Interview with Pixovi Founder & CEO Devin Halden
"A Perfect Balance: Inside the Creative Mind of Entrepreneur Devin Halden"
By Cori Blaze
It's 8am on a Friday morning in June. I am preparing my notes and questions for my highly-anticipated interview with Devin Halden, one of today's most sought-after visionaries and entrepreneurs in the entertainment and movie worlds.
My phone rings. The voice on the other end is Devin Halden himself. Immediately I fear my meeting/interview will be cancelled, the unfortunate commonality of many other scheduled meetings with other CEO's/Entrepreneurs- probably a result of me not coming from Variety, Hollywood Reporter, or some other tech or trade magazine that will be seen by millions of readers. Instead-Halden has just invited me instead to his office-Our scheduled hour-long meeting has just turned into a daylong adventure into the creative and business world of Devin Halden.
"Sorry for the change of plans, I just feel experiencing what I do is better than me simply telling you…plus, I have a ton of stuff happening right now"---The first words out of Halden's mouth as I take my seat on the other side of his desk.
I find myself here, armed with a recorder on this Friday afternoon in June, after a tenacious attempt to get a phone call with Halden. I had just read an article about Devin Halden's VOD platform, Pixovi Movie Network. The article highlighted Halden's vision of the future for monetizing VOD as well as the direct implementation of social networks to assist in the viral-delivery of content. Intrigued with the concept, and maybe more so with the concept's brainchild, I began digging deeper into the depths of the internet to learn more about Devin Halden…who is he, where did he come from, what else has he done….I needed to know.
Devin Halden, now a 34 year old resident of Minnesota, graduated from the University of St. Thomas. While at St. Thomas, he studied advertising, was Captain of the Rugby team, and worked for a local entrepreneur and restaurateur. Seems pretty normal to me….so far. Upon graduating in 2001, Halden was still uncertain what he wanted to do…and where he wanted to do it. On a whim, Halden decided he would move to Los Angeles and be a cop…WHAT! It didn't take long for him to realize his passions obviously pulled him in a different direction, so he decided to go back to graduate school and pursue a career in advertising.
It was during this same time that Halden founded Solstice Film Festival. And as our informal greetings continue, I finally engage, with my first of many questions:
ME: So, I know you were in school when you also started Solstice Film Festival, how were you able to do both?
HALDEN: "Well, it's a bit more complicated than that, or less, depending on how you look at it. I had every intention of completing my portfolio and venturing into the advertising world. One thing that always made me feel, 'creatively-claustrophobic' however, was the limited space to be creative in advertising and working with clients that wanted a very simple and bland campaign. During my second year I had the opportunity to work on a short-film with David Carter, one of the creative's behind the BMW Films. While on set, and throughout the entire development and production process, I realized my passion was in telling long(er)-form stories, that allow for more creative freedom. I also realized that there are vaults and libraries of incredible independent films that never find an audience. Immediately following production of the film, I began designing the business model for Solstice Film Festival."
ME: Very cool. What was involved with your initial vision for Solstice?
HALDEN: "To be honest, my initial blueprint was essentially what we implemented, minus some very forward-thinking technologically-driven aspects that were way out of my budget at the time."
ME: Like what? Can you explain?
HALDEN: "Absolutely. I had a video-on-demand (VOD) element in the very first blueprint I designed in 2003. I knew I wanted to program independent films from all over the world, so why wouldn't I also allow people from all over the world to experience them as well. And from a business standpoint, I knew the greater reach, the more eyeballs, the better advertisers, sponsors and partners I could pull in, and I wouldn't have to worry about limiting my box office to simply the number of seats available in a physical theater. It would have been the most effective way for me to build brand awareness and brand equity quickly."
ME: But the funding wasn't there to implement it.
HALDEN: "Not the first couple years, no. So I had to make the decision to use what little budget I did have, create an environment, world, atmosphere that would be different than the local multiplex. Independent film has made extraordinary leaps in the last decade, technology in production equipment allows incredible story-tellers to finally tell those stories without the need of millions of dollars for production costs or a studio to buy the story…which usually ends up being a completely different story anyway. That said, with Solstice, I was still competing with whatever studio films were playing in the multiplex that weekend. So it was paramount, no pun intended, to create an atmosphere that separated a Solstice screening from the other. So I turned a local live-performance theater, Fitzgerald Theater, into a temporary movie theater. It was amazing, people said that when they walked in it felt like they were transported back to the 1940's, to an old art-house nickelodeon. I also served wine and other drinks, something very unique back in 2006".
Apart from being the visionary of Solstice Film Festival, Halden was also the programmer and Executive Director. Halden points out, however, that was primarily because he was a new entrepreneur and not sure how to hand over the reins of some aspects of his "baby".
ME: Was it tough wearing so many hats?
HALDEN: "It was, looking back it was a lot of unnecessary stress I put on myself. I had good friends who were on my team, helping out, but I don't think I was a very good delegator back then…that, and it was all very new to all of us. In hindsight, there are things I wish I would have let go of, and allowed the other guys to run with, but I would never change wearing the programmer hat. Solstice became an intense ,and expensive, film school. I read hundreds of scripts, watched thousands of movies, of all genres. I learned great production value and the most common oversights of production filmmakers made that greatly impacted the value and watch-ability of their film. And as Executive Director, I was exposed to every aspect of film distribution. I organized and designed ad campaigns for individual films, worked with Picturehouse, Warner Bros, Dreamworks Animation and other studios on the distribution strategy as it pertained to the festival and worked directly with the filmmakers. After all that, it was also my job to put butts in the seats."
We have just arrived at Halden's office in Chanhassen, MN. It is almost hidden. No big signs, no front gate concierge welcoming us, just a small office nestled among others. I find out, this is just how Halden likes it. Low overhead, no unnecessary employees or other staff.
The interior, however, is filled with "Figment Triggers", as Halden explains them. He needs to visually see concept art, site blueprints and the other related intellectual property of his brands and companies to keep his natural high pushing him to continue to create.
HALDEN: "This is both a birth-place of ideas as well as a graveyard. One of the my favorite steps in the creative process is the birth of a new idea or concept. It allows me to work with the many incredibly intelligent and talented people I surround myself with everyday."
Halden is a believer in working with the best to achieve the best. He is the IDEA guy, the visionary, with an uncanny ability to pull a team together to bring his ideas to life. As we walk around his office, he shows me concept art for a few of the projects he is working on. One such project, currently titled, Flight of the Sky Shepherd , was written by Halden and is almost ready to move into development. It will be an animated feature film, and based on the plot and storyline he pitches me, is certainly nothing that has been done before.
Halden also show's me concept art for two other feature films, Persecuted, and Crowing Lakes, both Executive Produced by Kevin Sorbo, whom he has built a valued friendship with over the years and whom speaks very highly of. In 2009, Halden started SolCo Entertainment with one of his producing partners, Andy Salmen. Both share a passion for film and have an eye for story. They are currently working on a slate of films with another production and finance group out of New York. Each film is moving into pre-production and hopefully ready to shoot if financing falls into place as expected.
At this time, Halden takes a phone call from one of his producing partner's in LA. Halden has been working with Adam Jones and his team on a high-concept puppet show to be produced as a web series. Halden is one of the most positive and energetic people I have ever listened to speak. From my position, sitting in a chair on the other side of the desk and listening to only what I can hear from Halden, it appears the call is regarding issues or a problem. Halden calmly, yet methodically, talks through the issue with optimism, not allowing the others on the other end of the phone to dwell on a negative issue.
As Halden hangs up I am able to delve into his process on selecting projects.
ME: It's hard not to be inspired when looking at these incredible concepts. How do you come up with your ideas, or pick what projects to pursue.
HALDEN: "That's hard to answer. To me, it's all about story. I have built my company primarily around how to deliver stories to people, but that's the business side of me. My creative side looks for a great story. I prefer to look at projects that allow the audience to travel to another world, but make it real enough that they don't have to completely suspend their beliefs, morals, ideas of reality. The audience needs to relate, whether through triggers of nostalgia, past experiences or even shedding a new light on the possibilities of the future, I want them to relate, be transplanted into the world we create, and of course entertained. I have an incredible network of CGI artists from around the world, animators, other producers, entrepreneurs developers etc. that I surround myself with and rely on to make my stories, worlds, technology platforms, crazy ideas come to life. I work with them to run all the ideas through the "Green Light Test" to make sure they are feasible, economical and will be successful properties that we can monetize. And monetization doesn't just come from box office tickets or VOD tickets, we need to always be conscious, throughout the entire creative process, that our business mind and creative mind are always parallel."
ME: Green Light Test?
Halden answers with a chuckle.
HALDEN: "Indeed. We have developed a system of tests and parameters each property must pass, or meet, in order to be green lit for full development. I won't get deep into it, but it is our way of figuring out what concepts make sense to develop, and our way of mitigating risk to the best of our ability. It's the less "sexy" and "fun" side of the process, but certainly an essential step in making sure we are putting our time, effort, financing and other resources towards the best properties."
ME: What is the hardest part of the process?
HALDEN: "Financing. There is no question, finding the money to develop, produce and deliver the concepts to an audience is the most daunting. I have focused on aligning with funding groups, both private and other, that get what we are trying to do. With our feature films, we have been building diversified slates that allow investors to spread their risk over several properties. With Pixovi Movie Network as well as the upcoming Pixovi Original Series properties, we are open to new, creative ideas that potential investors have and bring to the table. Strategic partnerships are a huge part of building Pixovi as well as the feature film properties. Having control over our own VOD platform that is becoming more versatile every month, is a huge asset for us. That, and our creative and business teams put us in a good place to deliver what we say we will."
ME: It seems that there is usually a distinct separation between the business people of the entertainment world and the creative people. How is it that you seem to be an active member of both?
HALDEN: "I think it was how I trained myself and the path I chose to get here. A good friend read me a quote that I feel speaks volumes. An adult says 'I will believe it when I see it'; a child says 'I will see it when I believe it'. I like to think I have preserved my "see it when I believe it" nature. I knew I always wanted to tell stories, but I also knew that understanding every facet of the world I wanted to make a career in was one the greatest ways to insure success in that world. So I have focused the greater portion of the last 10 years learning, understanding, becoming an expert on financial models, distribution models, the development and production process, packaging a project etc. I became a USPAP Certified Appraiser, focusing on the valuation of intellectual property of movies and other media properties. I use this knowledge when I am creating. I want to create worlds and characters that don't exist. They are proprietary, which opens the door for licensing and other monetization opportunities, like merchandising and gaming. The best example of a smart businessman is Walt Disney. He understood his business. He made changes when he had to, but made it his business to stay ahead of the pulse. He surrounded himself with the most talented creative's, the most talented businessmen and people he could trust. If there is anyone I would say I have modeled and strive to continue to model my life after it would be Walt Disney."
It's fascinating to see how quickly Halden switches between left brain and right brain. One moment he is literally pitching me one of the most creative stories I've ever heard, with characters and worlds one wonders where in his mind they would come from, to discussing how that world was created very precisely in a business sense, understanding the mechanics of intellectual property, the value of creating proprietary characters and worlds and the 360 model for developing, producing and delivering those stories to a global audience.
Which brings me to Pixovi Movie Network. It was an article about Pixovi Movie Network that first put me on the trail of this visionary, so I was itching at the chance to dive into the future of the platform. You could see the excitement on Halden's face when I asked my first question.
ME: Tell me about Pixovi. Where did the idea come from? Where is it presently? What does the future hold?
HALDEN: "Pixovi is incredible now, but will be amazingly incredible soon. I am currently overhauling the backend to be up-to-speed with where I am taking it for the future. I began designing the blueprint for Pixovi in 2008. At first, it was going to be the long-awaited VOD platform for Solstice Film Festival. However, a lot had changed since my initial concept in 2003 to the landscape of the VOD technology in 2009. I decided to create a separate entity so it wouldn't carry with it any possible pre-conceived connotation or even stigma if it were under the Solstice Film Festival company. Again, I blueprinted my ideas, designed my branding, and found some talented developers who could take my blueprint and make it a reality. I remain steadfast on preserving the high-quality (production value) of the movies I add to the network, and I have more of a quality-over-quantity standpoint as well. I also was the first movie VOD platform to directly implement the ability to share a film over popular social networks, allowing a transactional VOD property to go viral. It's very exciting. The idea was pushed based on my knowledge of traditional distribution models, and what I feel are major flaws in those models. Controlling your IP and accounting is key if you want to see a revenue for yourself and your investors. Bringing your films to a film festival and hoping they are acquired by a studio for distribution is a good way for your investors to never see a dime of their investment back. Once you go that route you have lost control of your IP and accounting. I designed PIxovi so we would never lose that control. The future of Pixovi is exciting as well. We are in the middle of designing and developing several web series that will allow us to build brand awareness, brand equity and brand loyalty to our characters and the worlds they live in. We can then monetize the IP in a variety of ways through logical extension and possible feature films. Stay tuned, it will be great."
I spent an incredible day with Devin Halden, he is a man of true passion and drive to succeed and create that extends beyond that of the majority of today's population. It is fascinating to just sit and listen to him talk about creative projects, his forward-thinking web series', Pixovi and a myriad of other topics. His passion is contagious, and when I left, my mind was racing with ideas for my own stories, and what I want, and can, achieve as long as passion is the first ingredient. His vision for the future, at least his future, is a bright one. His ability to turn an idea, into a concept, into visual art and blueprints, into a reality is a gift that can't be taught. His drive and determination undeniably have played a key role in where and who he is today, and where he plans on being in the future. However, his unselfish realization that the incredibly creative and talented team he has surrounded himself with are just as much to credit, is a refreshing glance into his character.
Halden also points out any opportunity to collaborate with other entrepreneurs is something he hopes to continue to do more of, stating, "There is something energizing about working among other like-minded and driven individuals…knowing that every phone call and meeting is going to unveil something exciting and new".
Halden is a visionary, an "ideas guy". The big difference between him and your buddy who has a different "great idea" every time you hear from him, is simply, Halden is also a DO'r. When he develops an idea, he has every intention of bringing it to life.
As we concluded our afternoon I felt as if I was saying goodbye to a good friend. The person I thought I was going to sit down with for an hour at Dunn Bros and ask a few questions over coffee ended up being a completely different person that I had imagined. It was both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. Part of me wished I had the same thought process, both creatively and professionally as Devin Halden, while the other part was glad the presence of unique individuals like him meant I didn’t have to.
I'm not some big writer for Variety, Hollywood Reporter or even the local newspaper, but for one day in June, I certainly felt like one. Thank you Devin Halden.
By Cori Blaze
Contact Devin Halden at: email@example.com" href="mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org"> email@example.com
Devin Halden is an entertainment entrepreneur with focus on the production and distribution of media properties across multiple platforms. In 2005 Halden founded and was Executive Director and Programmer of Solstice Film Festival in Minnesota, a company he successfully made one of the top International film festivals for independent filmmakers.
In 2010 Halden stepped down as film festival Executive to launch and manage Pixovi Movie Network (PMN). PMN was designed with an independent producer and distributor mentality. PMN has become an incredible distribution and promotional engine for independent filmmakers, understanding the significant impact intelligent marketing and promotion has on a film’s success, as well as the opportunities for member/fan/consumer interaction presented through the industries new social networking tools. PMN has also launched Pixovi Original Series, developing, financing and distributing high-concept web series properties with high production value with marketable IP and brand value.
Halden’s knowledge of both traditional distribution lifecycles and techniques as well as the new distribution plans that utilize new technology and media, has laid the foundation for his blueprint for a successful independent film release, a blueprint that keeps the control of the IP and accounting in the hands of the producers and maintains transparency throughout the entire lifecycle of the film.