. I was like, “All right, thank you.” I didn’t even finish the 20 minutes.

 

Chris Erwin:

Couldn’t even get to the end there.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Like, “Thank you. Tip your waitstaff.” So I always think that’s very important to say that it’s not just about the genius, it’s not just about the material. There are comedians I know who are geniuses that have great material that have been doing it, I kid you not, for 30 plus years that still have not figured out what the audience wants them to be and who they want to be. And they’ve been doing it for 30 years. They still can’t sell 100 tickets.

 

Chris Erwin:

I Really like that. And I just have to ask in closing, Brian, how did it feel for you to bomb? Because I imagine, Bill Burr talks about this all the time on his Monday Morning Podcast, you have to get your reps in. You have to know what it’s like to go to bomb because you have to try. And only through failure will you learn what your relationship is with the audience, when you feel comfortable, what your style is. So for you going up there, where you thought you had the best jokes in the world, what did that feel like?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Well, I did have the best jokes in the world because I didn’t write them. The guy who could sell arenas did. I mean, I was laughing my head off. I mean, I never wanted to be on stage. I never wanted to be a comedian. I didn’t give a shit. I mean, it was like a really funny experiment, but, and this I only learned a day, a week, a month later, but it did give me that experience because think about it, there’s no flight instructor in history teaching people how to fly planes that did not already know how to fly planes.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So think about how weird it is to be a manager that only represents comedians and you’ve never been on stage telling a joke. So it wasn’t early in my career, it was probably barely halfway through the management part of my career, but to have that knowledge, and I’ve used it the rest of my life, yes, was very valuable.

 

Chris Erwin:

Brilliant. Love that. All right. So let’s talk about what’s the future of Nacelle Company? This business is now around four years old, founded in January 2017, you were just highlighting before the break, some incredible traction that you have. What are you thinking about in terms of what’s next? And I think you’ve recently read a book, again, the second time in your career that’s really inspired some big future moves. Tell us about that.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So the future for our company is there’s two things we’re basically doing right now. And if I had to guess, this would be the two things we’re doing for the rest of the time. The first thing is we’re taking knowledge we have and experience and revenue from an existing business and applying it to bigger and better things. So the example I can give you is we started making stand-up specials on spec, meaning we didn’t have a buyer lined up, and then we sold them or licensed them. We didn’t sell them, we licensed them, which is, for those that don’t know, that’s a temporary rental of our title.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So we did that with stand-up comedy. We’ve been doing that now for about 15 years. Now what we’re doing, and the first attempt at this was Down to Earth with Zac Efron, we are doing with series what we used to do with stand-up specials, but we’re right now only it in unscripted series. So we have a show coming out in two weeks on History Channel called The Center Seat, which is 10 episodes, only about Star Trek. We own that show. We have a book coming out the same day and a podcast coming out the same day. And after a certain amount of time, History Channel will not have access to that show and the rights will revert back to us just like we did with stand-up comedy.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So that’s what we’re doing now. And this is obviously much more expensive making series on spec than making stand-up specials. I mean, every at-bat is seven figures. Whereas in comedy, I would say 70% of our at-bats are under seven figures, 30% are above seven figures. With series, it’s all above seven figures. And we’re doing that right now. A Toy Store Near You, same thing, we own that show. In the future, we’re going to go from doing one or two a year, God willing, to doing 10 to 20 series a year, combined with, we will then get into scripted and we’ll start doing the same thing in scripted. So spending 5 million an episode on spec just like Sony, just like Lionsgate.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And then after that, and maybe simultaneously, we will be doing the same thing with movies. The moment where if I had to guess the beginning of my retirement will start is the point where we green-light our first say a hundred million dollar movie. The minute that happens, I will probably be retired, probably about five years after that event. So that’s the first answer. The second answer is I’m a big believer and a lot of this comes back to Walt and Roy Disney, I’m a big believer in the flywheel method, which since you went to Kellogg, you know what I mean, but I only learned about this in my early 40s where we are launching departments to service other departments.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

So that allows us to put out, like I said, we’re going to put out a show on History Channel in two weeks, but we’re also getting revenue from the podcast. We’re also getting revenue from the book, yada, yada, yada. So two answers, answer one, just keep doing what we’re doing, but do it bigger and better. Answer number two, create more departments to monetize what we’re already doing. And I just want to say for the record, monetizing sounds like some big fancy word. I mean, to say that we’re all having the time of our lives, launching a publishing arm not knowing a thing about publishing, that kind of shit it’s a lot of fun, but I’ve been through that cycle now a lot.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

When we launched our stand-up arm, we didn’t know what we were doing. When we launched our record arm, which now to say, it’s the number one producer of stand-up comedy, audio is a tremendous understatement. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing. I mean, I never have any fear about not knowing what I’m doing, for better or worse. The book you refer to, I just read it probably about less than six months ago, really boring title, it’s called Liftoff. But it’s a great book about the first 10 and years of SpaceX. But it’s funny, the reason I find that book so valuable is the exact opposite of The Long Tail. With The Long Tail, it showed me a possible path forward.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

With Liftoff, again, I cannot stress this enough. I did not go to business school. So almost everything we’re doing is just me trusting my gut and praying to God it works. What Liftoff showed me was a lot of what we’re doing is the right thing to do. And what a lot of people don’t understand about SpaceX, and I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t understand this either until I read the book. I mean, what Elon Musk started with SpaceX conservatively was the 15th time a rich person tried to build a space launching company. Every single person and company that tried before him failed.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

And a lot of the reasons why he succeeded, we were already doing, but I didn’t know if it was right or not. And his book showed me, some of the things that we were doing, which were extremely unusual, and even I was questioning, is this smarter, stupid? His book showed me it was the right path. I mean, the example I like to give is, we develop almost all of our internal capabilities. We try to do things outside of the company as little as possible. I have a tendency to have a vendor, and then either hire the vendor or buy the company that was providing the service because I like to have everything under one roof. Elon Musk, in the book, it tells a great story where they needed these special kind of pumps, they’re called turbo pumps to mix the fuels to get the rocket out of the atmosphere.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

There’s two companies on the planet, one of which is American that make turbo pumps for everybody. NASA, Boeing, JPL, everybody. Because Elon Musk was the new kid on the block, he was getting them slowly and they were coming and they still needed work and then SpaceX’s engineers had to actually finish working on them. Musk eventually said, “Fuck it. We’re just going to start making our own turbo pumps.” That led to a lot of things. First of all, they didn’t have supply problems anymore with the vendor. Second of all, they were able to make them at 30% the cost of the other company. Fourth of all, guess what SpaceX now sells to other space companies? Turbo pumps.

 

Chris Erwin:

They’ve become a supplier themselves.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Yeah. And that’s what Amazon did with their cloud service. So I have long been a believer in having as many capabilities under our roof as possible. And for those that don’t run a business, that’s very risky and expensive. Every time your payroll goes up, it’s risky. But my theory has always been, if it’s all unified under one roof, we will make more money because everybody’s talking to everybody all the time.

 

Chris Erwin:

Totally agree. This reminds me of a conversation that we were having with a direct-to-consumer retailer this year. And the challenge was their board and investors are thinking about, “Okay, we have this growth vision, but if we want to minimize the amount of capital that we’re putting to work up front, how can we outsource some of these capabilities so that if things don’t work, we’re not on the hook versus this massive investment in fixed costs?” And I was like, “I hear that. I totally get that. But the challenge is you’re not creating internal capabilities in intelligence and commitment to your internal teams that this is where you really want to go in the future. And so the quality of your effort, the quality of this business initiative is going to be inferior and will not necessarily outperform who you’re trying to beat in the marketplace if it’s just all outsourced from day one.” So I think what you described is very on point.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Absolutely. And by the way, I’ll give you a great example, every company out there in theory that owns an amusement park, in theory, has their own version of the imagineers. That is not true. The Imagineering Department at Disney is over 2000 people, highly paid, highly skilled. There’s a guy in the Imagineering Department, all he does for a living, I guarantee he gets paid six figures. All he does is designed better fake rock technology. There is an imagineer, all she does is create better realistic looking leaves from foam. That is all she does 52 weeks a year minus vacation time.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

But my point is, no other amusement park has that capability. And I think Disney might make more than every single amusement park on the planet combined. I could be wrong, but even if I’m wrong, I’m probably not wrong by that much. And I completely agree with you, anytime I hear a company is divesting and blah, blah, blah. I’m always like this is either the beginning or the end, or they will reverse that decision when the next CEO comes to fix the mistake you’ve made by trying to have a better quarter. Because that’s the problem these companies make when they do that, all they care about is beating the same quarter the prior year. That is a recipe for failure.

 

Chris Erwin:

I agree. I think the other key variable here that makes SpaceX, that makes Disney perform, and then also the future for you, Brian with Nacelle, is you have to have a leader which then flows down to the team really believe in this business initiative. If it’s like, “Hey, we’re kind of into this. We were going to outsource some of this stuff, but we’re going to bring it in house.” But if you’re not bringing the passion, the focus to your team every day after that massive investment in fixed costs, it’s not going to work. And that really comes from the top.

 

Chris Erwin:

And from this conversation, Brian, I can feel that from you as a leader of your business and as a visionary for the industry that you’re in. And I hear you, we just hired another person in our team that’s replacing a couple contractors that we used to have supporting us. That scares me. I got more mouths to feed. That’s more of a commitment for me to do business development, but I know in my gut it’s the right move if I want this company to grow. So we are simpatico on that level.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

You went to Kellogg, I didn’t. So take to put a grain a salt, but I believe you’re right.

 

Chris Erwin:

So Brian, before going into rapid fire, I just want to give some kudos to you. I have really only gotten to know you through this interview and a little bit of prep before. And it feels like to me that you are really fulfilling your destiny as a creator and storyteller, which I put the different interviews of people that I have on the podcast together. And I just had Doug Bernstein, from House of Highlights. And that’s a new social media native sports brand. Doug was all about sports since age three. And I told him at the end of the show, I was like, “You are fulfilling your destiny now running House of Highlights, and who knows where this is going to go.”

 

Chris Erwin:

And Brian, I now look at you and telling me that your earliest memories and your reaction of Star Wars and Batman, building this company, being a crap creator when you’re in high school, despite your family and friends feedback, but trusting your gut the entire way. And then going out on your own, after an amazing 16-year career with BKEG and New Wave. It really honestly feels to me, Brian, that you are just getting started on what you’re doing. And I have a gut sense that even though you say that, five years after you have this a hundred million dollar green-light for your first feature, I think that’s going to come to you a lot sooner than you expect and I actually don’t think that you fully understand where your business is going to be in the content landscape in 10 years from now. It’s been a delight to get to know you and I wish you really the best going forward.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

You’re very kind, man. I hope you’re right. My wife would agree with you, but like I said, it’s all surreal. I’m shocked we’ve even gotten this far. And I really, really, really mean that.

 

Chris Erwin:

Rapid fire, six questions. The rules are that the answers will be one sentence or maybe just one to two words. Do you understand the rules?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Great. I understand the rules.

 

Chris Erwin:

Okay, here we go. Proudest life moment.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

My third born coming home and my wife and first two kids all being in bed together with our third kid.

 

Chris Erwin:

I love it. What do you want to do less of in 2022?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Driving and flying?

 

Chris Erwin:

What do you want to do more of?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Making toys. We’re making toys now, and I want to make more toys.

 

Chris Erwin:

What one thing drives your success?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Utterly fearless. When it comes to failure, I know failure will come and I’m not afraid of it. And when it does come, I still get out of bed in the morning and fight.

 

Chris Erwin:

Advice from media execs going into 2022.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Do not be afraid of failure.

 

Chris Erwin:

Any future startup ambitions that you think are maybe outside the confines of your current company?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Buy a one screen movie theater and just play my favorite movies. And it would probably have a pizzeria connected to it.

 

Chris Erwin:

With pizzeria. I just have to ask, what would be three movies that would be part of that rotation?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Star Wars: A New Hope, ’89, Batman, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

 

Chris Erwin:

Got it. Last question. This is an easy one. How can people get contact with you?

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Instagram and Facebook, it’s my name. It’s not some wacky weird thing. That’s it. Brian Volk-Weiss at Instagram or whatever.

 

Chris Erwin:

All right, that’s it, Brian. Thanks for being on the show.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Thank you. Dude, this was awesome, man.

 

Chris Erwin:

Thanks for the time. Much appreciated. Later.

 

Brian Volk-Weiss:

Thank you. Hope to see you soon.

 

Chris Erwin:

Super fun conversation with Brian, and a funny timing, the day after we recorded that, I actually went and saw Bill Burr, stand-up in Long Beach. And I believe that Brian has worked with Bill in the past. It was a phenomenal experience and a highly recommend that if Bill Burr is coming to a sit in near you guys, go check him out. Definitely worth it.

 

Chris Erwin:

All right. Lastly, our team was in New York last week. We hosted an event for investors and founders in the media and commerce industries. It was awesome. Had a great time. We’re going to do another one in the first quarter of 2022. This one will be on the West Coast though in LA and likely going to have a livestream commerce theme. I know we’ve been talking about this for a couple years now, but now is the time to do it. Those things are opening up. So stay tuned for that. All right, everybody. Thanks again for listening.

 

Chris Erwin:

The Come Up is written and hosted by me, Chris Erwin, and is a production of RockWater Industries. Please rate and review this show on Apple Podcasts and remember to subscribe wherever you listen to our show. And if you really dig us, feel free to forward The Come up to a friend. You can sign up for our company newsletter at wearerockwater.com/newsletter. And you could follow us on Twitter, @tcupod. The Come Up is engineered by Daniel Tureck. Music is by Devon Bryant. Logo and branding is by Kevin Zazzali. And special thanks to Andrew Cohen and Mike Booth from the RockWater team.

 

Ping us anytime at hello@wearerockwater.com. We love to hear from our readers.

Get RockWater’s latest insights on Media, Tech, and Commerce straight to your inbox