After Inspiring Musicals, TikTok Is Funding a Theater Production of Its Own

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.

After Inspiring Musicals, TikTok Is Funding a Theater Production of Its Own
Photo courtesy of Impact24 Public Relations

After dominating the internet with its short-form videos, TikTok is taking its content to the next stage—literally.

The video-sharing platform has commissioned its first musical, “For You, Paige,” which will be performed live from a New York theater at 4 p.m. PT Thursday and streamed on the platform. While funding a musical may sound like an odd project for a social media company, TikTok has emerged as a hub for music creators and fans. The upcoming production comes less than two weeks after composers Emily Bear and Abigail Barlow won a Grammy Award for their musical theater album, “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical,” which originated on TikTok.

“For You, Paige”—a pun referring to TikTok’s content feed—was created by Daniel Mertzlufft, who serves as executive producer, composer, co-book writer and music supervisor. The story follows teenage composer Landon (played by Roman Banks), who collaborates with his best friend Paige (Sri Ramesh) on a song inspired by Paige’s favorite young adult book series, “Utopia.” When a video of Landon performing the song goes viral on (where else?) TikTok, Landon is approached by a producer offering him a chance to adapt “Utopia” into a feature-length musical. Only one problem: Landon’s vault into superstardom leaves Paige behind.

“When we were talking with TikTok about it, they really want to invest in the musical theater community and show their support for the amazing content [that creators are posting on the platform],” Mertzlufft told dot.LA. (Neither Mertzlufft nor TikTok disclosed the social media firm’s financial contribution to the project. Representatives for TikTok did not return multiple requests for comment.)

Executive producer Daniel Mertzlufft.

Courtesy of Will Parker

Mertzlufft knows first hand how Culver City-based TikTok can turn a viral video into a legitimate musical production. He was a creative leader for “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical,” a livestreamed concert produced last year that raised more than $2 million for The Actor’s Fund, a nonprofit that supports performing arts professionals.

The origins of that project can be traced to an August 2020 video posted by TikTok user Emily Jacobson, who uploaded a love ballad about the character Remy from the Pixar movie “Ratatouille.” The song took off months later when Mertzlufft posted his own version, which had racked up 2.6 million views as of Tuesday. The video prompted many TikTokers to contribute their own ideas for the would-be musical, sparking a #RatatouilleMusical hashtag that has collected more than 308 million views to date.

Why does TikTok lend itself so well to musicals? For Mertzlufft, it’s because the app is essentially an open forum for creators to share ideas and get feedback, without needing a bunch of followers to be discovered. Its video editing tools also allow creators like Mertzlufft to easily jazz up their clips with a fake orchestra or backup vocals. He noted that other interest-based communities have also thrived on platform—such as #BookTok, where literature lovers discuss books they’ve read.

“It truly is an entertainment platform in that it's not about who you follow, it's about the content,” Mertzlufft said.

“For You, Paige” was written specifically for TikTok’s vertical screen presentation. Characters will position themselves on stage to be captured by one of three cameras in the theater, standing in places that might not make sense for a live audience, Mertzlufft said. (Due to COVID-19 precautions, the show won’t be performed for a live audience.) Staging one of the first musicals created for vertical viewing has been an “exciting challenge,” Mertzlufft said.

“That's what most of rehearsal is about today—figuring out exactly where those cameras are,” he said.

“For You, Paige” is filled with TikTok references in the dialogue that avid users will understand, Mertzlufft said. But die-hard TikTok fans won’t be able to get too close to the show, and not just because of COVID precautions: Mertzlufft declined to share the name of the New York theater staging the production.

“We're concerned about people showing up at the theater, and we just don't have the security and all of that,” he said. “But it is a theater in New York, and we're very excited about it.”

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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.