Office Hours: Hello Sunshine’s Liz Jenkins on How Young Studios Are Disrupting Hollywood

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Liz Jenkins, Hello Sunshine
Image courtesy of Liz Jenkins

On this episode of Office Hours, Hello Sunshine Chief Operating Office Liz Jenkins joins the show to talk about how she aims to disrupt the way storytelling is produced, in Hollywood and beyond.

Hello Sunshine is a media brand and content company founded by actress Reese Witherspoon that highlights female authorship and storytelling across all its platforms, putting women and girls at the center of each narrative. Jenkins joined the company as its CFO in 2018, overseeing its finances and growth as a business. She oversees Hello Sunshine's scripted, unscripted content and its kids and animation studios, along with its book club.

Jenkins sees Hello Sunshine as a new media company amid an industry dominated by massive legacy companies, rethinking the way content studios have worked in the past, and changing the way women’s stories are produced within the industry.

“I think one of the things that has taken the industry a long time to catch up with, frankly, the innovation that's been driven by technology companies, has been the fact that these legacy companies have massive legacy businesses – ie. cable networks that generate billions of dollars of cash,” she says. “It’s the innovator’s dilemma, effectively, right?”

By contrast, she says, Hello Sunshine started from “a blank piece of paper” and a mission to bring “content, commerce and community” to a mission-driven storytelling brand.

“When we talk about commerce, we don't just mean selling things to people,” Jenkins adds. “We mean really engaging with the users and our audience on a really deep level.”

Jenkins’ experience in technology and business, as head of strategic ventures for Sony PlayStation, and senior VP of corporate development and strategy at Media Rights Capital, have served her well in her role at Hello Sunshine.

“I do have that really kind of entrepreneurial business and building mindset that one would always say exists in the Bay Area,” she says. “But I think it's very much the same in the entertainment business, right? Every film is a startup, new business, you're bringing together like a couple 100 people who never worked together before–potentially a couple of them have–to build something overnight."

Jenkins also discussed the ways Hollywood has been shifting in recent years to reflect a greater diversity of storytelling and talent both in front of and behind the camera. She says she’s seen progress in the greater efforts to include more women and people of different backgrounds has had an impact on the larger culture.

“We don't have to rewind the clock back very far to see a really different space that we were in,” Jenkin says. “And I think that if anything, the last few years have proven to us that even the most sacred and long-standing institutions are fragile – right? – And require a lot of vigilance to protect.”

Still she sees there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially in creating the kinds of pipelines to attract talent and to sustain the number of decision-makers who will focus on telling more inclusive stories.

“It requires a real commitment to excellence and authenticity,” she says. In order to sustain the kind of changes that have reshaped Hollywood in the past several years, “you can't be complacent.”

Jenkins also talks about how Hello Sunshine chooses the streaming partners it works with on their shows, based in part on their audiences, their interests and the amount of marketing their willing to put into a project. She also talks about how young viewers, readers and listeners are changing the way media is being produced.

Want to hear more episodes? Subscribe to Office Hours on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.