VOL. 37 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 10, 2013
From college friends to media conglomerate
By Brad Schmitt
The TV show “Nashville” has prompted its share of hometown entrepreneurial dreams, especially of Middle Tennessee developing into an international television and film production hub.
But two 23-year-olds who met while blasting music through the dorm halls at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville had video visions in mind before Hayden Panettiere showed up in Music City.
“I remember meeting him when I was in the dorms, acting crazy, playing rave music,” says James Thayer, founder of Nashville-based Seek First Productions, of his business partner/roommate David Wells.
“I used to DJ,” Thayer adds. “I always had nice speakers; we’d always open the doors up and blast it. People enjoyed it.”
Thayer is CEO/owner of Seek First Productions, the parent company for entrepreneurial entertainment ventures, including Terrabethia Production Resources, 54 Film Fest and Creative DCP.
Thayer’s father owns half of Terrabethia, and his uncle owns 40 percent of the film conversion company, Creative DCP (Digital Cinema Package).
Seek First’s big plan to jump on the Middle Tennessee film production bandwagon is to create a $6 million, 18,000-square-foot soundstage, possibly in Mount Pleasant, about 75 minutes southwest of Nashville.
The soundstage could be used for major productions and rehearsals for the biggest stadium tours for music superstars.
“I have big dreams,” Thayer says simply.
Thayer and Wells are meeting with potential investors, TV and film producers, former Music Row executives and anyone else they can think of who has money or ideas or both.
So Thayer and Wells have worked tirelessly to set up and develop these companies, and they hope to be making “some real money” soon.
“We have all these little things going on. It’s just crazy,” Wells said.
The ambitious plans come from fresh-faced Thayer, who just seven years ago was having fun making what he calls “really stupid videos” as a student at Ravenwood High School.
It began for Thayer when he took a production class, saw other students making music videos and thought that was awesome. But no music videos for him.
“We’d just grab my camera, don’t script anything and put ’em together,” he says. “Parodies, fake movie trailers.”
And there were plenty of trailers for fake movies, like the made-up “Wouldn’t You Like To Know?” series, about a sarcastic serial killer who would terrorize victims with threatening phone calls.
“Are you inside the house?” the victim would ask.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” the sarcastic villain would reply.
Student Emmy, sports job
“Saturday Night Live” didn’t come calling, but Thayer got enough positive feedback and had enough fun to keep making videos.
“I found out I was good at it,” Thayer says. He eventually won a student Emmy for a public service announcement and landed more than 20 awards from student film festivals for his pieces.
That led to some paid video work that included weddings and, eventually, a freelance gig for Nashville-based Athlon Sports, putting together five-minute videos on college football tailgating.
It’s a gig Thayer kept through his college years.
“Every weekend, we’d travel to a new school, like University of Georgia or North Carolina, interview tailgaters, check out the food, the interesting, weird people, and they’re all drinking, and we’d cut it down to five minutes,” he explains.
The gig got him $500 a weekend for about 15 hours of work – and that’s how Seek First Productions began.
Thayer started his second venture – a digital film festival – when he was a senior in college.
“It was a year after a crappy break up. I found myself with lots of time and extra money,” he says.
That has grown into 54 Film Fest, which challenges teams to make movies in 54 hours. More than 30 teams competed this year, and Seek First hopes to move it into another six cities or more in the next few years.
A second company Thayer launched is Creative DCP, which converts film and all sort of digital movies into the industry standard digital format that lets you see a movie at, say, Regal Cinemas.
The company has sunk about $11,000 into developing the software and the computers they need to convert films and videos, and Thayer is hopeful that they’ll recoup those costs in the next 12 months.
Those companies have grown since Thayer brought Wells full time into Seek First, about four months ago or so.
How do they operate day to day?
“I’m the early riser, James is the night owl,” Wells says.
“I get up from 5 to 7 in the morning. Devotions, breakfast, news, then side work, and James and I will pray together, and from there, it could take a number of turns.”
The name “Seek First Productions” comes from a New Testament verse, Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God….”
“We’re all Christians,” Thayer explains. “I went through a moment of life where I was so busy, it left me not in a good place. Someone quoted it to me, and I’d never read it before. It really spoke to me and I re-prioritized my life.”
Thayer is quick to add that Seek First Productions isn’t a Christian company, and its film festival is not a Christian film festival.
“We don’t like Christian cinema,” he said. “We think it’s really cheesy.”